Saturday, April 7, 2012

On The Right Track: Street Name Changes

I don't know about you but I just hate it when I'm driving down a street in an unfamiliar place and the street name changes every five blocks. OK, perhaps every five blocks is an exaggeration, but the point is that it can be difficult to determine if you are still on the right track, unless you have a GPS.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon can also affect genealogists. I can think of three examples off the top of my head in which a street name change could put you on a wild goose chase after your ancestors. Two examples from Kalamazoo are Oakland Drive (formerly Asylum Avenue) and Riverview Drive (formerly Seminary Road). While I imagine that most people with roots in Kalamazoo know about Oakland/Asylum, there are probably other street name changes that we are not aware of. Even if it has not caused you problems in Kalamazoo, it could affect your research in other cities.

Another related issue is if the street numbers changed. According to the Kalamazoo Public Library site this happened twice in Kalamazoo, first in 1883 and later in 1925. In 1883 street numbers were changed so that they began from a central point (the intersection of Burdick and Michigan Avenue (formerly Main St). Prior to this change the numbers were based on proximity to the Kalamazoo river.

While numbering buildings from a central point makes sense, I have no idea why the numbering was altered in 1925. Again, I take my information from the KPL (see above link). This time “street numbering changed city-wide. Some house numbers didn't change at all. Others changed a few numbers, usually a little higher than the old one.” Keep this in mind if it appears that your family moved a couple of doors down the street. They probably didn't. A look at old maps may clarify this. Even a careful examination of census records, in some cases, may be helpful. By looking for when an enumerator turned down a cross street you may be able to determine that your relative lived on Village two houses up from Oak St, for example.

Once more I will borrow information from the KPL to provide you with their list of street name changes in Kalamazoo. There may be others, but this is a good starting place.
  • Cork used to be St. James. (The tradition is that so many Irish paper mill workers lived there that it was nicknamed after County Cork in Ireland. In some directories it is listed both ways. Eventually St. James fell out of use altogether.)
  • Main Street east of the river used to be East Avenue.
  • Michigan Avenue used to be Main Street.
  • Oakland Drive used to be Asylum Avenue.
  • Riverview used to be Seminary.
  • South Street east of the jog at Henrietta, was Cherry.
  • Vine used to be Rice.
  • Westnedge was West Street north of Lovell, and College south of it.
Some street name changes that I have uncovered in my research include:

Gibson St. used to be Grace.
South St (at least a short stretch of it east of Henrietta) used to be Cherry.
Village Ave was for a few brief years after it was built called Potts Ave. (the houses built in this area were in Potts Addition).
East Walnut (east of Portage) used to be First Street.
East Crosstown Parkway (east of Portage) used to be Third Street.
Fourth Street used to have a short branch just east of Portage (but not connected to Portage or the rest of 4th Street.  This can be seen on the 1890 Kalamazoo city map available here). 

I encourage you to visit the Kalamazoo Public Library website to see the other useful local history information they have available online.

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