Jeremy Atack, Professor Emeritus at Vanderbilt, has posted historical GIS transportation shape (SHP) files for the Lower 48 states from the nation’s founding through (approximately) 1911 on this site. Researchers and map enthusiasts can have a field day with these files!
“Each transportation mode – canals, steamboat-navigated (as opposed to navigable) rivers, and railroads – has its own archive ZIP file which contains the complete series of files (projection, database and polyline files, etc.) required by ESRI’s ArcGIS and ArcGIS Pro. These are collectively referred to as “a SHP file” though there are actually multiple files for each mode of transportation. Once unpacked, these files for each SHP must be kept together and should only be edited using a GIS program. If corrupted, the entire SHP file will become unusable.
The metadata file (.XML) briefly describes the contents of each SHP, the manner in which it was created, and summarizes any edits since these files were originally posted. Issues relating to the creation of these SHP files are discussed in much greater detail in the documentation file on the site.
~Thanks to Jonathan Gifford for recommending this post