Historic Maps of Orange County
Historian Don Meadows said he always started any new project by studying all the relevant maps of the area. It’s good advice, and to help, here is a collection of maps of the area dating back to the 18th century:
“One of the most complete and handy pocket editions of its kind is the new Renie Atlas of Orange County and cities published jointly by the Times-Mirror Company and the California Blueprint and Map Company.
“With a foreword by the late Terry E. Stephenson, the Atlas shows the boundaries of adjoining counties and of the 13 incorporated cities within the county, highways, streets, avenues, and the block numbers, also forest areas, ranger stations, lakes, reservoirs, beaches, mountain resorts, schools, universities, and virtually every point on interest in the county indexed in an easy-to-find manner.”
– Orange Daily News, December 8, 1943
This map was created for the Title Insurance & Trust Company’s 1954 booklet of the same name, with text by W.W. Robinson. The booklet was reprinted several times but only the first edition seems to have included the map. The base map is the official county map for 1946.
Maps from the Hornbeck Collection (CSU Monterey Bay):
A fair example of 18th century California maps, which make up in charm for what they lack in accuracy. This one is interesting because it still uses some local place names from the Portolá expedition of 1769, including the Rio de “Tambores” (Temblores) for the Santa Ana River and the Rio de San Miguel for the San Gabriel. It also traces the route of the Anza expedition and the travels of Father Francisco Garcés in the 1770s.
A map from the beginning of the Mexican Era which includes the Yorba family settlement at Olive, the Nieto family settlement, and the Santa Ana River.
Maps from the David Rumsey Collection (Stanford University):
Still identifies many spots by their rancho names, rather than the young American communities.
* Map of California and Nevada, 1882 (A.L. Bancroft & Co.)
* Irrigation Map – Santa Ana Sheet, 1888 (California Department of Engineering)
* Irrigation Map – Anaheim Sheet, 1888 (California Department of Engineering)
Two maps showing the irrigation works along the Santa Ana River, presumably prepared as part of State Engineer William Hammond Hall’s 1888 report Irrigation in California (Southern).
Showing the many little station names between the bigger towns.
Another version from 1927, near the peak of the PE’s operations.
* Road Map of Los Angeles and Vicinity, 1926 (Rand McNally & Co.)
Shows the county highway system before freeways.
Maps from the Library of Congress Collection
Produced just before county division.
* Map of Orange County, 1889 (Solomon H. Finley)
The first official map of Orange County, it shows both rancho boundaries and the towns of the newly created county; the names of the owners of some of the larger parcels are also included.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Anyone in the CRM industry (Cultural Resources Management for the uninitiated) is familiar with these maps, created for insurance adjustors to evaluate the risks of insuring various buildings and homes. They include a wealth of detail, including color coding to indicate the type of construction – wood, brick, etc. Unfortunately, they only cover the downtown areas where the greatest concentration of buildings was located. They were updated from time to time and add more coverage as towns grew. The Orange County Archives has a set of the microfilm edition which includes many other local communities.
The United States Geological Survey topographical maps (“topos”) have been an invaluable tool since the 1880s. Issued in various scales, they include the topography of the landscape, waterways, and some of the built environment – towns, roads, railroads, wells, and even some individual buildings. The earliest sheets for Orange County were prepared in the 1890s (notice that all sheets list not just a publication date, but – in the lower left – the dates of the surveys on which they were based).
The USGS has posted excellent scans of all the topos in their archives, including some later sheets based on aerial photographs. The index map allows you to click on a point and see a list of what maps are available for that area.