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Library Happenings – Old maps reflect Erwin’s early businesses

By Angie Georgeff

Our country’s 240th birthday is close at hand! As they often do this time of year, my thoughts are gravitating toward beaches, cookouts, fireworks and history. As usual, I have a couple of history books jockeying for position with fiction in my books-to-be-read stack, but my current favorite is the library’s newest addition to our history collection. And it is not a book.

We recently placed an order with the Tennessee State Library and Archives for a CD-ROM containing all of their Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for the town of Erwin. And thanks to the alphabetical proximity of Elizabethton and Erwin, we have maps for Elizabethton, too. The Sanborn Map Company, which, as Sanborn Maps, is still in business today, started producing maps for the use of insurance companies in 1866. They showed the location, use and type of construction of all the buildings in a municipality. Based on these factors and the location of fire departments and hydrants, insurance companies could assess risk and determine whether they would offer coverage for a particular structure, and at what price.

The earliest Sanborn maps for Erwin date from August 1925, and the depot – now the library – is drawn from plans since it had not been completed. So is the old Clinchfield YMCA on Main Avenue. The smaller Y that was then in use was located on Union Street, along with the post office, a bakery and a billiards hall. Detailed information provided for the Clinchfield Railroad shops and yard, Southern Potteries, Erwin Feldspar Company, A.T. Villa and Brothers Silk Mill and other industries indicate that Erwin, with a population of 6,500, was quite a bustling place.

I suspect the handwriting of the person who wrote down the street names was not entirely legible, since the depot was located on “Holichucky” Avenue. That mistake and “Halston” Place were corrected when a new set of maps was drawn in March 1931. They reflect Erwin’s spread, even though its population, more than a year into the Great Depression, had declined to 3,650. Where better to begin your tour of Erwin circa 1925 than a building that was constructed that year? Simply come to the library, sign up for a public access computer and ask for the Sanborn maps at the circulation desk. It’s like time travel without the perils that Marty McFly faced in Back to the Future!

Holiday Closing

The library will be closed on Monday, July 4, in honor of Independence Day. No items will be due on that date, but you may always return books to either of our book drops. They are located at the library in Erwin and at Town Hall in Unicoi. We wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July!