Online Map Collection Provides a Peek at New York Over the Centuries


When Alexander Hamilton stepped foot in New York City in 1772, the then-village of Brooklyn was more agricultural than artisan, more traditional than trendy.

Thanks to a collection of nearly 1,500 maps introduced online today on the Brooklyn Historical Society’s website, modern Brooklyn residents can now locate their homes and apartments on an 18th-century grid of fields and farmland. They can track the evolution of their neighborhoods and use old subway maps (which used to be laid out horizontally rather than vertically) to trace which 20th-century subway routes they could have taken from their homes to Ebbets Field, where Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers once played.

But the maps aren’t just targeted at those familiar with the area, or even at researchers and scholars: Anyone can get a glimpse at the region’s history and evolution. The voluminous resource includes maps for other New York City boroughs, Long Island, New York state, New Jersey and areas throughout the Eastern United States.

The collection, which is sourced from the historical society’s archives, includes maps from 1562 to 2015 — including transit maps, topographical maps, cultural maps and nautical charts, as well as plans for Central Park and Prospect Park. Marcia Ely, the executive vice president of the historical society, recommends searching by neighborhood.

The project, which required that damaged and fragile maps be repaired, took two and a half years. More maps will be added in the coming months, said Maggie Schreiner, the manager of archives and special collections at the historical society.

The online map resource is the latest effort in the historical society’s digitization efforts. The organization is in the middle of a three-year project to catalog and photograph approximately 5,000 items from its artifact collection.

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