Skip to main content
University of Louisville University Libraries


Digital Collections : Kentucky Maps Collection

Kentucky Maps Collection

Historic Maps

by Tom Owen

Historic maps attract inquiry on several levels. For some, they are works of art with color coding and linear preciseness. Early maps also reveal the limits of the known that the cartographer faced and the terrible limits on the information gathering techniques that were available to them. Indeed, maps are always a study in "looking through a glass darkly."

Historic maps are a delightful testimony to the archetypal human need to know. As we look upon this collection of Kentucky maps we marvel at the intense curiosity about a single place - sometimes the tiniest place - that the map maker chose to record. That knowledge of place is sometimes blandly utilitarian as the map was indeed a servant of the real estate appraiser, utility contractor, or land use planner.

Peoples throughout time have asked "How Did the Leopard Get Its Spots?" In that sense, this map collection is an unrivaled source for etiology explaining why the old Jefferson County country lane - today's heavily traveled thoroughfare - turned eastwardly rather than to the west or how the street or road got its name. These maps show us inter-city and commuter rail lines, river wharfs, waterway crossings, school and church locations, and where to find a blacksmith shop. A list of property owners designated on the maps reads like a community "Who's Who" reminding us of the claim that the past continues to have on our own time.

These maps also provide a window into the geography that has shaped Louisville, and that Louisvillians have, in their turn, shaped. The high lands explain where the big houses with vistas are to be found, while the creek banks point to land where residents are vulnerable to flood. Louisville is a place where waterways define our history and our maps explain how they have been dammed, rerouted, and recast as concrete channels.

These rich sources of information are enhanced through digitization, which makes it possible to view precise map features without having to resort to a magnifying glass. In addition, digitization makes it possible for researchers of all kinds to use these maps - many of which are very fragile - at their own leisure and in any location around the globe.

About the Collection

This digital collection features four atlases of Louisville and environs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; 74 maps from the Lafon Allen Kentucky Maps Collection (excluding two duplicates within the collection); and maps of Louisville, Jefferson County, and Kentucky from the University Archives and Records Center; Rare Books; and Photographic Archives. It will eventually include other historic maps of and including this region. The digitization of the atlases began with preservation in mind, using digital technology to create a surrogate of the atlases for patrons to use rather than touching the brittle pages of the originals.

The larger collections included are:

Beers & Lanagan. Atlas of Jefferson and Oldham Counties, Kentucky from new and actual surveys. Philadelphia, Pa., 1879.

Call Number G 1333 .J4 B4 1879A in Photographic Archives.
Title Page, Indices, Business Notices, and 28 maps.

Hopkins, Griffith Morgan, C.E. Atlas of the City of Louisville Ky. and Environs. Philadelphia, Pa., 1884.

Item Number LouAtlas1884 in University Archives and Records Center.
Title Page, Index, and 30 plates.

Hunter, William B. Atlas of Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky. Louisville, Ky.: Louisville Title Company, 1913.

Item Number LouAtlas1913 in University Archives and Records Center. UARC owns two copies of this atlas; the more complete and legible pages from either atlas were selected for scanning.
Title Page, Legend, 113 plates, and information about the Louisville Title Company.

Louisville Abstract & Loan Association. Atlas of the City of Louisville Ky. Louisville, Ky., 1876.

Call Number G 1334 .L6 L68 1876 in Photographic Archives.
Cover, Title Page, Preface with Index, and 6 maps of what should have been 18.

Scowden, T. R. Map of the Falls of the Ohio and proposed enlargement of Louisville and Portland Canal. Cincinnati, Oh.: Gazette Company Steam Printing House, 1859.

Folded in pocket of Report of Committee on the best mode of improving navigation at the Falls of the Ohio in Rare Books.

Wharton, R. F. City of Louisville Kentucky The Gateway to the South. Louisville, Ky.: Pease & Norgard, 1925.

In Rare Books.

Works Progress Administration. Real property survey and low income housing area survey of Louisville, Kentucky. Volume II (Maps). Louisville, Ky.: 1939.

Item Number WPA1939 in University Archives and Records Center. UARC owns three copies of this publication; the more complete and legible pages from each were selected for scanning.
Front and back covers and 15 plates.

Lafon Allen Kentucky Maps Collection, University of Louisville Rare Books

Lafon Allen, Esq. (1871-1952), a graduate of Yale College and University of Louisville Law School, was a prominent attorney, Circuit Court Judge (1922-1934), and active supporter of art and historical organizations in his home state of Kentucky. He also collected maps and, in 1950, Allen donated his personal "Collection of Maps of North America with Special Reference to Kentucky" to the University of Louisville's Rare Books department.

Fifty-seven of seventy-six maps in Allen's album feature Kentucky, either alone or with Tennessee, or cities in Kentucky. The Kentucky Geological Survey team called these drawings, created between 1785 and 1933, the most extensive group of Kentucky maps known. Highlights include Carte de Kentucke d'apres les Observations Actuelles (1785) by John Filson (ca. 1747-1788), A Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Kentucky (1822) by Lucas Fielding (1781-1854), and a small tourist map with steam boat routes and stage coach schedules published in 1839.

Allen's collection also contains 17th and 18th century French, English, and Dutch maps of the Western Hemisphere plus illustrations of all or part of North America by noted colonial cartographers, such as John Russell (fl. 1733-1795). In an introductory note, Allen acknowledged the only link some of the early maps have to Kentucky is "territory which later included . . . Kentucky is, of course, found within the larger area depicted on these maps," and said the older maps were placed at the head of his collection because of their "antiquity and beauty." The oldest, and perhaps most decorative, is Americae Nova Tableau (1635) by Willem Janzoon Blaeu (1571-1638).

Pre-1900 Maps, University of Louisville Archives and Records Center

Conditions of Use

The University of Louisville welcomes fair use of this website and its contents. If you wish to publish, broadcast, or publicly display these materials, please notify Archives and Special Collections. In addition, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions, which may include paying fees for commercial use. For further information about permissions, use, and ordering reproductions, see Order Reproductions, or contact Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

Please cite the pre-1900 maps, the 1939 WPA maps, and the atlases and the maps within them using the following format:

[Image Number], [Digital Publisher], University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

Please cite the Lafon Allen Maps as:
[Image Number], Lafon Allen Maps Collection, Rare Books, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

To cite the digital version, add its Reference URL (found by following the link in the header above the digital file).


Many people, including students, staff, and faculty at the University of Louisville Libraires, have contributed to this digital collection since its inception in 2007.

Typically, each map or plate was scanned as a 600 ppi, 24-bit RGB TIFF file, using a BetterLight overhead scanning setup including a Linhof Kardan M camera with 135mm Rodenstock lens or 120mm Rodenstock lens (providing a wider angle for larger maps).

The 1913 atlas included wide page margins around each map, so the scans were cropped to the borders of the maps. The 1831, 1859, and 1925 maps of Louisville were each scanned in multiple parts and merged into a single file using the Photomerge feature in Photoshop version CS4.

The following people assisted with the scanning of one or more maps in this collection:
Bill Carner
Alexandra Clifton
Rachael Elrod
Rachel I. Howard
Ann Merkle
Laure Miolo
Amy Hanaford Purcell
Rachael Ritter
Susannah Starks
Marcy Werner

Susan Finley or Rachel I. Howard cataloged, converted, and uploaded the images as lossy JPEG2000 files of Maximum quality using CONTENTdm Digital Collection Management Software. Metadata for each map was created in accordance with our data dictionary (PDF). Most of the maps have titles printed on them, but those supplied by the cataloger(s) have been noted in the Description field.

Jennifer Hambley assisted with the identification of neighborhoods represented by each page in the atlases.

Terri L. Holtze designed the HTML pages, including the application of Google Maps to relate the historic maps' boundaries to present-day Louisville.

Tom Owen, Associate Archivist-Local History, wrote the "Historic Maps" essay.

Select the collections to add or remove from your search