Tuesday, June 06, 2017

What's in a (street) name, Chariton?

Had you been a member of Chariton's First Presbyterian Church back in 1883, you'd have climbed into the buggy on Sunday mornings and headed for the intersection of Madison Avenue and Jackson Street. Ten years later, you'd have disembarked at the intersection of 1st Avenue and 2nd Street. And after 1895 --- continuing until the present --- Presbyterians have been found at the intersection of Braden Avenue and North 8th.

Although the church building didn't move,  Chariton's original street names changed twice during the city's first 50 years. And truth be told, no one really noticed that much. The most frequently given directions to the church then as now are these --- a block east of the northeast corner of the square.

When first platted during 1849-50, Chariton's streets were given presidential names and those names remained in use into the 1880s.

At some point during the 1880s, however, most likely because the city had expanded far beyond its original plat, a new --- and very confusing --- naming system was introduced. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1893 (top) shows how it worked: What originally had been Harrison Street, running north-south along the west side of the square, was rechristened Main Street; and Adams Avenue, running east-west along the south side of the courthouse, was renamed Main Avenue --- then when two thoroughfares with roughly the same name proved to be too confusing, Court.

All east-west avenues north of Court were numbered, beginning with 1st Avenue (now Braden) and all avenues south of Court were alphabetized, beginning with A Avenue (now Linden). West of Main, north-south streets were alphabetized (our current 11th Street was A Street); and east of Main, streets were numbered --- the current Grand was 1st Street. Yikes.

During 1893, a considerable number of Chariton women frustrated by male inattention to details like parks, piles of trash, unpaved streets, no sidewalks and the absence of a city water supply, formed the Chariton Village Improvement Association. Two years later, the women dropped "Village" from their organization's name, opened membership to men and got down to work. Jessie Mallory Thayer (left), daughter of Smith H. and Annie Mallory, then Chariton's first family, was the prime mover.

A more logical street naming scheme was among the newly reorganized association's first project during 1895, as reported in The Herald of Aug. 15, 1895:

Acting upon authority from the city council, the directors of the Improvement Association have during the past week, without expense to the tax payers, renamed the streets of Chariton, and the finger boards bearing the names are being taken down, relettered and will be replaced as soon as practical. There is nothing like the novelty of a change once in a while for keeping up an interest in the city. 

The new naming scheme was explained in more detail in a follow-up story published in The Democrat of Aug. 23:

The avenues and streets of the city have been renamed by the Chariton Improvement Association. As formerly the avenues run east and west and the streets north and south. Commencing in the south part of the city, the avenues have been named as follows: South, Lagrange, York, Woodlawn, Armory, Linden, Court, Braden, Rowland, Auburn, Osage, Orchard, Park, Ashland, Lucas, Glenway, Brookdale, Green, Commercial and Osceola. The streets have been numbered with the exception of the two on the square. Commencing in the extreme eastern part of the city they run as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Grand, Main, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18. The new sign boards will be put up in a few days.

The changes were reflected as follows on the Sanborn map of 1899 --- and with some jiggering and a few additions is the system that continues to serve the city today.

Having a more or less coherent street naming system in place, however, did not mean that the people of Chariton starting using it --- or for that matter bothered to take note of what street they lived on.

This caused a good deal of frustration among Improvement Association members and on March 20, 1896, Jessie took to the pages of The Democrat to express her displeasure, as follows:

Are our street names to be of use to the town? The Improvement Association of Chariton were permitted by the city council to select names for the streets and avenues of our city, and the names suggested have been legally adopted by the council, and are now the authorized titles of the public highways of Chariton. The Improvement Association has at its own expense placed in conspicuous places at the intersections of all streets, the names of said streets in good plain letters that all may read. The question now remains, Will our citizens begin to use the names of the streets, so that in a few months they will be familiar to all our people, as is the case in other cities; or shall we remain true to our primitive habits and continue to say, "We live so many blocks from so-and-so's house," etc.?

Take for instance the advertisements in our papers. Why not use the names of our streets in them? Why does not Mrs. J.D. Elliott, who has a conspicuous advertisement in one paper, state that her residence is on the corner of Auburn Avenue and 12th street, instead of "two blocks west and two blocks north of the northwest corner of the square."

There are many others of the same nature, but the one illustrates the idea. Then turn to the church directory in our papers. You will learn that the Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ) is on First Street (the eastern corporation line of the city). It isn't. the U.P. (United Presbyterian, not First Presbyterian) is on the corner of First and Third Ave. This would be rather unreliable information to any stranger who might think the street signs of our city were put up for use.

Our physicians nearly all seem to be located blocks from corners, and we must be sure of our points of the compass or we may start from the wrong corner, and land with a disciple of the wrong school. One doctor, a former member of the board of directors of the Improvement Assocation, advertises that he lives on the corner of Main and Fourth avenue, but he doesn't.

One of the officers of the Association received a call from a lady recently come to Chariton to reside. The question was asked, "Where do you live?" The reply came, "You know where Col. Dungan lives? Well, you go to that corner and then turn east and go two blocks and then north one, and we live there." "But what street is in on?" "Why, I don't know. Have the streets names?"

One young man, the son of one of the officers of the Association, was heard to say lately, "I don't know what street I live on. I saw them nailing up the signs last summer, but I never thought to notice what was on them."

A great deal more might be told on this same subject but this is enough to introduce our plea. Won't the people of the town make use of the names of the streets now, and although it seems a trifling thing, it will help to make us more up to date and less of the back-woods village. We hear no end of orations on the subject of patriotism for our country, and we all have it, but there is such a thing as patriotism and devotion to the town where one's life is spent; and there is a thousand times more opportunity for us to show our loyalty and interest, and faith in it, in times of peace, than in the great land which will be upheld by millions. (signed) Jessie Mallory Thayer, President


Well, Jessie would be pleased that by now most of us know what streets we live on and what our house numbers are. I can tell you without looking it up that the Lucas County Historical Society Museum is located at 123 North 17th Street.

On the other hand, if a stranger asks me how to get there I generally say, "just drive west from the northwest corner of the square until you run into it." 

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