Archive for Friday, April 21, 2006

States of confusion

Politics played major role in 14 states missing from city maps

April 21, 2006


The main drag is named for Massachusetts.

One of the principal north-south streets is named for Iowa.

Then there are Michigan, Alabama, Rhode Island, Delaware and the other Lawrence streets named for the 50 states of the union.

Well, not all 50. There are only 36 streets named for states. Fourteen states are not represented on Lawrence street signs. Why?

"Some developer wanted to name a street after his daughter or something?" guessed Barry Bunch, a historian at the Kansas University Spencer Research Library.

Politics, space, time

Not quite. According to historical texts and local historians, city planners way back named streets after some states - and skipped others - because of a combination of politics, space and time, leaving Lawrence without streets named for the full 50 states.

How the streets east of Massachusetts were named is a fairly easy story to tell, historians say. The methodology is well-documented - as were the politics at the time.

Debbie Rollins, a traffic control technician with the city's Public Works Division, finishes up a street sign earlier this week. Rollins creates many signs from start to finish for the city.

Debbie Rollins, a traffic control technician with the city's Public Works Division, finishes up a street sign earlier this week. Rollins creates many signs from start to finish for the city.

When the New England Emigrant Aid Society, an abolitionist group, landed in Lawrence in 1854, they set the original order of the streets, according to former KU professor David Dary's historical text, "A Pictorial History of Lawrence, Douglas County Kansas."

Local historian Steve Jansen, familiar with Dary's work and others, said that the emigrants named the streets after their former homes - namely, Massachusetts, which of course became the heart of the young city.

"East of that, they set up the remainder of the old 13 (states)," Jansen said.

East Lawrence

But even in historic East Lawrence, some states are conspicuously absent - and the states that are there are in no particular order.

From Delaware, the first state to enter the union, the order should go like this: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia.

But where's Georgia?

"They didn't want to name the streets after any southern states," Jansen said, because of the divide between north and south over the slavery issue.

Right. Lawrence was one of few cities in America founded on wholly political premises, and the street names were intended to reflect that, Jansen said.

The troop from New England wanted Lawrence to become a free state and Union stronghold. So the states that should be there, such as South Carolina and Georgia, don't exist.

The list skips straight to New York, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, which is not exactly the order in which they entered the union.

Streets become orderly

According to Jansen, a text written by Thomas Webb called "Information for Kansas Emigrants" and distributed widely throughout New England, told people planning to come to Lawrence about this arrangement.

Step foot west of Massachusetts and the state-named streets become orderly. But here, Watkins Community Museum of History archivist Helen Krische said, the thinking about state names gets murky.

The order of the streets west of Massachusetts are the same order they entered the union - starting with Kentucky and ending with Florida, some six blocks east of Iowa Street.

But what happened in those six blocks? What city planner decided to mess with Texas?

"I don't really have an explanation," Krische said.

Focus lost

If things went according to plan, the street just after Florida would have been named Texas - right about where Emery Road sits now. At that point in city history, at about the turn of the century, planners apparently had no problem naming streets after southern states.

Plus, Iowa would have followed Texas, just as it did when entering the union. California, Wisconsin, Minnesota all should have been placed west of U.S. Highway 59.

But Jansen said that somewhere around that time, the focus on states as street names disappeared.

"By then they lost the rationale," he said.

Not only was the order lost, but after Iowa, state names suddenly disappear from street signs. Sure, there's Arizona Street, tucked away in a subdivision just east of Kasold Drive, but for the most part, after Iowa, the party was over.

There also is a Carolina and a Dakota street, though neither is preceded by north or south, so they don't exactly qualify as streets named for states.

Some developers tried to pick up the trend again. South of 23rd Street, a patch of streets near Haskell Indian Nations University have acquired some of the missing street names - most notably, Kansas Street, which is nestled near Vermont, Utah, Nebraska and others.

But as a whole, the thinking of street-naming city planners outside of historic East Lawrence remains a mystery. And so, too, does the hodgepodge of streets named for states.

"Who knows their wackiness," Krische said.

Reader discussion

Which streets should be given names of the missing states? Discuss the possibilities below.


lamb 11 years, 9 months ago

I say we start over and rename the streets for all the states in the Union. It would be a built in geography lesson. How hard can it be to rename streets?

bmwjhawk 11 years, 9 months ago

Interesting. This is the kind of fluff I like to read. I also find it interesting that years ago the railroad bought the land in East Lawrence, preventing the city from expanding that way and resulting in the westward expansion we see today.

pundit 11 years, 9 months ago

I wonder why Missouri was included......

Charla Welch 11 years, 9 months ago

"Posted by lamb (anonymous) on April 21, 2006 at 7:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I say we start over and rename the streets for all the states in the Union. It would be a built in geography lesson. How hard can it be to rename streets?"

Rename the streets? That includes changing street signs, changing phone books, changing any atlas that has a map of lawrence in it, changing all web-based mapping programs like mapquest, as well as all the homes and businesses on those streets having to change their addresses. What would the Mass St Deli be if we changed that name of Mass street? Have you ever moved? Do you remember how long it took to get your new address to everyone who needed it? Imagine a business that has ads, flyers, posters, etc. all over the city. They'd have to change all letterheads, business cards, ads, signs, everything that has their address on it, and that gets expensive.

GonetotheDogs 11 years, 9 months ago

I couldn't resist....15th Billings Pkwy...I know that there weren't that many addresses for that section, but they do what they want when they want! I understand that they wanted to honor someone with the naming, don't get me wrong, but a good portion of the people that come to this town are confused enough without having to pull a stunt like that!

armyguy 11 years, 9 months ago

My house is on Oklahoma St., there are a lot of little streets around my house that are named for states. It seems as though the writer thinks that this is some new subdivison. My house was built in 1950 as were most of other homes in the area.

Mike Blur 11 years, 9 months ago

Char, Mass Street Deli could still be Mass Street Deli. There's no law forcing any business to change their name. Don't forget, right now Vermont Street BBQ is on Mass Street. (And 75th Street Brewery is on Clinton Parkway.)

I'm not in favor of changing any street names however. Being an ex-pizza driver who has spent many years on the streets of Lawrence, I'm amused by some of the street names. Do you know there are two Maple Streets? (On in N. Lawrence, another in E Lawrence) There is a High St., right behind the fraternities on Emery. (The street signs are securly bolted down to deter theft.) Aldrich and Eldridge sound similar, and can be confusing for pizza phone girls trying to take orders from drunken college kids at 2:30 am. Westdale Street sometimes gets translated as "W. Dale" and rookie drivers get lost looking for Dale Street. Same thing with Westbrooke--it occasionally gets translated as W. Brook, and of course there is a Brook Street, about 50 blocks east of Westbrooke. There is a Havrone Way (have you own way) and there is an Easy Street. Occasionally, out-of-towners have mixed up Mass Street, calling it the "main street" which of course is not Maine Street.

Also I see to recall some right-wing indignance in the mid-90s, when a few people wanted to rename "Clinton Parkway" "Reagan Parkway."

staff04 11 years, 9 months ago

I live about a block away from Kansas Arlington, VA.

kathyb 11 years, 9 months ago

What happened to Connecticut Street? The article says "New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire." Connecticut is between New York and Rhode Island.

Sideshow_Bob 11 years, 9 months ago

It is a shame they didn't stick with it. It is pretty interesting the way the streets are set up, or maybe it just is to me because I like history.

jayhoxrock 11 years, 9 months ago

I'm surprised as well that Lawrence didn't want to name a street "Georgia" due to the politals ties, yet "Missouri" (or "Misery" as I call it!) one of Kansas' biggest foes (Does Quantril ring a bell?) got in. I for one am glad I grew up on Steven Drive (named after the developer's son) and not Missouri! Currently, I live in Omaha where the "southern" part of town named their streets the simple letter "A" followed by "B" followed by "C" get the picture. It makes it quite easy to find your way around that part of town.

fletch 11 years, 9 months ago

Luckily, those plucky KU students living on Missouri St have always done a good job changing the street name whenever Mizzou football comes in town, lest wayward Misery-ians think it were okay to tailgate there.

lamb 11 years, 9 months ago

Well, instead of renaming streets since that seems to be too difficult, how about taking up where they were left off. Naming new streets for the missed states? Then we can go further with naming streets for countries! I like it!

Grundoon Luna 11 years, 9 months ago

While Omaha may have a simple way of naming streets, they are absolute crap at designing interstates. And whenever I get directions from my cousins they say stuff like, "Go on 80 to Myrtle, go up the hill to Hickory . . . " neglecting to tell me that there really is a 4 before 80 since you can't get to Myrtle from 80 and they leave the 6 off of 680 too or they will forget that 480 West ends and you can't get on it where they said it was and you can't get back on the interstate where you got off of it buying a map is no help becuase they are building so many roads the maps are out of date (which is good for Omaha, they are growing very fast, or maybe not) Driving in Chicago, New York, LA, and Boston are less frustrating (can you tell I have gotten very frustrated driving in Omaha?)

The_Twelve 11 years, 9 months ago

"but for the most part, after Iowa, the party was over."

As an Iowan forced to live here, that's what I've always said...

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