Chicago Streets | Street Numbering | Early Streets | Street Names
Chicago Tribune, July 21, 1901
STREET NAMES: THEIR ORIGIN
How Chicago’s Thoroughfares Got Their Titles—Efforts to Make Changes.
Efforts to change the names of Pacific avenue to La Salle street, and to christen the “Biler avenue” of Chicago’s “wide open” days under the elder Harrison after the great French explorer, in whose honor the Wall street of Chicago is named, have brought the subject of street nomenclature prominently before the public again. Ever since the big annexation in the summer of 1889 there have been more or less determined efforts to bring order out of the chaos of Chicago’s street names. These efforts have only been partially successful on account of the resistance of the people to have old reminiscences wiped out. There is no such resistance in the case of Pacific avenue, because the location of the Hibernian Bank in the northern portion of it, which caused the preliminaries for the change, will be a distinct gain for the street. The chaos in nomenclature, however, will remain. It is illustrative of the tremendous growth of the city by mighty strides.
There are in Chicago 2,849 streets, avenues, courts, places, parks, lanes, and terraces, and it would be passing strange if there were not repetitions and exceedingly queer names for some of them.
The Union has been commemorated in two streets, one on the West Side and one in Hyde Park; three avenues on the South Side, Lake, and Hyde Park respectively; two places on the West Side and a park and park place, also both on the West Side.
The Presidents of the United States are all remembered with four exceptions; Tuler, Buchanan, Benjamin Harrison, and McKinley. Congress street on the South Side was originally named Tyler, but was changed to its present name when Tyler left the Whig party. Then the street south of Van Buren on the West Side was named Tyler, but this was also changed later on to correspond withe the continuation on the South Side. Adams street was named after John Adams, while John Quincy Adams, according to A. T. Andreas, was at first objectionable because of his election by the House of Representatives, but later on the little street abutting upon the government building was named after him.
Names of other “Presidential” streets are self-explanatory, but it should be mentioned that Cleveland avenue, on the North Side, was originally named after Horatio N. Huribut, and only changed after Cleveland’s second election. Besides this thoroughfare there are streets in Lake, Lake View, and on the West Side named after the man who revived the “innocuous desuetude.” Washington with fourteen, Jefferson with eight, Lincoln with eight, and Grant with five street names are the most favored of the Presidents. Buchanan once had a street, north of North avenue on the West Side, named after him, but after the nig annexation of 1889 this became part of Washington avenue. Arthur has one street in Hyde Park. There are Hayes avenues in Hyde Park and Rogers Park, a Hayes boulevard in Jefferson, and a Rutherford avenue also in Jefferson. Benjamin Harrison and McKinley are still waiting.
Turn of the century street sign
As in Chicago, there are avenues in Rogers Park and on the West and North Sides, and there is a terrace on the West Side, between Harding and Crawford avenues. The bulk of the streets named after men who are identified with the history of Chicago. Among them are Henry George Hubbard, T. J. V. Owen, Alexander Wolcott, J. B. F. Russell, John Kinzie, John B. C. Hogan, Gordon B. Hubbard, John Hume Kedzie, W. B. Archer, Archibald Clybourn, Richard Jones Hamilton, Hiram Pearsons, George W. Dole, Augustus Garrett, Alexander Robinson, Eri Reynolds, E. W. Casey, John Wright, Edwin C. Larned, William H. Sampson, Dr. Alfred W. Davidson, George A. Springer, Dr. John Evans, George Smith, Stephen A. Douglas, William Bradshaw Egan, George Armour, Isaac Newton Arnold, John Beach, George Hickerdike, William H. Bissell, Tobert S. Blackwell, A. F. Bradley, Frederick Bremer, Nicholas P. Iglemat(?), William H. Brown, O. Bushnell, Lorin G. Butler, Justin Butterfield, E. D. Baker, Cyrenius Beers, Levi D. Boone, James D. Campbell, Thomas Hoyne, Philo Carpenter, John J. Crittenden, Charles Cleaver, James Cochrane, Daniel P. Cook, Paul Cornell, Uriah H. Crosby, James Curtis, William L. Dayton, Philip Dean, John F. De Koven, William B. Ogden, A. R. Dodge, Zebina Eastman, John W. Eldridge, Joseph Ellsworth, Daniel Elston, William L. D. Ewing, Stanley H. Fleetwood, Lafayette M. Flournoy, George Forquer, Robert Law, Alexander N. Fullerton, W. Greene, Charles E. Griswold, Waletr S. Gurnee, Sason Galey, John Hamilton, Elijah Dewey Harmon, Hiram hastings, John High Jr., D. Hobart Hills, Thomas J. Holt, Albert G. Hobbie, Robert Harvey, Seth Johnson, Norman B. Judd, Juklian S. Rumsey, Matthew Latlin, William Larrabee, David B. Lee, H. G. Loomis, John Wentworth, Isaac Legg, Thomas Mather, Dr. Philip Maxwell, Thomas Francis Meagher, Caleb Morgan, John McGleahan, and hosts of others.
More recent Chicagoans who have been honored in this way are George Birkhoff, S. E. Gross, Edward S. Dreyer, William Boldeweck, C. L. Bonney, Rudolph Brand, former Governor Bross, Walter L. Newberry, Joseph Medill, Anthony C. Hesing, Charles B, Farwell, Charles Foltz(?), David Gage, Louis Huck, L. B. Otis, Reuben Taylor, James H. Rees, Henry L. Rucker, Joel Ellis, T. Stinson, Charles S. Waller, S. H. Kerfoot, Peter Kohlseat, William L. Le Moyne, George M. Pullman, Michael Steben, Lazarus Silverman, Lyman Trumbull.
Famous American names, aside from those mentioned are: Astor, Belknap, Blaine, Breckenridge, Buell, Burnside, Calhoun, Carroll, Case, Clay, Clinton, Colfax, Drexel, Emerson, Faraday, Faragut, Franklin, Filton, Girard, Gresley, Gresham, Hancock, Hawthorne, Logan, Mead, Penn, Perry, Poe, Seymour, Seward, Sherman, Sumner, Washburne, Webster.
The Germans have their Beethoven, Bismarck, Blucher, Goethe, Gutenberg, Heines, Humboldt, Karl Marx, Lemming, Luther, Moltke, Mozart, Schiller, Sigel, Uhland, Werdner, Wieland.
Names connected with English history are Aberdeen, Addison, Argyle, Buckingham, Byron, Cambridge, Chamberlain, Churchill, Claremont, Clifton, Cromwell, Dickens, Elgin, Hamilton, Hudson, Livingston, Montrose, Newton, Raleigh, Richmond, Shakespeare, Spencer, Stevenson, Wellington.
Other famous names are Kosciusko, Ian Hus, Kossuth, Lobieski, Lafayette, Pulaski, Racine, Rubens, Tell.
Reminiscences of Indian lore are Blackhawk, Chippewa, Illinois, Huron, Indiana, Iowa, Man-te-ne, Kenesaw, Manistee, Menominee, Michigan, Mohawk, Minnehaha, Sioux, Washtenaw, Winneconne.
The ancients come in with Cicero, Euclid, Fabius, Homer, Macedonia, Troy, Utica, Seneca.
In the line of geographical names one strikes Albion, Appenrade (a small city in Schleswig), Avon, Balmoral, Baltic, Baltimore, Batavia, Berlin, Blue Island, Boston, Breman, Bresiau, Bristol, Brunswick, Buffalo, Cairo, Califoirnia, Coblentz, Cologne, Colorado, Columbia, Coventry, Dakota, Damen, Ems, Erie, Escanaba, Frankfort, Geneva, Germania, Hamburg, Harvard, Holland Settlement, Holstein, Huron, Indian Boundary, Lubeck, Modena, Nassau, Nevada, Nigara, Ontario, Rhine, Saratoga.
Fruits, trees, and flowers are represented by Almond, Arbour, Arboretum, Ash, Birch, Birchwood, Briar, Cedar, Cherry, Chestnut, Cypress, Elm,Elmwood, Evergreen, Fern, Fernwood, Fig, Forest, Forest Glen, Forest Ridge, Garden, Glenwood, Greenwood, Grove, Groveland, Hawthorn, Hazel, Hickory, Hollywood, Laurel, Linden, Locust, Magnolia, Maple, Maplewood, Myrtle, Oak, Oak Grove, Oak Park, Oakenwald, Oakland, Oakwood, Orchard, Park, Pine, Pine Grove, Poplar, Rose, Rosebud, Spruce, Thorndale, Vine, Walnut, Willow, Wood, Woodbine, Woodland, Woodlawn, Woodside.
Of Christian names the girls come in with sixty-six and the boys forty-six, and some of them have a history. Ann street was named after the wife of Philo Caroenter, and Augusta after his daughter, afterward Mrs. Chaney; Elizabeth after his wife of Mayor Curtis; May, after Elizabeth May Curtis; Paulina, after Paulina Edy Taylor. wife of Reuben Taylor, after whom what is now Ashland avenue was formerly named.
Dearborn street derived its name from Firt Dearborn, so-called in honor of General Henry Dearborn; Randolph was named after John Randolph of Roanoke; Fulton after Robert Fulton of steamboat fame; Carroll after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; Wells, after Captain William Wells, massacred at Fort Dearborn, the southern portion of the street being subsequently named Fifth avenue; Clark, after General George Rogers Clark, the conqueror of Kaskaskia; St. Clair, after General Arthur St. Clair. Halsted street named after a capitalist from Philadelphia, who showed his good sense by investing much money in Chicago through the agency of William B. Ogden, the real estate firm of Ogden, Sheldon & Co. being still in existence.
There is a Good street on the West Side, and a Better street in the same division of the city; a Bitter Sweet place in Lake View, and a Fake street on the South Side. Of the four Front streets, not one is a front street to anything except its own front. Gambrinus rules in Jefferson where there is also a King. Our street, with one house in one short block, is in Jefferson. The West Side has a Photo street and also a Salt street. The Bowery is on the West Side, between Van Buren and Congress streets. The Crimea and Inkerman can both be found in Lake Township. Crooked street runs southeast for half a block from Southport avenue. There are five Depot streets, but not one of them leads to any railway terminal. East avenue is in the northwester portion of the city. Governor’s Parkway is that part of Kinzie street between Homan and St. Louis avenues, and few people probably know that Hydraulic place is in the heart of the city, from State to Clark streets between Monroe and Adams. Zion place, the last thoroughfare on the register, is south of Eighteenth street, between Throop and Loomis streets, and has nothing to do with John Alexander Dowie.
Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1905
PUT UP STREET SIGNS.
Among the things Mr. Dalrymple found to criticize while in Chicago was this city s Jack of street signs. The Scotch traction expert liked occasionally to slip away from his hotel and go about the city alone, and his criticism doubtless was prompted by the he experienced in getting around. If he had said all he thought he probably would have said that Chicago, in respect of street signs, is behind every other large city he ever was in.
All other strangers in Chicago are annoyed as Mr. Dalrymple was. When they wish to go to a certain street they always have to ask somebody where it is. When they think they have gone about as far as they should they have to stop somebody else and ask if they have reached the desired street. Often they are misdirected. Patience becomes exhausted when this process has been gone through a dozen or so of times in a day.
Residents, when they visit parts of the city they are not familiar with, have as much trouble as strangers. New traction employes find It difficult to become acquainted with their runs, and in consequence people are always being carried past or put off the cars before they reach the streets they want to get off at. The lack of street signs is every day a source of annoyance in many ways to thousands.
There should be signs on every corner, and they should be so conspicuously displayed that it will not be necessary to hunt for them. Signs which have to be hunted after are little better than none. The council ought to take action in regard to this matter at anu early date. The alderman who secures the passage of such a street sign measure as is needed will more truly earn the thanks of the people than many who have fathered more pretentious improvements.
In the Chicago Record-Herald of 26 January 1912, appeared an article by Mr. Arthur Evans on Names of Chicago Streets. These allusions are full of rich sentiment and historical associations that follows:
The study of Chicago street names is an interesting pursuit, and it brings to light many a bit of forgotten history. The first survey of Chicago was made in 1830 by James Thompson, and embraced an area of about three-eighths of a square mile. Besides the garrison at Fort Dearborn, the population did not exceed 100. Three of the boundary streets of the village were named after the most prominent men of the day, the survey showing that Washington street was the south boundary, Jefferson street the west, Kinzie street the north, and Dearborn street the east. Dearborn street was named after the fort, which in turn was named after General Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War, Kinzie street took its name from John Kinzie, the early white settler, while the others were named after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Northward from Washington street came Randolph, named after John Randolph of Roanoke; Lake, after Lake Michigan; Fulton, named after Robert Fulton, whose steamboat, the Claremont, had made its first trip on the Hudson between New York and Albany just twenty three years before Chicago was mapped out; Carroll street, after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and then Kinzie street.
Eastward from Jefferson the streets were named Clinton, after DeWitt Clinton, chief promoter of the Erie Canal; Canal, after the I. and M. Canal; east of the river the first street was named Market street because the city market was located in the middle of the thoroughfare, the reason of its width; Franklin street took its name from Benjamin Franklin, and Wells was named after Captain William Wells, Indian agent at Fort Wayne, who came to Fort Dearborn with a band of Miamis in August, 1812, to escort the garrison and the settlers to Fort Wayne. He was killed in the Fort Dearborn massacre at what is now the foot of Eighteenth street, and his heart was eaten by the savages, who believed that thereby they would assimilate the courage of the fallen scout.
In later years Wells street south of the river was renamed Fifth avenue, even though it was the seventh street from the lakefront. North of the river, however, the name of the gallant captain is still preserved. East of Wells, LaSalle street was named after the great explorer Chevalier LaSalle, and then came “Clarke” street. This was named after George Rogers Clark, the intrepid soldier who conquered Kaskaskia and Vincennes and captured the original Northwest Territory from the British. The final “e” was dropped after it was found that it was not part of the soldier’s name. Poor, pathetic, Clark! After winning the Northwest Territory, out of which five states have since been formed, he spent his later years in penury and neglect. The honor of having a great Chicago street named after him is perhaps his greatest memorial, and now there is talk (in 1912) robbing him of that small distinction and making Clark street “Fifth avenue” or “Avenue E.”
As the town grew the political fights of the villagers were reflected in the naming of new streets. In those days politics were far more passionate than now. When the first street south of Washington was laid out, federalists wanted to name it Adams, after the second president, while the opposition wanted to name it Madison, Madison carried the day. Later a similar fight occurred over naming the street south of Madison. The federalists were beaten in their attempt to name it after President Adams and the street was christened after President Monroe. When the next street was laid out, however, the federalists managed to win, and it was called Adams street. The anti-fedralists, however, were unable to indorse with gusto the election of John Quincy Adams, and accordingly they bestowed his name upon the narrow little street abutting the post office. Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk and Taylor had streets named after them, but Filmore was ignored, and after Tyler left the Whig party his name was taken from the street, which was rechristened Congress street.
Archer road is connected to one of the most important undertakings in the history of Illinois – the building of the old Illinois and Michigan Canal. It took its name after Colonel William B. Archer, one of the canal commissioners, who broke the first ground for the canal 4 July 1836, in the presence of nearly every inhabitant of the village and of invited guests from all parts of the state. Archer road ran from Chicago to Lockport, to facilitate the building of the ditch, and for many years it was the most traveled pike in the state.
Adopted by the City Council, as per ordinances of 14 April and 30 July 1913, many Chicago street names were changed.
Chicago Tribune, January 5, 1937
EXPECT INSTALLATION OF NEW STREET SIGNS TO START NEXT MONTH
Installation of new and black street signs for 16,960 intersec-I tions is expected to start before the end of next month. This was an- nounced yesterday by David Kennicott, acting state director of the Public Works administration, which added $43,300 to the city s appropriation of $50,000 for the project.
Black letters four and one-half inches high will appear on a bright yellow background of baked enamel which a PWA engineer described yesterday as being “as durable as the porcelain in a bathtub.”
There is another theory about the “President Streets.” This article was published in the Chicago Tribune on November 22, 1953:
Older Streets in Chicago Are Named After Presidents
Lines of First Ones Followed in City Today
BY ALEX SMALL
The oldest streets in Chicago got their names from James Thompson, the surveyor who staked them out in the wilderness 123 years ago, when the region had fewer than 100 civilian inhabitants. Since he named his fourth east-west street south of the river Washington and the one after it Madison (although this name does not appear on the copy of the Thompson plat in the Chicago Historical society), it was assumed that he intended to have one series of Chicago streets named after the Presidents.
No one seems to have asked why, in that case, the street after Washington was not named Adams, nor why Thompson should have put his Jefferson st. far away and at right angles to the others. Correct or not, Thompson’s supposed idea was taken up by the authorities of early Chicago in naming the new east-west. streets south of Madison. Hence the nine streets of downtown Chicago were named after Presidents.
Adams st. is out of order, unless it is assumed that the first Adams was passed over and the name was intended for John Quincy Adams. President Tyler lost out because he was something less than popular with the town council of Chicago.
Accounts for Reasons
Thompson’s inconsistency disappears if it is supposed he did not have the Presidents in mind. His reasons for street naming were set forth by Elijah M. Haines in an article in the Chicago Herald on Jan. 30, 1887. Haines’ authority has been challenged, but he settled in Lake county, Ill. in 1837 and he may well have known Thompson.
According to Haines, Thompson decided to name one of his main streets for his home county, Randolph, in southern Illinois. This suggested using the names of other counties close to Randolph and thus Washington, Madison, Franklin, Clinton, and Jefferson sts. got their names. It happened that three of these counties had been named for Presidents.
At least one of these names, Clinton, deserved to be honored in Chicago. He was DewittClinton, governor of New York and promoter of the Erie canal, which made possible the rapid settle- ment of Chicago and the middle west.
Names Are Realistic
For the other streets Thompson did not, according to Haines, torture his imagination. The Water sts. were simply the streets along the water. Lake st. was judged by Thompson the one most likely to be first to push thru to the lake whenever the obstructing Fort Dearborn reservation should be got out of the way. Kinzie (spelled Kenzie on the Thompson plat copy here) was named for the John Kinzie, who claimed most of the land in its vicinity.
Desplaines st. got its name from the river and Canal st. for the canal which presumably would sometime pass near it. Fort Dearborn was already there; it was natural to call the street nearest it Dearborn. Clark st. (often spelled Clarke in early days) was for George Rogers Clark, the Revolutionary leader who won the middle west for the United States. This attribution has been questioned and the name is also supposed to have been taken from a Clark, or Clarke, whom Thompson found in 1830.
La Salle st. was named for the French explorer who visited the site of Chicago in 1682. Fulton st. was to honor the builder of the first practical steamboat. The naming of Carroll st. has not been satisfactorily explained. It might have been. for the Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.
Capt. Wells Honored
As Chicago was then, there were practically no local figures to be honored by street names, but one did get into the list. Wells st. was named for the Capt. William Wells, who was killed on the dunes near 18th st. In the evacuation of Fort Dearborn and subsequent massacre in 1812, and whose heart, it was said, was eaten by the Pottawatomies.
Thruout the changes of a century from oxcart traffic to automobiles, the lines of Chicago’s original streets have remained as Thompson staked them out if allowance is made for widening and for raising levels. This, of course, does not apply to those streets nearest the river. That Is to be expected. The unruly river soon appeared to Chicago fully as much a nuisance as a blessing.
In successive modifications all that is left of N. Water st. is a tiny fragment cutting a diagonal beside the Tribune Tower. Maps today show Carroll st. just north of it, as a railway yard. Of S. Water st., possibly the city s oldest, only the eastern end remains, on two levels on both sides of Michigan av.
Absorbed by Wacker Dr.
In an early modification of the river bank, a short diagonal, River st., was created between State st. and Michigan av. Both River st. and the greater part af S. Water have been into Wacker dr.
Before it fell to Its present state. S. Water st. was Chicago’s wholesale produce market. It was adequate until the city became huge. In the 1890s complaints grew that the market was jamming traffic thru the center of the city. In 1914 THE TRIBUNE reported the street “jammed and packed with 10,000 wagons a day.” Finally the wholesale produce trade was moved to its present location along 14th st. and Newberry, which keeps the memory of its origin in its name of South Water Market.
In the early years of Chicago, the whole section about the eastern end of N. Water and Kinzie sts. was known as the Sands. It was a sort of redlight dis- trict and hell s kitchen, peopled by harlots and hoodlums.
House Set Afire
Long John Wentworth, then mayor of Chicago, ended the nui- sance by ordering the area raided on April 20, 1857. First-so it is recorded-he had one of the houses set on fire, then called in the firemen to drive out the women of the Sands.
For the first 30 years of Its hi story, Chicago’s east-west streets considered more important than the north-south ones. The early planners, possi- bly including Thompson, conceived the city as having a relatively narrow frontage toward the lake, but not touching it, and extending indefinitely west- ward. Only about the time of the Civil war was an organized and largely successful effort made to change the axis of the city.
Even so, only Water and Lake sts., the two nearest the river, flourished in the first decades of Chicago. Madison st. had im- portance as being one road into the new settlement.
County Formed In 1831
Cook county was organized in 1831 and the county board pro- vided for roads connecting its three precincts of Chicago, Du Page, and Hickory Creek. One of these roads ran along Madison st. and the present Ogden av. (named for the first mayor],
to the house of Barney Lawton at Riverside, and .then to the house of James Walker” in Du Page county. When McVicker’s theater was opened in 1857, Madison st. became an amusement center, but its commercial rise dated from the great fire.
At the end of the century it was generally considered the liveliest street in Chicago, always awake in the block be- tween Dearborn, where The Tribune building then stood, to Clark st. Today it is perhaps best known by that part of it just west of the North WVestern station, Chicago’s “port of for- gotten men,” a region of cheap saloons, flophouses, and pawn- shops.
Randolph st. also began to flourish after the great fire, and by the time of the Columbian exposition (1893) one writer referred to it as a “respectable street.” The open- ing of Metropolitan hall and of Hooley’s theater it on its way to being Chicago’s main theater street in pre-movie days. It was the scene of the : theater, where in 1903 E75 persons were burned, suffocated, or trampled to death in one of Chi- cago s worst disasters. About 1920 Randolph st. was described as “dingy,” but a few years later the construction of $30,000,000 worth of new buildings along its four main blocks changed it considerably.
Chicago Tribune, September 7, 1953
BEGIN ERECTING STREET SIGNS ON PULASKI RD,
Completion of Project Is Expected by Oct. 1
The first of a supply of street name signs to mark Pulaski rd. between 87th st. and Devon av. have been received and will be erected as soon as hangers are placed on poles at intersections along the street, Leslie J. Sorenson, city traffic engineer, said.
Sorenson said the work should be completed by the end of the month, thus filling a huge gap in the city s program of hanging signs at all Intersections. Signs for intersecting streets along Pulaski rd. already have been, he said.
Controversy Over Name
When the city began ordering signs for this program in 1948, none was ordered for Pulaski rd. because of the controversy over the thorofare s name. A group of west siders was seeking to re- store the name Crawford av. to the street and had taken the matter to court when the city council refused to honor a petition requesting the change and bearing the names of a majority of property owners along the street.
In 1951 Judge Walter R. O’Mallcy in Superior court issued a mandamus order requiring the restoration of the name Crawford av., but on appeal by the city the Illinois Supreme court nullified the order. That court held invalid a 1937 law providing that city officials must change a street name if 60 per cent of the property owners along it petitioned for the change.
The street has borne the name Pulaski since 1933 when the late’ Mayor Edward J. Kelly engineered the change from Crawford in the city council as a gesture to Polish voters.
Hodes Defeats Attempt
Shortly after it was named Pulaski, an attempt to restore the name Crawford was made but Barnet Hodes, then city corporation counsel, ruled that a petition filed contained insufficient names. When an amendment to the petition with more names on it was filed, he ruled that it was a second document and could not be used along with the original.
The name Crawford honored Peter Crawford, a Scotch-Irish pioneer who came to Chicago in 1844. The name Pulaski is in honor of Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski, a Polish count who became a hero in the American Revolution.
Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1935
CHICAGO’S MUDDLED STREET NAMES
BY EDWARD P. BRENNAN
Chairman Subcommittee, Street Nomes and Signs, City Club of Chicano.
It would undoubtedly surprise 99 per cent of the taxpayers in Chicago to know that there is something that the Chicago city council could do immediately. which would not cost the taxpayers a single cent, but, on the contrary, to their considerable surprise and pleasure, would save the people and business of Chicago thousands of dollars every year and an untold amount of annoyance, aggravation, inconvenience and delay. Furthermore, this action is merely the completion of a job which the city council began years agp, If finished now it will cost the taxpayers nothing, but if completIon is deferred a vear or two it will cost the taxpayers plenty of money—at least $40,000. This job is nothing more than clearing up the remaining confusion that exists among the names of Chicago streets.
To understand, the possibilities of saving the time and money of our citizens, it is best to look back a few years. As the “old timers” recall, Chicago grew by adding to itself a large number of towns and villages which were originally separate. These towns, of course, had their own names for their streets, and in hundreds of cases the names were the duplicates of those of other Chicago streets. The situation got worse and worse as the city grew, and it was aggravated by the fact that the house numbers were entirely unsystematic.
Finally in 1908 the corner of State and Madison streets was adopted by the city council as the basis for the house numbering system, and all house numbers were changed so that the numbers now show just how far north or south of Madison street, or how far east or west of State street any location in the city is. This change immediately resulted in the saving of thousands or dollars a year in the delivery of packages and mail, and saved both Chicagoans and their visitors a vast amount of inconvenience and annoyance In locating addresses. Encouraged by this result the city council then tackled the question of duplicate street names, such as Washington avenue on the south side (changed to Blackstone) and Washington street (now boulevard) on. the west side. In 1913, after five years of study, the city council changed the names of over 250 streets whose names were duplicates of the names of other streets. This cleared up 30 per cent of the trouble from this source, and no one in the city today would consider going back to the old system of “scrambled names.”
The studies at that time showed another great inconvenience, the “broken link” streets or short streets lying on the same straight line, but interrupted, with each short stretch having a different name. As an example of a broken link street, there is the first street west of Halsted of which different stretches are called Green street, Lime street, Dayton street, Florence avenue, Craft street, Reta avenue, and Newberry avenue. Here are seven names, all on the same street—it is perfectly obvious that there should be only one name for the whole street.
In 1913 the city council changed the names of many of these “broken link” streets, but there were so many that they decided to clean up the duplicate names first and then go ahead with further study to eliminate the broken links. However, before the job was done the war came along and for several years after that the attention of the city council could not be directed to anything as unspectacular as straightening out street names. By 1925. however, the council started to consider the matter again, and the city’s map department began pushing it. Likewise the City Club of Chicago, which had been active in 1913 also, began to present the matter again to neighborhood improvement clubs, merchants’ organizations, etc., and found that they were all in favor of going ahead.
Consequently, In 1929, the City club put forward a proposal to straighten out the street name situation permanently. It offered four suggestions to the city council:
1. All names of streets to be Prefixed with north, south, east or vest, to Indicate the general location of the street.
2. All north and south streets to be called “ave- nues” and all cast and west streets to be called “streets,” with the exception of certain important streets like Clark street, State, street, etc.
3. One name to be adopted for all parts of “broken link” streets.
4. Duplicate and partly duplicate street names to be eliminated.
The depression, of course, interfered with carrying this program to a conclusion, hut nevertheless progress has been made. In 1933 the city council passed an ordinance covering point No. 1, making the prefixes north, south, east and west a part of the name of every street. The other three points of the program have been, under consideration ever since by the council committee on local industries, streets and alleys. Almost all the members of the committee have expressed themselves as in favor of the principles of this program, but in the pressure of important work nothing has been definitly done, in spite of the constant urging of Howard C. Brodman, city superintendent of maps.
Why, then, is this matter any more important or lively right now than before? Why can’t it wait a few years longer? Here Is the reason:
On Friday, March 29, Mayor announced a list of public works to be undertaken by the city to furnish employment and to do a lot of things needed. In this list he included an item of $100,000 for new street name signs—and how we need them! Of the 19,000 street corners in Chicago, just 4,000 have legible signs—and no one needs to be told what a loss in time and money has resulted from that.
Few, if any, public expenditures would be worth their cost more than installing new street signs, but they ought not to be installed until the mess of street names is cleared up; otherwise; if we put up new signs now, and then straighten out the names, a lot of brand new signs will have to be scrapped. There is neither economy nor sense in that.
Therefore the City Club of Chicago has gone to scores of leading merchants; to the postoffice and express companies; to the street car lines and taxi-cab companies and has asked them whether the present confusion in the remaining duplicate names and broken link streets makes any trouble for them or not. Without a single exception they have replied that thousands of dollars a year would be saved beginning the very minute the job is done.
What does the job require? At present there are about 300 streets in the city (most of thern only four or five blocks long) which are either “broken link” streets or else have names partly or entirely duplicating the names of other streets. If this confusion were cleared up 149 names would cover all of these streets. Everybody in the city who wants to go from one place to another or send something somewhere in the city would benefit—and straightening out these names will, not cost a cent!
The time to straighten out the names is before new street signs are bought—not after. To get this done, write to Mayor Kelly and to your aldermen, telling them to push ahead with the program (printed in the council proceedings for July 11, 1934) which they have had before them so long—and finish the job which was so well begun!
Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1935
The WPA’s award of $392,0O0 lo Chicago for purchasing new street signs brought indifferent action of the city council committee on streets toward eliminating duplicate street names and conflicting names for the same thoroughfare. The committee ordered that a sub-committee be appointed to study the situation. The street naming problem has existed for Years, but the council is berated every time it changes a name.
Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1937
CITY COUNCIL CHANGES NAMES OF 22 STREETS TO WIND UP PROGAM
Ordinances changing the names of twenty-two streets were passed yesterday by the city council as the final step in the program to ninty the city s street name system. The placing of 16,000 new street signs will be started today as an incident in opening Chicago’s observance of its 100th anniversary as a city.
Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1937
New Street Signs.
A high point of Charter Day was Mayor Kelly’s placing of a new street sign at State and Madison streets. This was the first of 16,862 new signs that will mark Chicago corners. The signs are 26×5½ inches, with the street names appearing in 4½ inch black letters on a yellow background. That color combination, according to the United States bureau of standards, has the greatest visibility.
Nineteen Chicago streets are named after Presidents, 16 after states, 35 after trees, and 46 after girls. Other streets are named after prominent persons or are numbered. The longest street, 23½ miles, is Western avenue. The shortest, 86 feet, is Armstrong street, west from Michigan avenue, just south of Chicago avenue.
THE FIRST OF NEW STREET SIGNS ERECTED
Crowd around Mayor Kelly at State and Madison yesterday as he put up first new marker. With him are Commissioner of Public Works Hewitt (center) and D. K. Kennicott of PWA.
Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1950
First New Street Signs to Be Hung in Loop Today
The first of Chicago’s 25,000 new street signs will be installed today at Randolph and Dearborn sts. Loop installation was ordered first because present signs are virtually illegible and these signs are consulted most by strangers. Outlying sections that have no signs at all will get them next. The signs, costing $1.67 each, will be delivered to the city at the rate of 2,000 a month.