Mississippi’s Very Own Sanborn Man: Owen T. Palmer

As I was searching through the various digital newspaper collections for references to the Sanborn Map Company for yesterday’s post “Who Were Those Sanborn Men?“, I ran across a 1945 article in the Daily Herald about the presentation of a certificate to Gulfport insurance man, Owen T. Palmer, for 25 years of service as a representative of Alliance Insurance Company of Philadelphia. The article gave a brief biography of Mr. Palmer that began:

Mr. Palmer was born in Baltimore and attended private schools there. He studied civil engineering at Columbia University and practiced this profession from 1901 to 1907. In 1907, he went with the Sanborn Map Company as a surveyor. Five years later, he joined the Mississippi Inspection and Advisory Rating Company of Vicksburg and remained with them until 1919.

As you recall, I had wondered what skills the Sanborn Map Company was looking for in its surveyors, and with O.T. Palmer at least, we now know that civil engineers filled the qualifications–whether the majority of Sanborn men were engineers, I don’t know, but that does seem like a good fit and it would mean that these were professionals who had had some post-secondary training, if not the full Columbia experience.

As I continued searching the newspaper databases, O.T. Palmer kept popping up to prove his bona fides. The earliest reference I found was in the 1909 Natchez Democrat where a young Mr. Palmer, now 2 years with the Sanborn company, arrives in mid-July to make a new map of Natchez and expects to take “several weeks to gather the information necessary to complete this work.”

Natchez Democrat, July 28, 1909, p.3.

Looking up O.T. Palmer in the census records for 1910, I found he was still technically living with his parents, Arthur and Elizabeth Palmer in the then-new, now-historic, pretty ritzy Cecil Apartments (built 1902) in Baltimore, but I would bet he was on the road so much that he was just using that as his home base. In 1910, Palmer was 24 and the census says his occupation is “surveyor for an insurance company.” Hmm, let’s see, he was 24 in 1910, but began work as a civil engineer in 1901, according to the 1945 Daily Herald? Child prodigy?

Our next newspaper run-in with O.T. is in March 1913, when the Daily Herald notes that “O.T. Palmer and W.L. Evans of the Mississippi Inspection and Advisory Rating Company of Vicksburg are here making an inspection of the city and of the new residences and places of business that have recently been erected, and will make a report to the Vicksburg office after their work is completed which will take about four weeks.” This article also mentions that when he worked for the Sanborn company, Palmer’s home office was in New Orleans. However, I haven’t yet found his name in either the New Orleans or the Vicksburg city directories, and I suspect he must have either been on the road too much to have a real home or he was continuing to live with his parents whenever he had some time off.

Daily Herald, March 21, 1913, p. 1.

I’m a little confused about what the Mississippi Inspection and Advisory Rating Company was doing in Gulfport–was Palmer making a map for them like the Sanborn maps? What does a rating company do exactly? Do we have any insurance experts out there to tell us?

Vicksburg 1914 City Directory

The last newspaper mention of Mr. Palmer is an extensive obituary upon his death at 84 in 1970 (unfortunately, this is one of only two photos I found of him and both clearly suffer from having been scanned from microfilm instead of from the original newspapers). The obit also adds that Mr. Palmer, as a civil engineer, worked on “what is now known as the Hudson Tunnel.” Wikipedia tells me that the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River in New York was constructed in 1927, so that’s not the tunnel in question. Anyone know what tunnel this is? And for his first act as Sanborn map man, Palmer was sent to New Orleans to complete a new map of the city. Which is a pretty great opening act for a man who went on to a long and productive life as a leader in Gulfport and the insurance industry. Thanks for all the beautiful, accurate, and always fascinating maps, Mr. Palmer!

Daily Herald, March 23, 1970.

Categories: Architectural Research, Biloxi, Gulfport, Historic Preservation, Natchez


7 replies

  1. Could the tunnels it possibly be the Hudson Tubes that are subway tunnels? These were completed in 1906, so the timing would be about right. These tunnels were remarkable for both the tunneling process that they eventually implemented and for the fact that they were the first non-waterborne link between Manhattan and New Jersey.


  2. Inspection / Advisory Rating.
    These words indicate a business organized by a group of fire insurance companies, or by a state or group of states, to determine fire insurance rates within a region. All inspected buildings. Some made maps for internal use, some published their maps. More…


  3. Fire insurance rates were serious problems for decades. A fire insurer could raise large amounts of cash by underselling the competition in a region. But when the conflagration swarmed, the company would not have enough reserves to pay for the damage. Thus rating bureaus were formed. Some bureaus tried to enforce their rates, but that was stopped by the courts. So the rates became “advisory.”


  4. I have several fire insurance maps of Louisiana and Mississippi cities drawn about 1910. They are hand-drawn, not printed. I don’t know yet whether these were surveyor’s notes or final products.


  5. In your previous article “Who were these Sanborn Men” Lyle E Osborn[e], manager of Mississippi State Rating Bureau was quoted on the coming surge of Sanborn surveyors through Mississippi in 1924. A few years earlier he was a fire insurance inspector for the Michigan Inspection Bureau in Grand Rapids.


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