University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Historic Illinois County Atlases

County atlases, which began to be produced after the Civil War, are a uniquely American nineteenth-century publication. County atlas publication initially was centered in Philadelphia in the 1860s but by the 1880s Chicago had taken the lead, and a high proportion of the atlases published cover Midwestern counties. The primary foci of the county atlases are township maps that show property ownership, roads, and railroads. Additional contents might include: county, state, and national maps; directories of businesses, county officials, landowners, and rural residents; photographs or drawings of residents, farms, homes, public buildings, churches, businesses, and prize livestock. The atlases are statements of personal, familial and civic pride. Over one hundred years after their publication, county atlases have become a research staple. As a snapshot of late 19th-century economics and agriculture, they are used to support inquiries into local history and genealogy and the reconstruction of land use and transportation patterns that have been obscured by later development.