Barron County Street Grid

On October 14, 2012 · 11 Comments

I stumbled upon Barron County, Wisconsin — figuratively speaking — as I researched the Big Zero article. There seemed to be a plethora of zero-themed streets in the United States. In fact I think I’d claim that no other nation competes with the sheer number of zero streets, avenues, lanes, drives, etc., found throughout the U.S. There are many examples nationwide and one of them has to be the best. I offered 0 Street outside of Cumberland, Wisconsin as my preference, not so much for the road itself as for the many different roads nearby with fractional designations.

This prompted longtime 12MC reader "Greg" to note, "I imagine the WI road naming convention might reflect the number of miles a road is from the western or southern border of its county?" That was all the excuse I needed to dig into the peculiar case of the mysterious Barron County street grid further.

There’s no better way to procrastinate and avoid weekend chores than by fiddling around on Google Maps. County lines don’t show up when their maps are embedded(1) on an external site (such as 12MC) so I had to create my own representation of Barron County. What a perfectly regular shape! It’s a convenient square of 30 miles (48 kilometres) on a side. Townships in Barron County also conform to neat little squares and rectangles as well although they have evolved over the years to become even more regular.

View Barron County Street Numbering in a larger map

0 Street, running along the western edge of Barron County also goes by alternate names, specifically County Line Street and Polk-Barron Street. All that makes sense. Zero connotates a beginning, where one should start counting from the western county line, and Polk is the county immediately to the west. The southern boundary also has a couple of different names, County Line Road (to distinguish it from County Line Street, I suppose) and Barron-Dunn Avenue where it shares a common border with Dunn County. It gets more interesting on the eastern border since a contiguous road does not run the preponderance of its length. Here it’s primarily 30th Street or Town Line Road where a physical path exists. Ditto on the northern side except it’s 30th Avenue, and various town and county line roads.

Thus, based on this naming and based upon a few test lines I drew on the map, it became readily apparent that Greg was correct. The names aren’t completely precise since they do include some minor rounding, however they’re close enough to get the point across. The map published by Barron County also confirmed it.

View Larger Map

It all begins here, at the intersection of Polk-Barron Street and Barron-Dunn Avenue. Put a cursor on the Street View image and notice the crazy address Google assigns to it. This is a quadripoint. One can stand at the crossroads and touch Barron, Polk, St. Croix and Dunn Counties simultaneously. Ironically, Barron is one of the few Wisconsin counties I’ve not yet captured. Now I have an incentive.

The intersection of Polk-Barron and Barron-Dunn starts the sequences. These are the respective zeros. Roads in Barron County are based upon mileage from the western and southern borders. East-West roads are Avenues. North-South roads are Streets. Thus it’s easy to tell how far one must drive between points. There are very few diagonal roads so one doesn’t even need to resort to mathematical calculations of the hypotenuse, just simple addition and subtraction.

View Larger Map

Barron throws in some interesting factors to complicate the process by resorting to fractional road names. It’s entirely possible, for example, to meet someone at the corner of 11 3/4 Avenue and 2 3/4 Street. Yikes!

View Larger Map

The most extreme instance, however, may be 1 5/8 Street. That’s one and five-eighths miles east of the Polk-Barron county line. It equates to 1.625 Street, and I defy anyone to find a street name more fractional than this. Unfortunately it may also be an error. Barron County’s map lists it as 1 1/2 Street. Google’s mapmakers may have placed it there as an Easter Egg or as an intentional trap street to keep people from stealing their copyrighted works. I found plenty of 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 fractions and nothing more extreme than that on the published map produced by the county.

View Larger Map

I also discovered Big Dummy Lake which I found amusing even though it has has nothing to do with street numbering. I kept thinking of Sanford and Son (listen to the quote and see if you might agree). There seemed to be plenty of houses along Big Dummy Lake as well as nearby Little Dummy Lake too. I can’t imagine what marketing campaign the developers must have used to sell those properties. "Come by a new house, you big dummy" pitched by Redd Foxx somehow seems appropriate.

Interestingly towns within the various townships of Barron County exempt themselves from the madness. Rice Lake, Cumberland and the town of Barron all seem to resort to more standard names like Main St., Elm St., and Monroe Ave.

Street and avenue names based upon miles from the southern and western borders, including the unusual fractional notations, seem to be a rural phenomenon of Barron County.

Tangentially Unrelated

Regular reader "Will" enjoyed the Big Zero article too. He offered something similar although not quite a zero. There is a street in Gilroy, California called "No Name Uno Road" (street view image). As Will explained, "The street name combines two languages, an inherent paradox, laziness, and bureaucratic finality in one lovely package." He also wonders what U2 might think about it.

He explained further that supposedly workers building the road gave it a temporary name for billing purposes and it somehow became affixed permanently. It wouldn’t be so bad except Gilroy’s hospital was built along the road and now has to suffer with the peculiarities of its address (check it out on their website: 9400 No Name Uno, Gilroy, CA 95020).

Thanks Will!

(1) It’s been a long time since I’ve used a true footnote on the Twelve Mile Circle. I don’t know why because they’re very effective. Oh yeh, now I remember. They’re kind of a pain and most people don’t read them anyway. They have to be hand-coded like in the dark ages of HTML before content management software took care of most of those chores automatically. Where was I going? Oh. Embed. Everyone has words that for whatever reason are difficult to remember how to spell in writing. For the life of me I always have a tough time remembering if it’s embed or imbed. The easiest way to solve this is to hit Google with a search term like define embed (spell it the other way and it will default back to embed). Anyway, I thought they used a rather gruesome example — "he had an operation to remove a nail embedded in his chest." Now you see why I threw it into a footnote.

On October 14, 2012 · 11 Comments

11 Responses to “Barron County Street Grid”

  1. Greg says:

    Hey, that’s pretty cool. Thanks. The talk about 1 5/8 St finally spurred me to ask about highway signage. In downtown Cleveland on I-90, there’s a sign showing distances to exits denominated in eights of a mile. Link is here:

    View Larger Map,-81.6785&spn=0.017229,0.027723&t=m&z=15&layer=c&cbll=41.495691,-81.678623&panoid=TkPJsPPwWwm921nE3zh3ng&cbp=12,53.08,,0,-0.28

    How common is that? This is just miles away from the previously mentioned city-limit signs placed about 10 feet apart on the side of the highway. Maybe Cuyahoga County has a wonderfully pedantic engineer?

  2. newtaste says:

    In 1894, it was proposed that streets in Philadelphia that did not have existing numerical or fractional names be renamed with fractional names, reported the NYT. Looking at Google Maps, the proposal did not go ahead as the streets named in the article as changing still have their original names.

    FRACTIONAL NAMES FOR CITY STREETS; Eighths, Quarters, and Halves Recommended in Philadelphia

    News article:


  3. Greg says:

    Hey, now. Talking in tenths of a mile will put us on the slippery slope to the metric system, which we all know is the tool of the Devil. My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead, and that’s the way I likes it!

  4. January First-of-May says:

    The road you showed as 1 5/8 is probably indeed 1 1/2, but there’s an actual 1 5/8 St nearby – it’s a spur off 27 3/4 Ave about a mile south of where your map ends.
    In fact, looking at the road map you linked to, there’s a bunch of other roads (both St and Ave) with 8ths in the title – and indeed a few with 16ths (e.g. 29 11/16 Ave, which is a street in Barronett, WI), but all seemed to have their own names as well (that particular one’s is Bourne Ave – something seemingly not picked up on by neither Google, Bing, or OSM, as (so far as I can tell) all three just call it by the number).

  5. newtaste says:

    Yes, a Bing map for a property on this Coldwell Banker website shows the longer 1? as 1½, with the shorter 1? the same as Google.

  6. newtaste says:

    Sorry,copied 5/8 as a fraction from Word, but it saved as 1? !!

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