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What's in a street name?
By Dan Naumovich

People always remember the name of the street where they grew up. It's part of their personal history and just hearing the name sends them on a trip down memory lane. But many people never consider how their street, or subdivision, came to be named. There's a history there as well, one that continues to be written to this day — one new sign at a time.

Since the first plat was drawn in the 1820s until today, the naming of streets in Springfield has largely been the job of land owners and developers. Although names require government approval, the city has never had formal procedures for selecting names.

"Basically, we'll take a look at the street names, as long as its not offensive or no duplicates, its usually good to go," said Joe Zeibert, senior planner for the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission.

Zeibert said that other agencies also weigh in. The post office and the 911 system don't want names that are confusing or too similar to existing names in their jurisdiction. And extensions of existing streets should retain the same name for ease of navigation, although Zeibert said that isn't always the case.

Other than that, those whose profession bestows upon them the duty to name streets have almost complete creative control. Unlike product developers who test names to determine maximum consumer appeal, land developers take a more personal approach. In a way, it's like naming a child.

"There's definitely a method to our madness," said John Klemm, president of Klemm Development Corp.

It's common for a parent-in-waiting to look up names and make lists of the ones that sound good. That's how Klemm came to name his latest subdivision.

After some initial research, he jotted down the names he liked best and showed them to his wife. Her favorite was also his favorite, and Savannah Pointe was born.

Savannah has long been known for its Southern charm and hospitality, making it an intriguing choice for a Midwestern town. Once it was decided upon, naming the streets followed suit.

"I wrote to the Savannah Chamber of Commerce and got their street map and used names of streets in Savannah. We wrote them down and picked the ones we liked," Klemm said.

Cricket Point, Fiddlers Bend, Cromwell Place and Gentry Ridge will ring familiar to those who've visited the Hostess City of the South. For those who make their homes there, someday the names will sound as much a part of Springfield as Glenwood Avenue or Keokuk Drive.

Klemm has been working in the real estate business for about 32 years. His resume includes Piper Glen, Cider Mill and, thanks to an annual pilgrimage of professional women golfers, the nationally known Panther Creek subdivision and golf course. Klemm doesn't try to brand a development with a name, but rather names a development and lets it take on a reputation of its own.

"As a subdivision develops, it takes on its own character according to what people's perceptions are," he said.

According to those in the real estate business, potential home buyers may form an initial first impression of a listing based on a street or subdivision name, but when it comes to making a buying decision, that impression holds no sway over such things as price and location.

"Sometimes you will have some street names that I guess are a little bit different and people might react, but that's not going to stop someone if the house is suitable for them and what they want," said Steve Contri, an associate with RE/MAX Professionals.

Retail developments may not conjure up the same sentimentality as neighborhoods, but their names have stories behind them as well, ones that usually involve a bit more strategic thinking.

"Any time you're doing commercial development, you try to play off the major street that connects the development to the rest of the community. Commercial developments are destination points, and retailers want people to know where they're at," said Larry Quinn, who co-owns Prairieland Development with his wife, Julie.

That's the approach he took with two sites he's developing in Sherman and Litchfield. Both developments are called Route 66 Crossing to mark their place along Historic Route 66. Quinn — an avid "car guy" who still competes in nostalgia drag races around the country - continued with the Mother Road theme when naming the new streets constructed for the development.

"I remembered the TV show 'Route 66' that was big back in the '50s and '60s. And the main theme of that show was a Corvette. Our main street is named Corvette Drive. And then we tried to play off that theme, so we came up with Galaxie Drive, for the Ford Galaxie," Quinn said.

Other streets include Catalina Lane and Thunderbird Circle.

Quinn got his start in development 26 years ago. He learned the trade while working with the late Leonard Sapp, a legendary figure in the city's westward expansion.

Sapp left his mark throughout the area, but the names in one particular development offer a small glimpse of who he was as a businessman and a person.

"He named it Parkway Pointe because he wanted it to be the focal commercial development on Veterans Parkway," Quinn said of the Target-anchored retail area.

When it came time to name the streets, Sapp selected Constitution, Liberty and Freedom drives.

"Leonard was a very patriotic person. In fact, he even put in his covenants that (businesses) had to put up a certain size flag pole and certain size flag," Quinn said.

There is no Sapp Street in Springfield, but for a good part of Springfield's history developers named streets after themselves and their investors. Many of the town's earliest arrivals and landowners are immortalized on street signs that remain to this day and include names such as Cook, Enos, Iles, Herndon, Matheny and Reynolds.

Zeibert said they discourage naming streets after identifiable people while they're still alive. Today, you're more likely to find new streets named Kate, Christopher or Christine — a personal but somewhat anonymous homage to a developer's family or friends.

Except for perhaps First through 32nd, there's a story behind every street name in Springfield. Some have been lost through time, but as long as the city continues to grow, new ones will keep being written.

Avenues, drives and boulevards, oh my

What's the difference between a boulevard, an avenue and a drive? In Springfield, it's largely a designation without a distinction. For example, technically a boulevard is so named because of the strip of landscaped land between two streets of the same name running in opposite directions. In Springfield, Westchester Boulevard has no such strip, while Lowell Avenue and Merion Drive do. Bryn Mawr Boulevard, however, fits the definition.

It's doubtful a developer today would dare put a Bush Boulevard or Clinton Avenue in a new subdivision. In less partisan times, naming streets for national leaders was more common. Springfield currently has streets named for 11 former U.S. Presidents. Can you name them?

If tourists today are confused because North Grand doesn't connect to South Grand, imagine the days when there were also separate streets named East Grand and West Grand. West Grand was renamed MacArthur Boulevard in 1952 to honor Gen. Douglas MacArthur after President Truman fired the beloved war hero.

In 1973, state Rep. J. David Jones was instrumental in getting 31st Street renamed Dirksen Parkway in honor of U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen. Later, Jones got a parkway of his own when the segment of Walnut Street that runs out to the airport was named in his honor.

Springfield's shortest street shares a name with New York City's longest one — Broadway.

Was there ever a college on College Street? A document dated 1836 shows a parcel of land on College Street that was owned by Elijah Iles and marked as "college donation." Whatever plans were in the works apparently didn't materialize.

The street names in Monopoly were taken from the Atlantic City area. In Springfield, you'll have to limit your hotel buying to Connecticut, Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Park streets.

When inspiration fails to call, variations on a tree can help with naming streets. In addition to an Oak Street, Springfield also has roads named for the Red Oak, White Oak (not to be confused with White Oaks), Bent Oak and almost a dozen other oak-related names.

At one time, local astrologers could find their sign on a street sign. Gemini and Cancer streets once ran where Carpenter and Miller are today.

Complain about potholes if you must, but imagine traveling on wood planks. Springfield started planking roads in 1870 to keep wagons out of the mud. The first brick road was laid in 1888, and concrete pavement was introduced in 1923.

Second Street is the most popular street name in the U.S. Why not 1st Street? Many towns named the central road through town Main Street instead. Springfield has a Main Street; it runs through the fairgrounds.

A case can be made that Jefferson Street is Springfield's oldest street. The name appears on the earliest known town plat, and it's located along an old Indian trail.

Story published Friday, July 2, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 4 )

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