Since the late nineteenth century, the Sanborn Map Company (later Sanborn-Perris Map Company) has produced highly detailed maps of cities and towns throughout the United States for use by insurance companies in determining the risk of fire. Maps for many North Carolina cities and towns are available for the period 1884-1980s, depending on the size of the city or town at a particular time. The maps were updated at regular intervals, depending on how fast the community grew. Early maps concentrate on commercial districts; later maps include residential areas. Insets often depict factories or other commercial enterprises in outlying areas. The maps show buildings, railroads, streets, bodies of water, and other features in remarkable detail. Uses of all structures (dwellings, commercial and institutional buildings) are indicated. Color coding and symbols reveal such information as the material from which a building was constructed (wood, brick, or stone), the number of stories, the presence of night security staff, type of heating and lighting, and the availability of fire-fighting equipment. Indexes of street names and special features are usually found on the first sheet of each map.These detailed, accurate maps can be used to determine much important information about a city or town at a particular time and to understand how the community developed. Their research value spans across many disciplines including geography, history, planning, and preservation.