Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What Is In A Name?

Lexington now has a new street. One that has been in the planning stages for many years and has been called many names over those years. This street is now named for a person that few have any knowledge of and few places where one can look for information about him. His name was nominated, vetted and voted upon by the public, in an online poll, and garnered over half the votes cast. Yet the Herald-Leader says that little is known about him and they had no part in finding any information on him prior to the vote. I find it interesting that so many citizens could have made such an informed decision without the local newspaper.

This is the same newspaper which describes the first segment of the road(Phase IV) as running from West Main St. to Versailles Rd. and labels the photos with the current terminus as the intersection with Maxwell. Actually W. High St. is the intersection and Maxwell intersects a little closer to town and W High St. changes to Versailles Rd on the other side of the bridge at Angliana Ave.

I have followed the local controversies of our governments street naming or address committee and the troubles of naming or renaming streets due to problems(or perceived problems) and the wish to honor an fallen public servant. Then there is the issue of letting the public vote on naming a new roadway segment where very few realize that a problem could arise from failure to do so. To fully explain all the implications of how addresses are determined and assigned would take far more space than a single blog post and few readers would be willing to wade(slog) through it, so I won't attempt to give it a shot. What I will do is tell what I know about how some streets got their names.

Lexington started out with some very simple street names and none of them were named after anybody or any event, just some simple names on a grid. There was Main St which ran parallel to the Town Branch Creek and a commons area on either side of the creek which included the site of the original blockhouse and fortifications. What were called "in lots" surrounded both Main and the commons and from there north were "out lots". The streets parallel to Main had the numerical designations of Second through Seventh St. except for a short section of road called Short St, how odd. The perpendicular streets began with the Cross Street, (or Main Cross Street on some maps) right by the blockhouse and on either side of that were Mill(on the east) and Spring(on the west). If you try real hard, I bet you can tell what was the distinctive feature of each. Beyond these were Upper and Lower Streets with Upper on the upstream(east) side and Lower on the downstream(west) side. The eastern end of the "in lots" had a cross street named Mulberry, which ran from Hill St across Main and north to the extent of the "out lots". Hill St took its name from the fact that it traversed the crest of the hill on the south side of the Town Branch. The last two streets on the original plat were Walnut and Back, with Back being the farthest from the blockhouse or commons area and thus out back of everything else. See, simple names

But streets don't stop at the edge of town, they become roads that lead to the outside world. Main St led northwest along the Town Branch toward the Kentucky River and points westward, or you could go south east, back toward the Cumberland Gap. Cross St went north toward the Ohio and the settlements that would sprout in that direction, but it also went south to James Harrod's station and fort. Mulberry led out toward Bryan's station and on up the long used indian trail to the Ohio River and a spot that became known as Limestone because of the quality of rock in the area. As Lexington grew and the wilderness became subdued, people began to develop dwelling places and farms on the "out lots" and they saw the roads bring folks and take folks away, but mostly they saw the roads bring commerce.

Cross St and Main, being the center of town activity, probably saw the most commercial traffic and the width of Cross was increased to handle it. Newcomers from "back east" felt that it needed a name befitting its size and it became Broadway. Anyone building a fine house found the need to obtain their foundation stones from Limestone, Ky. and Mulberry St. started to be called the Limestone Rd.. Limestone, Ky. became Maysville and the road was then called the Maysville Turnpike, but it was still officially Mulberry in town. It took until 1887 for the City Council to change the name to Limestone St. and that was finally shortened to Limestone.

Imagine, if you can, that most of the homes and related activities occurring within what we now call our downtown core, from High St to Short and Limestone to Broadway. This is the very area that we have redone the streetscape and pavilion. With the influx of new residents in the early 1800s, many of them lawyers come to settle the land survey and boundary disputes, new housing developments sprang up as the farmers moved farther out into the fertile fields and the “out lots” became the estates of the wealthy.

The passageways to reach these estates, mostly unpaved, sometimes took their names from those who lived along them or their destinations. The 14 “out lots” on the south side of Hill St. abutted the property of John Maxwell and, as the lots began to be sub-divided, the roadway took the name of Maxwell St. Initially running from approximately Merino St to just east of Mulberry(Limestone), the street was extended to Woodland in the early 1900s.

The religious needs of the community were satisfied with meeting houses until the various congregations could build proper houses of worship. Several of these were located on the closest group of out lots and just north of Short St and were connected by a new roadway running parallel to Short and bisecting the lots. That street is now named Church St

Mill St was extended north along the west side of out lots “F” and #6, ending at Third St and a corresponding street was cut from the east side of the same lots. This new street led directly to the public square on which was located the school house and later the county court house. Since the days that court was in session drew so many to town, there was usually much trading and selling in a public market and this new street took the name of Market St.

These are the early names as found on the maps up until 1835. The naming and the reasons for naming get more interesting after that.

1 comment:

legacycenter said...

This is really good stuff
thanks - it definately needs to get a wide readerhsip