Online Delaware Historic Maps Help Researchers

Part of the 1859 Map of Kent County Delaware (French), showing Leipsic. Source: Library of Congress

Over the past several years there has been an enormous increase in the number of historical maps that are available online.  These digital, on-demand collections are a great aid for those seeking to understand the past, whether it is for a scholarly investigation, local history study, or genealogy project. While the maps, many centuries old, have always been available in special collections repositories around the nation, access was limited as trips to widely scattered archives and access rules created obstacles for some researchers.

Here are a couple of general starting points.  One of the best is  Old Maps Online, an easy-to-use web portal to historical maps in libraries around the globe.  It allows users to search across a number of collections, via a user friendly geographical search interface.  Another strong one is the Library of Congress.  The products can be downloaded and the scans, which are of high quality, can be magnified, in most instances.  Some of repositories require you to register to get full free access.

These and other research e-resources are revolutionizing the way we conduct historical research and are invaluable for those working in the past.  Here are some specific online Delaware resources, which you should find helpful.

  • The Library of Congress has the J. H. French Map of Kent County Delaware (1859), It can be downloaded in a large format in order to magnify the product.  There is also the Birds-Eye View of Wilmington Delaware (1874) in addition to over 30 more products.
  • Old Maps Online provides a portal to the full Beer Atlas of 1868, a most valuable product for researchers.  Here is the link to Georgetown Hundred but the other plates are there too.
  • The USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection provides acce3ss to more than 193,000 topograph maps published by the USGS since the inception of the national mapping program in 1884.  It includes the Delaware products.  Also here is another free source for these maps.
  • Historic aerial maps of Delaware, beginning in the 1930s and running to the present, are available online through a service provided by the Delaware Geological Service’s Delaware DataMil (Data Mapping and Integration Laboratory).  This virtual service allows researchers to easily acquire detailed visual representations showing the nature of development on parcels at specific points in time.
  • On one of the local heritage weblogs we follow, the Mill Creek Hundred History Blog, we found out about some great e-cartographic content at the “New Castle Community History and Archaeology Program” site.  The publisher of that site, Jim Meeks, has made some great produts available, including a zoomable copy of the Rea & Price Map of New Castle County (1849).

You will also find a collection of historic First State Maps at the Delaware Public Archives, as well as Official Highway Maps provided by DelDOT.  The first e-product there was published in 1906 and the Official Highway Maps start in 1920.

Check these site out the next time you are working on a Delaware project, regardless of where your inquiry takes you around the State.  You will find many other maps of interest once you start searching these and other databases and with each passing year more of these resources are open sourced, greatly expanding efficiencies for those studying the past.

A plate from the Pomery & Beers Atlas of Delaware (1868) showing White Clay Creek and Newark. Source: David Rumsey Collection via oldmapsoline.org

Part of the 1859 map of Kent County Delaware showing Smyrna and part of Camden. Source: Library of Congress

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