Carl Baehr
City Streets

The Return of Streets With Two Names

1920s program purged most, but streets with multiple names popping up in recent decades.

By - Dec 27th, 2019 04:18 pm
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A section of S. 43rd Street is Called S. Miller Park Way. Will it carry the American Family Insurance name? Photo by Carl Baehr.

A section of S. 43rd Street is Called S. Miller Park Way. Will it carry the American Family Insurance name? Photo by Carl Baehr.

The founders of the three villages that eventually became the city of Milwaukee did not want to have anything to do with each other. One way this was manifested was to name the streets in their developments without regard for the streets named by their counterparts. A century later their lack of cooperation had created a nightmare for those traveling in the city.

One of the problems was that street names would change for no apparent reason. Commuters on Sixth Street in Kilbourntown going south to Walker’s Point would find that they were on First Avenue when they got there. South Siders traveling north on 11th Avenue would wind up on 16th Street when they reached Kilbourntown. None of the numbered avenues on the South Side matched the numbered streets on the North Side.

Travel between the East and West Sides could be confusing too. Those starting on Wisconsin Street in Juneautown, east of the Milwaukee River, arrived in Kilbourntown and found themselves on Grand Avenue. If they took Wells Street back to Juneautown, after crossing the river they were on Oneida Street. These are just a few examples. None of the streets between Juneautown and Kilbourntown carried the same name nor did any between Walker’s Point and Kilbourntown.

While the founders had begun the confusion, subsequent development in each community added to the problem. On the West Side, Poplar Street, Cold Spring Avenue, and McKinley Avenue were all names on one thoroughfare. One South Side street was known as Morgan Avenue for part of its length while another section was called Ludlow Avenue. The East Side street named Fratney was, in another section, named Liebnitz.

Many of these problems, created in the 1830s and later, were solved by the street renaming program of the late 1920s. The Walker’s Point numbered avenues were changed to match the Kilbourntown street numbers and they were all given the designation of “Street” rather than “Avenue.”

Where there were bridges over the Milwaukee River between the east and west sides, the connected streets were given one name. Wisconsin Street/Grand Avenue was renamed Wisconsin Avenue. Wells Street/Oneida Street was named Wells Street its whole length. The West Side’s Cedar Street and the East Side’s Biddle Street were renamed Kilbourn Avenue. Where there were no bridges connecting streets in line with each other, the names remained as they were. For example, E. Ogden Avenue and W. Vliet Street retained their names, as did E. Burleigh Street and E. Kenwood Avenue.

Altogether, 83 street names were eliminated in the effort to have only one name along a street. Another 94 names were purged because they were duplicates or sounded too much like other street names.

So, for a few decades navigation around the city became easier. There were still some areas of confusion where portions of numbered streets were given names instead of numbers. A part of N. 43rd Street was called N. Sherman Boulevard, a section of N. 42nd Street was called N. Grant Boulevard, and a segment of S. 27th Street was named S. Layton Boulevard.

But in the latter part of the twentieth century more confusion crept in. Forty-third Street was given a third name, Miller Park Way. (Will that name change to American Family Insurance Field Way, or some variation, when the stadium’s name changes next year?) A fragment of N. Seventh Street was renamed James Lovell Street. A piece of S. 16th Street was renamed S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive. Two new names were added to North Third Street – N. Old World Third Street and N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. North Fourth Street was renamed N. Vel R. Phillips Avenue for its entire length. On the South Side it is still S. Fourth Street.

When a bridge was constructed over the Milwaukee River in the 1960s, connecting W. St. Paul Avenue and E. Detroit Street, Detroit St. was rechristened E. St. Paul Avenue. But more recently, when a bridge was built to connect W. McKinley Avenue and E. Knapp Street, each retained its name, so the traveler goes from E. Knapp Street to W. McKinley Avenue without leaving the thoroughfare.

Thankfully, GPS and digital maps in vehicles and smartphones make these changes less challenging than they were in the past, at least for most of us. But even so, it is not uncommon for drivers to stop and ask pedestrians for directions because they are confused by streets that have more than one name.

Streets with Two Names

Carl Baehr is the author of Milwaukee Streets: The Stories Behind Their Names and From the Emerald Isle to the Cream City: A History of the Irish in Milwaukee.

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Categories: City Streets, History

5 thoughts on “City Streets: The Return of Streets With Two Names”

  1. fred@fredbellpaintings.com says:

    There are so many intersections without street signs now. I hope the city makes an effort to replace them before the DNC.

  2. mike kirkwood says:

    Why not just change nondescript street names like North Ave., Center St., or Capital Dr. to King and Philips?
    Greenfield or National to Lovell?
    Can’t we keep our numbered grid intact to minimize confusion.

  3. Carl Baehr says:

    Mike, You make a good point.

    One exception though – The street name I have gotten the most comments on by readers of my street name book is Center Street because of the surprising origin of the name.

    See “Center St. Actually Named After a Person” https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2016/11/03/city-streets-center-st-actually-named-after-a-person/

  4. jnor says:

    Mike: Because there are so many businesses on those streets, and having to change addresses is very expensive and annoying.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Pennsylvania/Nicholson: there’s a stretch just south of the airport in which southbound traffic is on Pennsylvania while northbound traffic is on Nicholson…

  5. Carl Baehr says:

    jnor,

    Nicholson/Pennsylvania is a strange situation. My main focus is on Milwaukee street names but I am familiar with that one having lived in that area for many years.

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