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Treasures of the Archives: Bird’s Eye Maps

Bird's-eye view of the city of Olympia, Record Series, Map Records, General Map Collection, 1851-2005, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.

Bird's-eye view of the city of Olympia, Record Series, Map Records, General Map Collection, 1851-2005, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov.

Bird’s-eye maps of growing western towns were very popular in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. They offer an interesting perspective on the evolving landscape of the American West. They were not always accurate however. The artist would sometimes include interpretations of planned future developments in the map. This makes them a somewhat troublesome and untrustworthy source for those doing serious historical research. Those issues aside, they are a valuable and often aesthetically pleasing addition to any map collection. They offer a unique look into how the citizens of these cities and towns saw themselves and their future.

The Washington State Archives has a collection of these maps, including the above 1879 map of then Washington Territorial Capital Olympia, this 1884 map of Spokane Falls, and this 1890 map of Spokane eleven months after the great fire. The General Map Collection, 1851-2005 contains over two thousand maps, from bird’s-eye views to oyster beds. Take a look inside and see what you can find.