Ask Me

When you’re searching for historical maps, these libraries can show you the way

Melissa Scroggins, senior library assistant at the San Joaquin Valley Heritage and Genealogy Center in the Fresno County Public Library’s central branch in downtown Fresno, looks through a large bound volume of the Sanborn fire insurance maps that show Fresno in detail starting in 1918 and updated in 1952.
Melissa Scroggins, senior library assistant at the San Joaquin Valley Heritage and Genealogy Center in the Fresno County Public Library’s central branch in downtown Fresno, looks through a large bound volume of the Sanborn fire insurance maps that show Fresno in detail starting in 1918 and updated in 1952.

Q: I discovered an old map of Fresno in my mom’s belongings and I’ve been trying to remember the old route of Friant Road, as it was the route we took to ride bicycles to Friant Dam. An online search for old maps proved tedious. Is there a more convenient source of local historic maps?

Edwin Hawke, Fresno

A: Both the San Joaquin Valley Heritage and Genealogy Center at the Fresno County Public Library’s central branch and the Henry Madden Library on the California State University, Fresno campus have extensive collections of historic local maps and many others.

At the Heritage Center, upstairs in the Mariposa Street library, you will find Fresno street maps dating from 1901 and atlases of Fresno County, arranged by townships and showing land owners in various years from 1891 to 1935, according to librarian Melissa Scroggins.

A name index from 1891 to 1920 is also available, as is the California Agri-Land index for Fresno County, covering various years from the 1980s through 2000. U.S. Geographical Survey maps of Fresno County are also available.

A business block at the corner of F and Kern streets in Fresno’s Chinatown, circa 1918, showing the detail found in the Sanborn fire insurance maps, popular with those conducting historical research, at the Fresno County Library, Heritage Room. JOHN WALKER

The center also has Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, which Scroggins says are always interesting. “These are city maps broken down into blocks that show footprints of the buildings on each block,” she said.

Since the Sanborn maps were used for fire insurance purposes, they include a key that describes what building materials were used and often what was housed in each building, Scroggins said. The library has various years of Sanborn maps from 1885 to 1970.

The Sanborn collection is available on microfilm, but the center also has several original Sanborn maps, now fragile with age. “The originals are giant books with a base map,” Scroggins said. “A clerk from the Sanborn company would come periodically to map subscribers and paste in new additions and changes to the buildings. Then after time they would start over with a new base map.”

The Heritage Center is in the process of digitizing many of its maps to make them more accessible.

The Fresno County Courthouse as shown in 1952 in a Sanborn map. Someone later with red pencil wrote “out” to reflect the 1966 demolition of the historic building. JOHN WALKER

The first-floor map collection at the Henry Madden Library contains more than 150,000 pieces, according to librarian Carol Doyle. While these include worldwide maps, the focus is on the Central Valley and the state.

Also available are aerial photos of Fresno County dating from 1937, many of which are available using the library’s Map and Aerial Locator Tool (MALT), Doyle said. The Madden Library is open to the public and visitors can fill out an aerial photo request form to find photos of given sites.

The library also has geological maps, including seismic hazard and fault maps, topographic maps and nautical and aeronautical charts.

In addition, many historic Fresno maps from the 1800s and early 1900s are housed in the library’s special collections department.

Q: I am on the historical monuments committee of the Alta District Historical Society. We are looking for the history of the Drum Valley School. Who owned the land, when was it built, when did the school open and what became of the building?

Roy Cotton, Dinuba

A: The Drum Valley Joint District in Tulare County near the Sequoia National Forest was formerly known as the Fairview District, according to “History of Public School Organization and Administration in Fresno County.” The Drum Valley history is listed in the book because a portion of the district was in the adjoining Fresno County school districts of Miramonte, Dunlap and Squaw Valley.

Drum Valley is about 13 miles northeast of Orosi. According to the book “County Schoolwomen Teaching in Rural California 1850-1950,” one teacher described Drum Valley School as being “about 20 miles back in the hills.”

The Fairview District was renamed Drum Valley after the area’s geographic name on May 4, 1897, according to the 1891 Fresno County atlas.

The school appears to have opened in 1899, when Ina W. Ramboz, who lived in Auckland, is listed as the school’s teacher. Drum Valley District trustees were William Kincaid and C.A McCrory, both of Orosi, and G. Bauman of Auckland.

The public school history book says the Ash Springs District of Tulare County annexed Drum Valley on Dec. 3, 1946, and the school closed.

The book does not record a school being built or where classes were held in the late 1800s, but a one-room wood-frame school was built in 1915, according to Joanne Ledbetter, who owns the former school building.

Ledbetter said when her uncle, Charles Dryden, bought the Drum Valley ranch in 1912 he deeded 1 acre of land to Tulare County for a school, which was built three years later. After the Drum Valley school closed, the property reverted to the family ranch, she said.

Later the former school building was moved near her house and restored, Ledbetter said. A basement was constructed and the school placed on top. The original blackboards, windows, wainscoting, flooring and exterior finishes have all been restored.

Ledbetter donated the original sign to the Alta District Historical Society but has plans to install a new sign on the building.

More about: In response to an item about Arthur’s Toys that was published on Nov. 26, several readers posted their memories of the store on The Fresno Bee’s Facebook page. Readers were asked to share their favorite toys from Arthurs’s.

“The memories of a child going up to the second floor and looking at the dollhouses and dolls, and then looking out the glass windows dreaming, your imagination (had) no limits! Magic,” recalled Caroline Teixeira.

Mark Emerzian said he still has his original Batmobile made by the Corgi Toys company that he bought in the early 1970s: “My all-time favorite toy from my all-time favorite toy store!”

“Oh man, do I remember this store,” Craig Bergstrom posted. “So much fun going on the weekends with my dad and going through the comics and all the other good stuff. Transformers and GI Joe were always my favorites growing up.”

Ramon Rodriguez said, “I remember the one off of Tulare and Chestnut. Always used to go there to buy marbles and yo-yos. Good memories for sure.”

Skip Pritchard shared a potentially life-changing memory from the store’s original location: “I remember well Arthur’s Toy store on Broadway. I recall one time when I was about 7, I stole a big teddy bear from the store and my mother caught me down the street while I was taking it home.”

Patricia Austin also recalls the store on Broadway, where she “loved looking at the Storybook Dolls” made by the Nancy Ann company.

“I always went to the location on the Fulton Mall behind Long’s Drugs,” recalled Freddie Miller. “My favorite Christmas memories are tied to that store.”

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.