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What’s in a name?

City streets named by chance or design

Published: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 8:50 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 8:53 a.m. CDT

It's perhaps the most well-known road in DeKalb County, but do you know how Annie Glidden Road got its name?

"Probably most people don't know who Annie Glidden was, and they certainly don't know why she is so famous a road was named after her," said Marcia Wilson, executive director of the Glidden Homestead in DeKalb.

Glidden was the daughter of Josiah Glidden, who settled in this area in 1840 with his brother Joseph, the inventor of barbed wire.

A graduate of Cornell University with a degree in agriculture – a rare thing for a woman of her time – Annie Glidden won state awards for high-yield corn crops. She was equally known for growing unusual crops such as white asparagus and raspberries.

Although she thinks it may originally have been called Center Road, Wilson said the road was named for Glidden because she was so well known in the area. Plus, she lived there.

"Roads weren't initially named," Wilson said. "They were really a location reference, not a legal name at all."

Michelle Donahoe, executive director of the Sycamore History Museum, said some local roads were simply known by the prominent farmers who lived on them. Over time, the names were officially adopted.

Derek Hiland, DeKalb city planner, said there's really no rhyme or reason to the way streets and roads are named. Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy said most streets in small communities are named after trees or people. Larger cities are more likely to have numbered streets.

DeKalb County historian Sue Breese said, Waterman's streets from north to south are named after trees. The streets from east to west are named after presidents.

When a subdivision is annexed into any town, it's usually up to the developer to name the streets. Sometimes, Donahoe said, the developers aren't very creative, using the names of family members. Others like to be more distinctive; the streets in a subdivision in St. Charles, for instance, are named after authors. Streets in Cortland's NeuCort Lakes subdivision are named for songbirds. In the Heron Creek subdivision in Sycamore, Mundy said developers named the streets after prominent figures in local history.

Breese said the late county historian Phyllis Kelley proposed many prominent women's names for street names.

"She thought it was important we remember the names of the women who made an impact, like Letitia Westgate, the first woman doctor in the county, who established the first hospital building in 1897 on Elm and Somonauk," she said.

Once a developer has proposed street names, Hiland said the city checks the names to make sure they either aren't already in use or don't sound similar to existing names. That's especially important for local fire departments so there won't be any confusion in responding to emergency calls.

John Sauter, director of building and engineering for the city of Sycamore, said the city will point out conflicts to the developer so they can be revised. Once approved, Mundy said the names are written into the annexation agreement, then local post offices are notified.

The stories behind the streets

Mount Hunger Road, Sycamore

It may be fairly obvious where some streets and roads in DeKalb County got their names.

Mount Hunger Road is not one of them.

According to a 1935 article in the Sycamore True Republican, Elijah Hill settled in the area around what is now Mount Hunger in the early 1800s. The first year, his crops were a near failure; the second year, he mainly grew onions. He was the one who named the road; apparently, he thought "Mount Hunger" was appropriate.

Michelle Donahoe, executive director of the Sycamore History Museum, said Plank Road got its name because planks literally lined the often muddy road from Sycamore to St. Charles. Unfortunately, she said, the project had to be abandoned when the planks were stolen.

State Street, Sycamore

State Street in Sycamore was named for an ambitious plan to run the street from one end of the state to the other, starting from Chicago.

"They had a vision," Donahoe said. "But that didn't always happen."

Donahoe said another well-known Sycamore road, Brickville Road, got its name from an old brick factory that used to do business there.

Lucinda Avenue, DeKalb

Lucinda Avenue, which runs west from the Kishwaukee River through the Northern Illinois University campus, was named for Lucinda Glidden, the second wife of Joseph Glidden, the inventor of barbed wire, according to Glidden Homestead Executive Director Marcia Wilson.

John Street, DeKalb

On the east side of the river, just a few blocks away from Lucinda, is John Street, which DeKalb Mayor John Rey said was named after John Spangenberg, who donated a large portion of land to the city in 1890.

Eureka Street, Genoa

One of the more interesting street names in Genoa is Eureka Street. Orrin Merritt, president of the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Museum, thinks the name came the Eureka Company once located on town. There was also, he said, a Eureka Hotel.

Many streets in Genoa, Merritt said, are named after early prominent settlers. Surprisingly, he noted, there are no streets named after city founder Thomas Madison.

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