Jump to Navigation

Map collections

Property Ownership Maps

1885 official railroad map of KansasA number of late-19th and early-20th century county maps were intended as wall maps showing land ownership in rural areas; maps cataloged before 1995 are in the maps card catalog in the Reference Room under the subject heading Real Property and under the name of the county. These are very similar to the bound volumes of county plat maps and atlases in the Library's collection and on microfilm. These maps are also useful in finding roads and other features in rural areas; sometimes they will also contain inset maps showing towns in the county. Other maps produced by surveying firms, land-title companies, county appraisers, and others also show land ownership. If land ownership is featured on the map, this is indicated on the catalog card or ATLAS record. Some of these maps have been digitized on Kansas Memory.

U.S. Geological Survey Quadrangle Maps

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) quadrangle maps are very detailed and show a variety of features but not individual land tracts or ownership. They can be used, however to show elevations, terrain, roads, railroads, forests, and other detailed features. Maps are named for the most prominent feature on the map and are filed by name. The earliest USGS maps were published beginning in 1884 and revised or reprinted as late as the 1920s. Each map included an area of 30 minutes (one-half degree) of latitude by 30 minutes of longitude or about 20 by 44 miles. Most of Kansas was mapped by the USGS at this time. Between the two world wars, the USGS published a more detailed series of maps which included 15 minutes of latitude by 15 minutes of longitude or about 10 by 22 miles. In addition to the features on the 30-minute maps, these maps showed contours (lines depicting land elevation) and buildings in rural areas. Only a small amount of Kansas was mapped during this period. After World War II, the USGS began mapping at a more detailed scale; each map is 7 1/2 minutes of latitude by 7 1/2 minutes of longitude or about five by eleven miles; there are over 1560 maps needed to completely cover Kansas. These maps show all the same features as the 15-minute maps but also include fence lines, power transmission lines, and other more detailed features. We have these maps for all of Kansas, surrounding States, and a few from other States.

Road and Trail Maps

Before the arrival of the railroad, most maps showed major roads and trails. In Kansas, this included the period from 1855, soon after the beginning of the territory, until about 1871. Few maps from the early 1870s until about World War I show roads because of the domination of the railroads; exceptions to these are the county atlases and plat maps described above. A significant pre-railroad map showing roads in great detail in Kansas is Ado Hunnius's State of Kansas, March 1870. The advent of the "horseless carriage" renewed an interest in roads, and road maps began reappearing in the late 1910s; the first official Kansas State highway map was published in 1918. The collection contains many road maps from about 1915 until the present.

Railroad Maps

During the years from 1870 until World War II maps showing railroads were published and widely circulated. Often these maps show not only major and short-line railroads but also allied express companies and many towns along railroad lines that have not survived, thus the maps can be a good source of "dead town" information when used with other resources in the historical society's library and manuscripts holdings. The Kansas Board of Railroad Commissioners began publishing detailed official State railroad maps in 1885, and the Kansas Corporation Commission (contact information) still publishes the official railroad map. From 1885 until about 1920 these maps were revised annually.

Kansas State Board of Agriculture Maps

Beginning in 1874, the Kansas State Board of Agriculture published extremely detailed annual and biennial reports that are full of statistical information about Kansas, its people, and its products. Each of these reports for the first fifteen years includes very descriptive statistics about each county including small but detailed maps of each county. Many of these reports are on open reference shelves in the Research Room; others can be requested from the stacks. The maps for the 1874 report are filed in the map collection and cataloged in the maps card catalog; later maps are in the map collection or may be found in the published reports.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Extremely detailed maps of urban areas were produced by the Sanborn Map Company and other firms and sold to fire-insurance companies so they could use the information about each property to assign a risk factor for underwriting purposes. These maps show individual properties and buildings on those tracts using a complex set of symbols and colors to denote the construction details of each structure. These maps are very useful in building restoration and determining when a structure was constructed. They also show lots and streets with names and numbers, locations of water lines and fire hydrants, and other features of the urban landscape. Each volume includes indexes of street names and significant buildings. Original mapping of Kansas was conducted by the Sanborn company from 1883 until 1954, and revisions were made as late as 1968. We have all of the Sanborn maps of the State, over 1500 sets, on microfilm as well as a few originals of Topeka, Kansas City, Wichita, and some smaller towns. The microfilm may be borrowed on interlibrary loan; a comprehensive list by city and date is available. Similar information on individual properties in written form may be found in the Kansas Inspection Bureau's Fire Insurance Rates Booklets, 1890-1944, in the manuscripts collection (manuscripts collection no. 100; finding aid available).

Out-of-State Maps

The map collection includes a large collection of maps of other States from the colonial period to the present. Detailed maps that may be useful for genealogical research include David Burr's 1839 maps of States and territories at that time, U.S. General Land Office maps of States and territories, railroad maps, twentieth-century road maps, and maps of cities.

Land Survey Maps

Some maps created by State agencies in the course of their official activities and no longer needed for current business have been accessioned into the State archives holdings of the Kansas State Historical Society and retained with other records of the creating agency. This includes original land survey maps of the State needed for confirmation of section corners by surveyors; these maps form part of the records of the secretary of State (record group 622). Microfilm copies of the State's copy of the original land survey maps (rolls AR 137-143) and a microfilm copy of the federal Bureau of Land Management's set (rolls MS 362R-368R) are available for reference use in the Research Room and through interlibrary loan. In addition to the maps, the State archives also holds the surveyors' original field notes. For additional information about the land-survey maps or field notes, see Land Survey Records.

The Society also has the Florence McGlasson Gabelmann Memorial Library of microfilmed National Archives land survey field notes and plats of Kansas given by the Kansas Society of Land Surveyors.


County atlases or plat books are a source of information about land ownership. They contain plat maps of townships that show owners of individual parcels of rural land. The plats include section boundaries and include the locations of rural churches, cemeteries, and schools. Sometimes plats of cities are also included but owners of individual city lots are not listed. They may also include photographs or illustrations of selected county residents and farms. Some atlases also include a directory of county residents which may give additional information about the individuals and their land. These atlases date from the 1880s to the 1920s. Click here for a list of county atlases and plat books. There are also world and United States atlases in the collection.