States of confusion

Politics played major role in 14 states missing from city maps

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.

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.