The Origins of Some Madison, Wisconsin, Street Names
By Burr Angle, Dolores Kester, and Ann Waidelich
Copyright © Burr Angle 2010
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Part I - The Origins of Some Northside Madison, Wisconsin, Street Names: Street Naming Practices From Early Days to the Present
A landowner or developer in the Madison area including the Northside has always been able to choose almost any name for a street and its type – street, avenue, lane, way, etc.
The Post Office and other agencies try to prevent duplication and other problems but the basic policy has always been “You own it, you name it.”
For this article, the southern boundary of the Northside is the Yahara River at Tenney Park. The eastern border is about a half mile east of Pennsylvania Avenue and Packers Avenue. The northern border is the Cherokee Marsh. The western border is the shore of Lake Mendota and then north along the Yahara River.
Geographically the Northside is a peninsula of higher ground surrounded by a lake, two sections of a river, several marshes, and Truax Field, which was built on a marsh.
The relatively small area of dry land has precluded the development of large tracts. Growth has been sporadic and in small parcels. This has resulted in many street names, some for streets that are only a block or two long.
From the 1840s until the 1940s, most street names were the last names of local farmers or businessmen. These include Roth, Mayer, Messerschmidt, Sachtjen, Vahlen, Schlimgen, Woodward, Harbort, Toban, Kennedy, Farwell, Steensland, Fuller, Burrows, Wilder, Veith, McBride, and others.
The Roth family owned a farm and several businesses including a coal yard; in 1961 they built Northgate Shopping Center on some of their land. The Oscar Mayer family bought a failed meat packing company and made it successful. Packers Avenue is named for “Oscar’s.”
The Sachtjens owned several farms; two family members became Dane County judges. An 1852 Sachtjen farm house is still standing at 2215 North Sherman. The Schlimgens had many interests including a monument (grave marker) company. The Woodward brothers, William and J.P., owned land along the north shore of Lake Mendota including “Woodward’s Grove,” east of Governor’s Island. Lawrence Toban was a farmer who died in 1986 at age 91. Edward M. Fuller owned a manufacturing plant; some Fuller and Johnson agricultural implements and engines are still in service. George Burrows was a lawyer. Amos Wilder was editor of the Wisconsin State Journal; his son Thornton became a popular writer.
James McBride, an Irishman, arrived in the Madison area in the 1840s and bought several hundred acres of land. A house that he and his wife Mary built in 1849 was later owned by Halle Steensland, Samuel H. Marshall, Robert M. LaFollette, and several other LaFollettes. It is at 733 Lakewood in Maple Bluff. Lakewood is named for a land company.
Leonard J. Farwell was Wisconsin’s governor from 1852 to 1854. He was important in the early development of Madison both downtown and north and east of the Yahara. The Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association named Farwell Drive in his memory in 1897.
Halle Steensland arrived a few years after Farwell and was active for more than 50 years – mostly in banking, insurance, and land promotion. His properties included much of the land in the northern third of Maple Bluff.
Between 1900 and 1945 the Northside changed from rural to urban fringe. As roads improved, city style houses began to appear. The trim Cape Cod at 2402 Darwin built in 1919 is a good example. Maple Bluff and Woodward Drive acquired many of their lakeside mansions. Several areas were platted but sparsely populated. They contain such streets as Crowley, O’Neil, Loftsgordon, Huxley, Ruskin, Heath, Sheridan, and Winchester, all of which appear on a 1930 map.
The streets in downtown Madison are named after signers of the U.S. Constitution, one of whom was Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Sherman Avenue begins at Brearly and originally ended at the Yahara River. When an extension of Sherman Avenue crossed the Yahara, its name changed to the Lodi Road or the Asylum Road. It was later considered part of the original Sherman Avenue.
North Sherman Avenue begins at Fordem Avenue and has long been more closely associated with William Tecumseh Sherman, the civil war general, than with Roger Sherman.
Streets in the Sherman Park subdivision near Sherman School are named for other civil war military leaders. Porter Street is named for Admiral David Dixon Porter of the U.S. Navy. His foster brother, Admiral David G. Farragut, is the most famous civil war naval officer. The rest are named for generals – Logan, Hooker, McPherson, Sheridan, and Fremont.
Winchester Street runs east from North Sherman to Huxley: Sheridan is the next street south. Both were named by the developer, John C. McKenna, in 1910 or 1911. On the morning of October 16, 1864, alerted by telegraph that Confederate soldiers were attacking, Philip Sheridan rode his horse Rienzi some 25 miles from Winchester, Virginia, to Cedar Creek, Virginia, where he rallied Union soldiers who stopped the Confederate advance. His heroic ride and Rienzi’s valor were widely publicized. Sheridan then renamed Rienzi “Winchester.” A children’s poem, “Sheridan’s Ride,” is still popular. Winchester, stuffed since 1871, is at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Thomas D. Brock, author of History of the Village of Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin (Madison, 2000), mentions that McKenna was an affable man who liked to tell Norwegian stories and recite verse. “Sheridan’s Ride” may have been one of his favorites.
The never-ending love of horses, the poem, and the closeness of Sheridan Street suggest that Winchester may be the only Madison street named after a horse, and a good horse too.
The civil war streets aside, most others still had the names of Madison families. For example, Robert K. Aberg says that during the Depression, his father William J. P. Aberg, a prominent attorney who owned land and rental houses in the area near modern Demetral Field, turned over most of this marsh land to the city. An unimproved road ran through the area at that time. Maps from the 1950s show Aberg extending only from North Sherman to Packers; it became an important connector when it was extended to East Washington Avenue, earlier known as the Sun Prairie Road.
A family-named street begun in the 1890s may have influenced the selection of several street names into the 1960s. A railroad between east Madison and Portage officially opened in 1871. It became a division of the Milwaukee Road, which established Darwin Station north of Madison some time before 1890, when the name appears on a plat map of Burke. This station is named in honor of A. G. (Acel Gil) Darwin, who was the railroad’s first agent in Madison when it reached Madison in 1854. His brother Ephraim was the Milwaukee Road’s Madison freight agent in 1891, the year A. G. died. Darwin Station gave its name to Darwin Road, which once ran all the way from North Sherman Avenue to Highway 51. Darwin Station later became the location of the Darwin Milk Co., a cheese factory, and the Raemisch sauerkraut factory. The station has disappeared and Darwin Road has shrunk considerably due to the expansion of Truax Field and the extension of Northport to Packers. The sauerkraut factory burned in 1947.
Darwin Road may have become associated with the name of Charles Darwin, the English scientist, and may then have influenced John C. McKenna’s choice of streets named Huxley (for an English advocate of Darwin’s theories) Street, and Ruskin (for an English essayist) Street, in the 1911 McKenna Park subdivision.
After 1945, during the postwar housing boom that lasted well into the 1960s, street names became more varied. For example, because Darwin, Huxley, and Ruskin were close by, A. Aaron Elkind, the developer of Berkeley Heights north of Northport Avenue and east of North Sherman Avenue may have chosen the names of English poets and novelists of several periods – Tennyson, Kipling, Dryden, Browning, Thackeray, Shelley, Scott, and Eliot – to complete the score.
The Mendota Hills subdivision developed by Ingvald Hovde and his sons in the 1950s includes Hovde Street, Glendale for his son Glenn, and Cascade, Shasta, and Alpine for scenes that impressed the family on a western vacation. Ingvald named Forster Drive for George Forster, Madison’s mayor from 1950 until 1955 when he resigned to become the city manager of Janesville.
Streets with first names became popular – Susan, Nancy, Marcy, Debra, Monica, Jay, Judy and many others. They were usually the names of the developer’s wife or children. But not always: in an article in the April-May 2001 Northside News celebrating Bill and Lucille Elsa’s 61st anniversary, Lucille says that when the City of Madison wanted names for the dirt roads in the section north of Northport and west of Sherman Avenue, she asked that the street on which a young girl, Barby Brassington, lived be named for the child. Hence Barby Lane.
Lucille also said that Mandrake Road is named for the mayapple (mandrake) that grows in the area and that Havey Road is named for Nicholas Havey, a local farmer.
Troy Drive is named for Troy M. Gordon, business manager at Mendota State Hospital, who lived at 409 Troy Drive.
Harry Scoville built more than 100 houses in the Lake View Hills neighborhood. He named three streets for his children – Randy Lane, Gina Court, and Gale Court – and one for the family – Scoville Lane. Actually Gale was his daughter Judy’s middle name, but Judy had already been taken so he had to go with Gale.
According to Marlene Gest, two streets in the Lake View Hills area are named for the Haas family. In 1955 Zeno Haas converted an apple orchard near Lake View, Zeno, and North Sherman to housing and built Haas street from the south end of Zeno to North Sherman. Jerry and Marlene Gest built their house on Zeno in 1956 and have lived there ever since.
The Bruns family has lived on the Northside since the 1850s. They have owned farms, garages, car dealerships, and shopping districts, including Northside Town Center, formerly known as Sherman Plaza. In the 1960s they developed land south of Northport and east of North Sherman. Don Bruns says that Elka Lane is named for a recreational community, Elka Park, in the New York Catskill Mountains where his mother’s family owned a cottage. Windom Lane honors Windom, Minnesota. Don’s uncle, Richard V. Bruns, married Shirley Lienke, who was from Windom.
From the 1950s developers have frequently used clusters of related names such as states – Arkansas, Arizona, Utah, Vermont, Colorado, Montana, Iowa, Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, Delaware, and Wyoming in the Sherman Village subdivision. The 1960 Madison City Directory lists Harry J. Brody as president of the Sherman Village Corporation. His wife Ida was secretary-treasurer. Alex Temkin was also involved.
The Brentwood neighborhood developed in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s by Lloyd, Doris, and Harry Moe has several streets with vaguely old English names – Arrowood, Wyldewood, and Brentwood.
The Cherokee neighborhood has Indian and romantic names: Menomonie, Comanche, Arapahoe, Shoshone, Red Cloud, Burning Wood, and Chinook. The use of Cherokee to describe the area on both sides of Sherman north of Wheeler comes from the name of a 19th century hunting club that owned land in the marsh.
Oak Park Terrace on Packers Avenue north of Darwin, the only Northside trailer court, has Main Lane, Banding Lane, and 16 other lanes with bird names from Mockingbird to Canary to Oriole to Mallard to Waxwing.
Apartment complexes and condominiums began to supplement single-family housing in the 1960s and 1970s. The Cherokee Country Club and its condominiums have Golf Course Road, Golf Parkway, and Golf Glen.
Some of the most pleasant names are in the wooded hills and former pastures north of Northport and west of Sherman that overlook Lake Mendota – Lake View, Longview, Mayfield, and Sunfield.
Northport Drive (Highway 113) is north of the railroad tracks from Westport Road which is named for the Town of Westport which is named for Westport in County Mayo in Ireland from which several early settlers migrated. The name Northport echoes Westport and emphasizes the fact that Highway 113 is the northern entrance to Madison.
Anne Forsberg Stuart says that Del Mar Drive in Maple Bluff is a blend of Delbert and Margery Forsberg and that Fordem Avenue is a blend from the Forsberg Paper Box Company and the Democrat Printing Company. Both firms moved to the Northside in the 1950s. A division of the Democrat Printing Company became Webcrafters.
Marlene Gest recently asked a friend, Gary Gulseth, why Blayde Elert, the mid-1990s developer of the Whitetail Ridge subdivision chose the street names Gulseth, Anhalt, Rigney, and Buehler. Gary said they were Elert’s salesmen.
Meadow Ridge, west of the Central Wisconsin Center, has five streets named after 20th century Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justices: Charles A. Crownhart, Timothy Brown, E. Harold Hallows, Bruce F. Beilfuss, and Nathan Heffernan.
In addition to personal observations and Ann Waidelich’s Madison history collection, the authors used many materials at the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Madison Public Library. These include maps, plat books, newspaper clippings, city directories, and phone books.
Special thanks to Robert K. Aberg, Donald B. Bruns, Marlene Gest, David Griffith, Donald Kreul, Marlyn Sachtjen, and Anne Forsberg Stuart.