This has to be one of the best tools I have seen for finding old maps. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently launched a GIS-based website that allows viewers access to more than 178,000 USGS maps, dating back to 1884. The maps can be searched by location by starting with current maps. If you like old maps as much as I do, you will want to check this out.
I first looked at the online map for the place where I spend summers in Massachusetts. I was able to find the exact location. I then clicked on the location and a list of old maps appeared. I selected the oldest, a map from 1889. The 1889 map was downloaded to my computer as a PDF file within a few seconds. Clicking on the newly-downloaded file resulted in the entire map being displayed in my PDF viewer software.
I zoomed in and in and was soon able to see a very detailed map of my neighborhood as it existed in 1889.
The available maps will vary. The map I looked at, a USGS map created in 1889, did not show houses. (My house wasn’t built until many years later.) However, it was interesting to see the nearby railroad tracks, a nearby pond, and several streams haven’t moved in the last 125 years. However, the name of the railroad has changed. It was shown on the map as the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. A quick search on Wikipedia shows that the railroad line, founded by J.P. Morgan, went bankrupt in 1935. That was news to me! Other railroads purchased bits and pieces of track from the bankruptcy court and the railroad line is still in operation today by another railroad company but it only carries freight.
My thanks to newsletter reader Brent Tarter for telling me about this new online resource.