Thursday, April 19, 2012

What was your street's old name?

1903 map from Library of Congress, via Ghosts of DC
Ghosts of DC, a fantastic local history blog I've been meaning to write about, has a great post about the old street names in our neighborhood. I've mentioned this a few times before, but not to this detail, and I never knew when or why the names were changed.

A number of the streets originally had names you might not be familiar with: Irving was called Kenesaw and Fairmont was Yale, for example. A lot of the street names, some of which didn't change, were related to colleges (Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Kenyon, Dartmouth, etc.) due, I believe, to the presence of Columbian College in what is now Meridian Hill Park. The college later moved downtown and became the George Washington University. And there were also other street names like Steuben, Huntington, Ludlow and Whitney.

 In 1904, Congress gave the District Commissioners the right to rename the streets outside the old city boundary, which was Boundary Street (which we know today as Florida Avenue. The reason it curves is because it follows the bottom of the hilly area -- my theory is it's because it was hard to ride a horse or a horse and buggy up and down a hill.) They chose to name them in accordance with the rest of the city's alphabetical plan -- as you can see above, they weren't alphabetical at all and some even changed names halfway through their run. Even some of what are now numbered streets weren't numbered. Some folks objected, including a judge who "held up for ridicule the A B C system and the lack of sentimentality which the names would possess."

There were some proposed name changes in 1904, and other, more familiar ones in 1905, published in the Washington Post:
Col. John Biddle, the Engineer Commissioner, submitted to his colleagues of the District board yesterday the completed schedule of changes in the names of streets in the suburban territory north and northwest of Florida avenue. The schedule was practically adopted by the board last Wednesday, six names being held under consideration until yesterday. The list of streets and names follows: 
Columbian College Grounds (North part)–Bacon to Harvard, Binney to Girard. 
Columbian College Grounds (South part)–Chapin unchanged, Staughton to Belmont. 
Columbia Heights–Roanoke to Euclid, Yale to Fairmount [sic], Princeton to Girard, Harvard not changed, Columbia street to Columbia road, Kenesaw to Irving, Kenyon not changed, Dartmouth to Lamont, Whitney avenue to Park road. 
Denison and Leighton’s subdivision–Kenesaw avenue to Irving street, Grant to Lamont. 
Gass subdivision–Whitney avenue to Park road, Scott avenue to Newton place. 
Halls’ subdivision–Eighth to Ninth 
Haw’s subdivision–Grant avenue to Barry place. 
Howard University subdivision–Wilson to V, Pomery to W, Trumbull, east of Fourth, to Bryant; Trumbull, west of Sixth, not changed; Howard avenue to Howard place, Lincoln to Fairmount, Sumner to Girard, Colfax street to Gresham place, Morris street to Hobart place. 
Holmead Manor–Rock Creek Church road not changed, Lydecker avenue to Monroe street, Holmead avenue to Holmead place, Eslin avenue to Eleventh street, Morgan avenue to Tenth street, Lamar place to Otis place.
And then Ghosts of DC found this funny little tidbit in a letter to the editor in 1909 from a Columbia Heights resident, which I've been annoyed about too:
Quite a number of years ago the authorities adopted a scheme for the systematic naming of streets added to those already regularly lettered, numbered and otherwise named. Naturally, it was thought that in its future growth the city would be free from the antiquated, unsystematic arrangement with which it was threatened. But it was not to be. At least, it was not to be, so far as Columbia Heights, where I reside, is concerned. For some reason, or no reason, old local names were retained, and in the case of new streets names were fixed according to the sentimental wishes of individuals or the whim of the street-naming expert. 
With no regard for numerical and alphabetical sequence, we find distributed through the Heights Brown, Center, Oak and Pine streets, Hiatt place, Meridian place, Mozart place, Ingleside terrace. And, especially objectionable, there are duplications of names, as in the case of Spring road, Spring place, Park road, Park place, Parkwood place. All this in one neighborhood. 
Perhaps it may be objected that it would be sacrilegious, if not impracticable to systematically rename these and other thoroughfares. But to this writer it seems that the possible temporary dissatisfaction of a few individuals which might be involved in their renaming would be very much more offset in the case of the thousands of citizens who, from month to month, are inconvenienced, irritated and outraged by the present arrangement.
Good stuff. What was your old street called?

And do yourself a favor and check out Ghosts of DC, they have a lot of great posts about Columbia Heights and other parts of the city.


  1. Awesome stuff. Out streets in Trinidad changed names as well, but it appears to have happened before the actual construction occurred, so old names only existed on the books.


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