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 III - The Origins of Some Northside Madison, Wisconsin, Street Names: The Airport and Truax Field
A large marsh east of Packers Avenue and County CV and west of U.S. Highway 51 has been closely linked to the Northside since the early days.
The marsh is drained by two branches of Starkweather Creek. Its elevation, about 859 feet, is only a few feet lower than many areas west of Packers and CV, which were covered by grasslands and forests that were ideal for mixed farming. Several families – including Bruns, Raemisch, Vahlen, Sachtjen, Roth, and Schlimgen – built farmsteads on higher land along Packers and CV and often bought parcels of land in the marsh to grow hay and vegetables, especially cabbage for sauerkraut; to hunt deer and prairie chickens; and to trap mink.
Not later than 1890, the area was served by two railroad stations, probably little more than sidings, on the Portage division of the Milwaukee Road. Sanderson Station was near the intersection of CV and Wheeler Road. Darwin Station was about a quarter mile east of the present intersection of Northport, Packers, and CV. It was accessed by a road that went straight east from this intersection to Highway 51. This became part of Madison Rural Route 1 and was known as Darwin Road, as shown in entries for Raemisch in the 1938 Madison Telephone Directory.
Because the marsh was close to Madison, near the railroad, sparsely populated, and perfectly flat, businessmen, air enthusiasts, and the City of Madison began planning for a publicly owned airport in the area as early as 1928. Howard Morey was a leader in this movement.
After considerable discussion, Madison negotiated contracts with federal agencies, primarily the Works Progress Administration, and major construction began about 1937. The Madison Municipal Airport opened in 1939 with service to Minneapolis and Chicago.
In 1942, the Army Air Forces began to build a training base in the marsh just south of the airport and named it Truax Field after Lieutenant Thomas Truax, an air cadet from Madison who had been killed during a training flight in California. At its peak in 1943 and 1944, 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers were stationed at Truax, most as students in a school for radio operators.
Darwin Road was the only significant civilian road crossing the base. Military routes were identified by letters or numbers; for example, “Base Road 31.”
That changed in February 1945, when post commander Brigadier General Vincent J. Meloy decided to name one of the base routes Wright Street for Wilbur Wright, the aviation pioneer who died in 1912, and another Mitchell Street for General Billy Mitchell, who grew up in West Allis and died in 1936 after many years of promoting air power. General Meloy, with Washington’s approval, announced that the other base routes would also be called streets and would be named for Wisconsin airmen who had died in service up to that point in the war. Only the airman’s last name would be used. The man need not have been stationed at Truax.
Thirty-five names were chosen. Twenty-six of the men were from Madison; most of the rest were from nearby towns and cities such as Baraboo, but a few were from as far away as Green Bay, Westby, and Richland Center. These thirty-five names were published in the Madison Capital Times on February 25, 1945, and a shorter list, with only the names of the Madison soldiers, in the Wisconsin State Journal on February 28, 1945. The lists gave only the soldier’s name and rank and the names and address of his parents or another family member.
Two streets were added later.
An article in the Wisconsin State Journal, May 25, 1945, states that General Meloy has named a street at Truax for Captain Paul Mathison, who was killed on October 12, 1944, while piloting a B-24 bomber over Germany. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Mathison of Madison.
Sometime after this Weaver Street was added. Its origin is unknown.
Most of the streets were in the main grid. Others were spaced throughout the base near warehouses and other buildings. The 1950 City of Madison map shows most of the 1945 streets but is not completely accurate. “Grimm,” for example, was misspelled “Grim” and Bowman Street, which intersected Hoffman Street was omitted.
A 2009 biography of Charles Darwin Foard states that Darwin Road was named for Lieutenant Foard. That is not correct. Foard Street was named for Charles Darwin Foard. Darwin Road was named for Darwin Station. Both streets are on the 1950 map. Foard is the first street north of Anderson in the base grid.
Darwin Road continued to pass through the air base until the 1960s when runway extensions and other construction finally reduced it to the present remnant from Packers Avenue to International Lane.
The base was deactivated for a few years after World War II. Some of the housing was used by GI bill students at the University of Wisconsin.
Truax soon returned to life and became a major air defense center. It has been home since 1948 to Wisconsin Air National Guard units flying a succession of planes: the F-51, F-86D, F-89, F-102, 02-A, OA-37, A-10, and F-16C. The Army National Guard has UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.
Portions of the grid have broken up over the years so that many of the 1945 streets have disappeared. As of 2010 some of the World II street names were still in use – for example, Pankratz, Grimm, Kinsman, Anderson, Swanson, Miller, Hoffman, Straubel, Mitchell, and Wright.
The World War II street names honor aviation pioneers or Wisconsin airmen who died while defending their country during the war. One street in the grid honors a Wisconsin airman who died defending his country after the war.
On April 26, 1958, First Lieutenant Duane Pierstorff, a Wisconsin Air National Guard pilot, and his radar operator, First Lieutenant Charles F. Aschenbrenner, took off in an F-89 from Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City. Pierstorff was a 1949 graduate of East High School in Madison; both men were students at the University of Wisconsin. They were returning to Madison after a navigation training flight.
Soon after takeoff the plane began to vibrate excessively. Aschenbrenner parachuted from an altitude of about 500 feet. He was okay. Pierstorff returned to Tinker and crashed the plane onto a runway so that no civilians would be hurt. He was badly burned and died from these injuries in June 1958.
In October 1959, the Madison Common Council resolved that a new street in the Air National Guard area at Truax be named Pierstorff Road. “Road” was later changed to “street,” probably for consistency with the other “avenues of honor.”
A much more recent street in a commercial development on the east side of Dane County Regional Airport, Amelia Earhart Drive, pays tribute to the most famous female American aviator.
In addition to the sources mentioned for Parts I and II, clippings in folders labeled “Airports” at the Madison Public Library were extremely useful.