The Origins of Some Madison, Wisconsin, Street Names
By Burr Angle, Dolores Kester, and Ann Waidelich
Copyright © Burr Angle 2010
Please credit the source if you use this resource - thank you!
Part VI - The Origins of Some Westside Madison, Wisconsin, Street Names: Southwestern Suburbs from Wingra Park to Nakoma, 1890 to 1930
In 1890, Warren Street, which is now Randall Avenue, was considered the western border of Madison. West Side suburban development began in the early 1890s with Wingra Park and University Heights, then continued to about 1930 with other subdivisions such as Oakland Heights, Mercer’s Addition to University Heights, Highland Park, West Lawn, West Lawn Heights, Hillington, Edgewood Park, Wingra, Glenwood, Briar Hill, and Nakoma.
Wingra Park, Oakland Heights, University Heights, and West Lawn became part of the City of Madison in 1903. By 1919 the city limits extended pretty much in a straight line from the intersection of Western Avenue to Farley Avenue. Nakoma joined the city in 1931. Glenwood and Briar Hill resisted annexation until 1948.
Each of the subdivisions has unique characteristics, but nearly all were built to provide single-family housing for University of Wisconsin faculty and staff, business owners and managers, druggists, doctors and dentists, and other middle to upper middle income workers. A 1915 ad claimed that no west end resident was too lazy to work, none rich enough to be lazy. Most areas were dry; no saloons were allowed.
Real estate dealers presented these southwestern suburbs as offering the best of the city and country without the disadvantages of either.
The subdivisions before 1910 were built by a variety of land companies, many of which were owned by prominent Madison bankers, judges, attorneys, doctors, and professors. These firms merged in 1910 to create the Madison Realty Company:
- Brook’s Company
- Edgewood Park Land Company
- Highland Park Company
- Madison Land and Improvement Company
- Madison Realty Company
- Oakland Heights Company
- University Heights Company
- West End Realty Company
- West Lawn Company
- West Lawn Heights Company
Paul E. Stark soon joined the firm.
Before and after 1910, these owners, who were well informed on national trends in real estate and city planning, exhibited a “can do” attitude that was both scrappy and cheerful.
For example, when doubters asked the developers of University Heights why anyone would want to build a house on the north side of a steep hill in Wisconsin, one of the owners, Charles E. Buell, built a mansion on top of the hill facing north.
When it became clear that subdivisions farther west than Wingra Park and University Heights would not thrive without streetcars, the developers and residents financed extensions to Monroe Street at Harrison Street and to the Regent Street entrance of Forest Hill Cemetery with their own money.
When Midwestern cities such as Des Moines, 1915 population about 108,000, saw that widespread ownership of automobiles made it possible to build suburbs beyond the end of the line for streetcars, these developers in Madison, a city with one-third the population of Des Moines, started Nakoma.
In the late 1910s and early 1920s when the national movement to establish arboretums took hold (the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, opened in 1922), Paul E. Stark was one of the first in Madison to propose an arboretum along the shores of Lake Wingra.
Unlike Eastside developments such as Fair Oaks, Madison Square, and Eken Park of the same period where industries stimulated rapid expansion, the western subdivisions, which depended on enrollment increases at the University of Wisconsin, filled in more slowly. There were still prime lots for sale in University Heights in 1914. In 1927 only about 80 families lived in Nakoma, an 86-acre subdivision that had been laid out in a 185-acre tract to allow room for expansion.
Fortunately, the Madison Realty Company was well-capitalized and its owners were patient. Slow sales led to prize-winning advertising campaigns, “win a house” raffles, and landscaping improvements to make the subdivisions more attractive.
The largest subdivisions, Wingra Park, University Heights, and Nakoma, used themed street names. The others were given street names from many sources, such as place names from the territorial period, geographical features, leading Madison and Wisconsin citizens, and even prestigious English schools for boys.
Wingra Park and Oakland Heights
The Wingra Park Land Co., Inc., was incorporated in 1892 and the Oakland Heights Land Co. in 1896. Oakland Heights was essentially a follow-up to the success of Wingra Park. Most of the streets are named for U. S. presidents. (Wingra is Winnebago for “duck.”) The use of presidents’ names was an echo of Doty’s 1836 choice of street names for signers of the U. S. Constitution.
Lots in both subdivisions were originally smaller than at present, which allowed for six more streets named for U. S. presidents: Jackson, Polk, Washington, Cleveland, Pierce, and Taylor as shown in the 1899 Dane County Plat Book. These streets disappeared when the lots were enlarged and when Vilas Avenue was named to honor the Vilas family.
University Heights was platted in 1893 on 106 acres of land formerly owned by Breese J. Stevens, a lawyer, mayor of Madison from 1884 to 1885, and a University of Wisconsin regent. The land occupied a rectangle beginning one block west of present Breese Terrace to Allen Street and north from Regent Street to University Avenue. It was marketed as an upper income development for University of Wisconsin faculty as well as business owners and executives.
Main Hall (now Bascom Hall) was a 15-minute walk from University Heights. The rapidly expanding western agricultural and engineering campus was even closer.
The big challenge was the hilly topography which the developers turned into a sales point. Streets named “Prospect” and “Summit” suggested high class as well as geographic location. Most of the others honored University professors and presidents in many specialties – the classics, geology, botany, history, and economics.
Randall Park, Mercer’s Addition, Highland Park, West Lawn, West Lawn Heights, etc.
Randall Park, incorporated in 1896, filled the single block between Breese Terrace and University Heights. Mercer’s Addition, where all of the streets are named for trees, was a western extension of University Heights.
Highland Park, centered around Highland Avenue, was promoted as being almost as nice as University Heights, but less expensive.
West Lawn and West Lawn Heights were satellites of University Heights.
Hillington and Hillington Green were the final additions to this cluster of subdivisions.
Edgewood Park, Wingra, Glenwood, Briar Hill
In 1907, John C. McKenna advertised lots in Edgewood Park as being priced for “men of limited means.” Other subdivisions west of Edgewood also catered to less affluent clients than those closer to the university. Wingra, Glenwood, and Briar Hill are located between the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and Monroe Street west to Odana Road. They were not part of the Madison Realty Company. Each was built by a relatively small firm.
A 1915 brochure announcing the creation of Nakoma is titled “Nakoma’s message from woodland and meadows, and a welcome.”
The first two street names, Nakoma Road and Odana Road, were chosen by the Madison Realty Company. “Road” suggested a rural location. “Nakoma” is Chippewa for “I keep my word” or “I do as I promise.” “Odana” is Chippewa for “village.” The next ten street names were chosen by the Madison Realty Company from ballots cast in a 1916 name the streets contest.
Except for Custer, all of the winning street names relate to Indian tribes (using the English name for each tribe), tribal members, customs, or legends.
The Indian theme helped promote Nakoma as a place where city dwellers could “go west and grow with Nakoma.” It also created a brand identity to set Nakoma apart from competitors such as College Hills and Lakewood.
By 1930 most of the streets in Nakoma had acquired their present names.
1916 Nakoma Street Name Contest
- Before the contest most Nakoma streets were identified with letters.
- Winners were announced in a full-page ad in the Wisconsin State Journal on August 27, 1916.
- Each winner received a $20 gold piece.
- The winning names were:
A Manitou Way
B Council Place
C Seneca Place
D Oneida Place
E Miami Pass
F Custer Road
G Naheda Trail
H Seminole Highway
I Mandan Circle
J Waban Hill
Wenonah Drive was also a winner although it was not chosen as a street name until some time later.
Plat books, real estate atlases, city directories, Internet sources such as Newspaper Archive and the Wisconsin Dictionary of History, and maps in the University of Wisconsin Robinson Map Library and the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives were useful, as were newspaper clippings and booklets in the Local Materials Collection of the Madison Public Library and materials in the Historical Society Pamphlet Collection.
Madison Past and Present—1852-1902 (Madison, 1902), has many biographies and photos of civic leaders.
Articles by Henry Noll in the Wisconsin State Journal on June 4, 1922, on street names in Wingra Park and on June 7, 1922, on street names in University Heights and nearby subdivisions were valuable.
Frederic G. Cassidy, 1907-2000, a professor of English literature and linguistics at the University of Wisconsin, lived for many years at 1815 Vilas Avenue with his wife Helene and their four children. His book Dane County Place-Names (1947, enlarged edition 1968, most recent printing Madison, 2009) was exceptionally useful.
Three publications that contain short neighborhood histories, routes for walking tours, and descriptions of architectural treasures are:
- The University Heights Historic District: A Walking Tour (Madison, 1987)
- Exploring the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood (Madison, 1999). This is available on the Internet at dmna.org.
- The Nakoma Neighborhood, A Walking Tour (Madison, 2002)
Alphabetical List of West Side Streets
Adams Street – John Adams U. S. President, 1797-1801, and John Quincy Adams U. S. President, 1825-1829
Agawa Path – the Agawa Canyon is located about 115 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie
Allen Street – William Francis Allen, 1830-1889, was a University of Wisconsin professor of history and ancient languages from 1867 until 1889.
Arbor Drive – for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum
Arlington Place – for Arlington House and the Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D. C.
Ash Street – for the tree
Baltzell Street – John R. Baltzell, 1827-1893, was an attorney and the Mayor of Madison, 1879-1880.
Bascom Place – John Bascom, 1827-1911, was President of the University of Wisconsin from 1874 until 1887. He was a psychologist, advocate of women’s rights, and a prohibitionist.
Bascom Street— see Bascom Place
Birge Terrace— Edward Asahel Birge, 1851-1950, was a biologist and President of the University of Wisconsin 1918-1925. He is considered to be the founder of limnology, the study of inland waters.
Breese Terrace— Breese J. Stevens, 1834-1903, was a lawyer, an associate of William F. Vilas, Mayor of Madison 1884-1885, a University of Wisconsin regent, and a real estate developer. In 1893 he sold 106 acres of land west of Camp Randall to the University Heights Company and became a director of the company.
Briar Hill Road – for the subdivision which was located along a hill covered with many briar bushes
Campbell Street – no information
Chadbourne Avenue – Paul Ansel Chadbourne, 1823-1883, was a biologist and botanist. He was President of the University of Wisconsin 1867-1870.
Chamberlain Avenue – Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, 1843-1928, was a geologist, explorer, and President of the University of Wisconsin 1887-1892. The street name was spelled correctly as Chamberlin in the 1890s but was later corrupted to Chamberlain.
Chapman Street – Chandler Burnell Chapman, 1870-1945, was one of the developers in the area from Commonwealth Avenue to Glenway Street.
Cherokee Drive – The Cherokee Indians originally inhabited areas of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Chestnut Street – for the tree
Commonwealth Avenue - probably to suggest equality and concern for the common (general) good
Copeland Street— no information
Council Crest—from the Indian meetings or councils to decide important issues
Country Club Road – adjacent to the Nakoma Country Club clubhouse
Crandall Street – Betty Cass wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal, April 7, 1942:
“Crandall Street, off Monroe, was also originally Randall, after Randall Gay, whose father platted that section of the city, but before the plat was recorded, Warren was changed to Randall, and to save confusion, Mr. Gal prefixed a C. to his street.”
Crazylegs Lane – Elroy Hirsch, 1923-2004, collegiate and professional football player, movie actor, University of Wisconsin athletic director, 1969-1987. The nickname “Crazylegs” came from his peculiar running style.
Cross Street—no information
Custer Road – General George A. Custer and his entire command were slain by Indians on June 25 and 26, 1876. Custer was one of the winners in the 1916 Nakoma street name contest but was used as a street name for only a few years.
Edgewood Avenue – In 1881, Cadwallader Washburn, who was the Governor of Wisconsin from 1872-1874, donated his 52-acre estate, Villa Edgewood, to the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa (Sinsinawa is in Grant County, Wisconsin, 11 miles east of Dubuque, Iowa.)
Edgewood Drive – In 1904, the Dominican Sisters allowed the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association to build a drive through their property near the shore of Lake Wingra.
Elm Street – for the tree
Ely Place – Richard Theodore Ely, 1854-1943, was an economist who taught at many colleges. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin from 1892 to 1925 and was one of the first to promote the “Wisconsin idea” that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state. He bought the first lot in University Heights.
Eton Ridge – for Eton College, a boarding school for boys in Eton, England, established in 1440
Farley Avenue – may be named for Edward Farley, a stonecutter who was born in Scotland and who was the only adult male Farley in the Town of Madison for the 1870 and 1880 U. S. Census. Farley Avenue is near several early quarries.
Forest Street – The eastern portion of University Heights had been partly deforested by soldiers at Camp Randall during the Civil War. The western portion was heavily wooded, hence Forest Street.
Fox Avenue – Philip Fox, 1840-1932, was a medical doctor, civil war veteran, resident of Madison since 1865, a prominent Catholic, and a friend of Robert M. La Follette.
Franklin Avenue – for Benjamin Franklin, printer, postmaster, diplomat, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution.
Garfield Street – James A. Garfield, U. S. President 1881
Gilmore Street – Frank A. Gilmore, 1865-1919, was a Unitarian minister.
Glenway Street – A glen is a secluded narrow valley such as the area where Glenway Street and Monroe Street intersect.
Glenwood Street – A blend of glen and wood for the area now occupied by Glenwood Park.
Grand Avenue – to suggest grandeur and magnificence
Grant Street – Ulysses S. Grant, U. S. President 1869-1877
Gregory Street – Jared Comstock Gregory, 1828-1892, was a lawyer, University of Wisconsin regent, Mayor of Madison 1873-1874, and a postmaster of Madison.
Harrison Street – Benjamin Harrison, U. S. President 1889-1893
Hiawatha Circle – Hiawatha is the main character in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1853 poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” Hiawatha, the Wise Man, was the son of Wenonah, a mortal, and Mudjekeewis, the west wind. Wenonah died in childbirth; Hiawatha was raised by his grandmother Nokomis.
The poem is set near the shores of Lake Superior, the big sea water Gitche Gumee, and is based on Chippewa legends. It profoundly influenced conceptions of American Indian cultures.
Highland Avenue – for the Highland Park subdivision to suggest its proximity to University Heights
Hillington Green – for the street and park in the Hillington subdivision of 1917. Hillington Green was platted in 1921.
Hillington Way – for the Hillington subdivision named for its suggestion of England by Alfred T. Rogers of the Madison Realty Company
Hollister Avenue – Colonel A. H. Hollister was a member of the University Heights Company in 1893 and one of Madison’s best known druggists. His firm also distributed chemicals and surgical instruments.
Huron Hill – the Huron Indians originally lived in Ontario near Georgian Bay.
Iroquois Drive – the Iroquois Indians originally lived in New York near the St. Lawrence River.
Jefferson Street – Thomas Jefferson, U. S. President 1801-1809
Joss Court – in a plat named Joss, so probably a local family
Kendall Avenue – Charles Kendall Adams, 1835-1902, was a historian, president of Cornell University 1885-1892 and President of the University of Wisconsin 1892-1901
Keyes Avenue – Elisha Williams Keyes, 1828-1910, was a Republican politician, postmaster of Madison for many years, Madison Mayor 1865-1867 and 1885-1886, and state assemblyman
Knickerbocker Street – for the Knickerbocker Ice Company of Chicago that operated a railroad spur from the Illinois Central Railroad tracks to Lake Wingra and a large ice house from 1895 to 1920
Lathrop Street – John Hiram Lathrop, 1799-1866, was the first chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in 1849. He continued as a professor, chancellor, and acting chancellor until 1859.
Leonard Street – no information
Lewis Court – for Lewis J. Schumacher who built a house in this area in 1914
Lincoln Street – Abraham Lincoln, U. S. President 1861-1865
Little Street – probably jocular for a very short street near the intersection of Monroe Street and Breese Terrace
Lynn Terrace – no information
Madison Street – James Madison, U. S. President 1809-1817. Most famous for his role in drafting the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. His wife Dolley, who was brave, charming, and considerate, is one of the best loved women in American history.
Mandan Circle – the Mandan Indians originally lived on the Missouri River areas of North and South Dakota
Mandan Crescent – see Mandan Circle
Manitou Way – “Manitou” means “spirit or deity.” Gitche Manitou was the Great Spirit or Master of Life for the Chippewa.
Mason Street – Vroman Mason, 1874-1941, was a member of the executive committee of the Highland Park Company in 1907.
Miami Pass – the Miami Indians originally lived in Indiana, Illinois, and southern Michigan.
Minakwa Drive – A street in Briar Hill that adjoins Nakoma. In Chippewa “Minaka” means “clump of trees.”
Mohawk Circle – the Mohawk Indians originally lived in New York, southern Quebec, and eastern Ontario.
Monroe Street – James Monroe, U. S. President 1817-1825. Formerly the Monroe Road which was an improved path leading to the City of Monroe named for President Monroe. The Monroe Road connected with similar paths to the lead mining regions of southwestern Wisconsin. The paths were gradually improved into stage coach routes, then highways.
Oakland Avenue – for the many large oak trees in the area
Odana Road – for the Chippewa word for village
Oneida Place – the Oneida Indians originally lived in central New York.
Ottawa Trail – the Ottawa Indians originally lived along the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.
Naheda Trail – Naheda may be a feminine name in an Indian language
Nakoma Road – Nakoma in Chippewa means “I do as I promise,” “I keep my word.” Nakoma and Odana were the first Chippewa words chosen for the Nakoma subdivision, probably by Charles E. Brown, archeologist and curator of the Wisconsin Historical Society museum, in consultation with executives of the Madison Realty Company.
Norwood Place – possibly for Norwood, a town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, or just suggestive of England or “back east.”
Park Place – for its attractive park-like appearance
Paunack Place – the Paunacks were a large and influential Madison family for many years.
Pickford Street – Henry W. Pickford, 1854-1935, was a farmer, printer, and realtor.
Princeton Avenue – no information
Prospect Avenue – because it ascends to the top of the hill in University Heights
Randall Avenue – Alexander W. Randall, Wisconsin Governor 1858-1862. Camp Randall was converted from the State Fair site to a training camp for civil war soldiers during his terms in office. It was also a prisoner of war camp. The University of Wisconsin eventually acquired the land.
Regent Street – for the regents of the University of Wisconsin
Roberts Court – no information
Roby Road – no information
Rowley Avenue – for M. S. Rowley, a prominent developer and real estate salesman
Rugby Row – for Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire, England, founded 1567, a famous school for boys. It is now coeducational.
Seminole Highway – the Seminole Indians originally lived in parts of Florida
Seneca Place – the Seneca Indians originally lived in New York
Shawnee Pass – the Shawnee Indians originally lived in Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Indiana, and Pennsylvania
Sheldon Street – for Russell A. Sheldon, 1822-1907, who owned a farm in the area
Speedway Road – a good place to test cars and motorcycles
Spooner Street – John Coit Spooner, 1843-1919, was a lawyer, University of Wisconsin regent, state assemblyman, and a U. S. Senator from 1885-1891 and 1897-1907.
Sprague Street – Ray Sprague Owen, 1878-1967, was a University of Wisconsin professor who surveyed land in this area
Spring Trail – for a steep path leading to a spring at its base along Nakoma Road and for the nearby Spring Tavern
Stevens Street – In 1910 E. Ray Stevens, 1869-1930, was first vice-president of the Madison Realty Company. He was a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice from 1926-1930.
Stockton Court –no information
Summit Avenue – ascends to the top of the hill in University Heights
Terry Place – Jared H. Terry, 1838-1923, was a school teacher and superintendent in southern Wisconsin. He retired in 1889 and came to Madison to live with his son.
Tumalo Trail – Tumalo is a scenic volcanic region in central Oregon just east of the Cascades.
University Avenue – for the University of Wisconsin
Van Buren Street – Martin Van Buren, U. S. President, 1837-1841
Van Hise Avenue – Charles Richard Van Hise, 1857-1918, was a University of Wisconsin professor of geology from 1879 onward and university president from 1907 to 1918. During his term as president, the university faculty increased from about 200 to more than 750.
Vilas Avenue – Colonel William Freeman Vilas, 1840-1908, was a lawyer, civil war officer, law school professor, U. S. Postmaster General from 1885 to 1888, and U. S. Secretary of the Interior 1888-1889 during President Grover Cleveland’s first term. He was U. S. Senator from Wisconsin 1891-1897, and a University of Wisconsin regent. He was also a lumber baron for whom Vilas County in northern Wisconsin is named.
In 1904 Colonel Vilas and his wife Anna donated land along the north shore of Lake Wingra to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association in memory of their son Henry, which became Vilas Park and the Henry Vilas Zoo. He left most of his fortune to the University of Wisconsin; students are still receiving Vilas scholarships.
Vilas Park Drive – see Vilas Avenue
Virginia Terrace – for Virginia Nelson, wife of Charles Nelson, who owned a farm near the West Lawn subdivision.
Vista Road – to suggest splendid views
Waban Hill – Waban was the first Indian converted to Christianity in Massachusetts.
Walnut Street – for the tree
Wanda Place – may be a feminine name in an Indian language
Western Avenue – for its location on the western edge of Madison about 1915
West Lawn Avenue – for the subdivision started about 1903 on the West Lawn Farm owned by H. C. Adams
Whenona Drive – Whenona (also spelled Wenonah) was Hiawatha’s mother
Woodrow Street – is in the Edgewood Park subdivision next to the Edgewood property owned by the Dominican Sisters. It was first named Linden for the American basswood tree. In 1913 the Madison Common Council ordered the name changed to prevent duplication with other streets named Linden. The developer, John C. McKenna, probably chose Woodrow for a row of trees – a wood row.
Wyota Avenue – Probably for Wiota, a village in southwestern Wisconsin. Wiota was apparently an Indian place name but its meaning is unknown.
Yuma Drive – the Yuma Indians originally lived along the lower Colorado River in Arizona