I spotted South Street in Manly, Iowa as I wrote Even More Manly Places. Ordinarily that wouldn’t generate much attention. For some reason I found it entertaining to see a South with an east and a west. One could go to East South or West South, although apparently nowhere southeast or southwest. Ditto for North Street, and a similar situation for East Street. Oddly, Manly didn’t seem to have a West Street. I’ve run into similar situations like this in plenty of other places and I always smile. I don’t know why I fixated on it more than usual this time.
I’m sure the street names all came from their geographic alignment throughout town. However, each of those could be surnames too, theoretically although not likely. I went completely down a tangent and started thinking about that possibility anyway, way too much.
Fortunately the United States Census Bureau published a file that offered hours, well minutes, of entertainment. Doesn’t everybody love leafing through a table of Frequently Occurring Surnames from the 2010 Census? Then I checked the etymology of directional surnames. They all seemed to relate to ancestors who lived in a particular direction away from a larger town or region. People named West lived to the west. You get the picture.
Frequency variations definitely existed.
West seemed particularly popular. It ranked as the 125th most frequent surname in the U.S., with nearly two hundred thousand instances. Variations trailed from there. Westerman ranked 6,620, Westman ranked 11,257 and Western ranked 11,395.
Next in popularity, and much farther down the list came North. It ranked 1,766th, with about twenty thousand people. Northern ranked 8,981.
East followed in 2,843rd place with about twelve thousand people. However the variation Eastman actually scored higher, ranking 2,162. Easterly trailed with a rank of 12,593
South fell at the back of the pack at 3,231, and eleven thousand people. Southern ranked 4,587 and Southward ranked at 23,120. Southward presented a bit of an anomaly. Every other directional surname aligned almost exactly with people who identified as white. By contrast, about a third of the people named Southward identified as African-American.
Then I hoped to find a place for each direction, named for an actual person with that surname rather than its geographic position. I already discussed the wonderful North, South Carolina in North AND South so I set north aside. I didn’t find a South anywhere, although that didn’t surprise me given the frequency of the surname. That left West and East.
I created a little game around the West surname a few years ago. That reflected its overall popularity. This time I searched for an actual West and I found it in Texas. The name could be confusing. West, Texas (the city) was not the same at West Texas (the region). In fact West, along Interstate 35 between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Waco, probably fell a little bit to the east of the West Texas region by most interpretations. Everyone seemed to have a different definition of West Texas. That didn’t help.
The Katy Railroad was laid between Hillsboro and Waco in the fall of 1881. The path of the railroad cut through land owned by Thomas West. Czech immigrants came to the area purchasing the rich lands to farm and start a fresh life in the new world. They also opened businesses sharing their European culture. By the 1890’s the Czech businesses flourished in West.
That legacy of Czech immigration still existed in West. Businesses such as the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery (map) combined both cultures and offered kolaches and barbecue. Kolaches, I learned, were a type of fruit pastry brought to the area by those immigrants. Residents also emphasized their cultural heritage each Labor Day with a Czech polka festival called Westfest.
I couldn’t find a town of East, however I remembered a town on Maryland’s eastern shore called Easton. Unfortunately the name derived from its position east of St. Michaels. Oh well.
Other Eastons existed. Maybe that offered hope. I pulled a few threads on the history of Easton, Pennsylvania (map) and I found an intriguing if convoluted story. Thomas Penn, son of William Penn who founded Pennsylvania, married Juliana Fermor in 1751. The next year a growing town in Pennsylvania needed a name so Penn suggested Easton. Fermor grew up on an estate owned by her father, the 1st Earl of Pomfret, called Easton Neston in Northampton, England (map). The newly established town in Pennsylvania became Easton, in the newly established county of Northampton. That worked out nicely. Problem solved.
However it created another mystery in my mind. Easton Neston seemed to be a rather unusual name for an estate. Actually, it simply borrowed the name from a local church parish, which in turn borrowed the name from a town that existed there for more than a millennium. The town faded away over time although the parish remained, as did the estate. The only reference to its etymology seemed unreliable although I’ll still provide it: "Easton Neston in Northamptonshire gets its name from Old English Eadstanestun ‘settlement of Eadstan’, a personal name composed of the elements ead ‘prosperity’, ‘riches’ + stan ‘stone’."
Various saints appeared in recent Twelve Mile Circle articles, most recently On the Feast Day. I didn’t intent to fixate on them. The names of saints, both notable and obscure, kept coming to my attention as I researched other articles. I couldn’t simply ignore them. Take Saint Alban, for instance. Perhaps if I lived in England I might have known something about him. That’s the place where his story began. English explorers, colonists and settlers took his name and spread it wherever they migrated. I saw a town by that name in the United States and I naturally wondered, who was this Saint Alban?
Saint Alban figured prominently in the cast of revered characters of England’s Christians. Many considered him the English protomartyr, the original Christian martyr for the nation. The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban later rose near the site of his martyrdom in Hertfordshire (map). The surrounding town took his name too. However, during the Roman period, somewhere around the third century, they called it Verulamium and they did not tolerate Christians.
Alban sheltered a stranger who happened to be a Christian priest, the legend said. The priest practiced a forbidden faith, an act punishable by death. Alban learned more about the priest’s religion as he hid him from capture, leading to Alban’s conversion to Christianity. Meanwhile the authorities continued searching for the priest so Alban swapped clothes with him so he could escape. This angered the local magistrate who decided to punish Alban the same way he intended to punish the priest. He ordered Alban’s beheading on a hillside just outside of town. Alban became an instant martyr. Even now, 1,700 years later, pilgrims return to the site of St. Alban’s martyrdom, especially on his feast day, June 22.
The story evolved over the centuries, and in reality St. Alban may or may not have actually existed. Nonetheless, that didn’t matter. He meant a lot to Christians in England and his name spread as they sailed around the globe.
Actually, I first noticed the name in West Virginia. St. Albans sat just a few miles west of Charleston on the southern bank of the Kanawha River (map). The town began as Coalsmouth in the late eighteenth century at a place where the Coal River joined the Kanawha, thus at the mouth of Coal. I guess that sounded like an odd name for a town. Coalsmouth got a new name when it incorporated in 1872; "named by the chief counsel of the C&O railroad and close friend and railroad builder Collis P. Huntington, H. C. Parsons, in honor of his hometown in Vermont."
St. Alban made it over to Canada too. There it retained a possessive apostrophe, the Town of St. Alban’s on the island of Newfoundland (map). The original settlers arrived at this spot on the Bay d’Espoir sometime around the middle of the nineteenth century. They called it Ship Cove. However, that caused problems.
… the community’s name was changed in 1915 at the suggestion of parish priest Father Stanislaus St. Croix, in order to avoid confusion with numerous other Ship Coves. The present name of the community honours an English martyr and was chosen to reflect the fact that St. Alban’s is one of the few predominately Roman Catholic communities in Newfoundland where the majority of inhabitants are of English (rather than Irish or French) origin.
Logging once generated most of the jobs in St. Alban’s. Today aquaculture and hydroelectricity fuel its economy.
Another continent, another St. Albans (map). I didn’t find much specific about this particular representation, though. In fact, even the History of St. Albans said,
Surprisingly for a neighbourhood as old and as big as St Albans, there is very little written about its particular history, i.e. its own history as a neighbourhood. This is because it developed across the boundary between Sunshine and Keilor and was thus divided between these two municipalities.
First came a railway station named St. Albans in 1887. The town grew around it after land speculators purchased small farms nearby. One gentleman, Alfred Padley, actively subdivided many of the plots and resold them. His wife, according to the website, had a family link back to the St. Albans in Hertfordshire. Thus the name transferred to the station and to the town.
One publication called St. Albans "the homicide capital of Victoria." It experienced sixteen homicides in two years. There are cities in the United States that probably experience that many homicides in a week. Sixteen — while certainly tragic for those involved — didn’t seem extreme enough to warrant such an onerous label.
St. Albans, New Zealand
I figured I might as well finish my virtual world tour by taking a look at New Zealand. Yes, a St. Albans grew there too, as a suburb of Christchurch. Look at its splendid border. The jagged edge made it appear like somebody tore it from a sheet of paper. I wondered what led to such an unusual shape, seemingly skipping or included houses and businesses at random. Alas, I never found out. However I did discover how it got its name. Apparently, before the town existed, St. Albans was the name of a local farm. The owner, George Dickinson, named it for a cousin. She was Harriet Mellon, the Duchess of St Albans.
What does someone call a short street with only a single outlet to a larger street? I wondered because I found different terms that varied geographically. There seemed to be a cultural dimension to it as well. Certain suffixes seemed to be more prevalent in the United Kingdom and others in the United States, with Canada displaying elements of both. I’ve fixated on such suffixes before, notably in What the Drung and What the Stravenue. This time I focused on the humble cul-de-sac.
Cul-de-sacs didn’t get much respect in recent years. They became a favored symbol of unbridled construction and suburban sprawl. All those dead end streets allowed developers to stuff more homes onto lots at the expense of traffic efficiency. I couldn’t do anything about that — some things were way beyond the abilities of Twelve Mile Circle — although I could examine some etymology. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1738, as an anatomical term, from French cul-de-sac, literally "bottom of a sack," from Latin culus "bottom, backside, fundament." …Application to streets and alleys is from 1800.
I guess it made sense. The cluster of homes at the end of a road resembled the bottom of a sack. Cars going into the sac could only exit the same way. No other choices existed. Actually I didn’t intend to beat up on the Cul-de-sac (or any generic dead-end street) as a design element. The point today was to examine the designation of such roads, specifically the suffixes appended to them.
I got started on this unfortunate idea when I examined the Isle of Dogs in the recent Random Islands article. I noticed a street with an odd suffix; Wheat Sheaf Close. Nearby I soon spotted Inglewood Close, Severnake Close and Epping Close. Was this a common thing, I wondered? Were little dead-end streets in the United Kingdom sometimes referred to as Closes? It seemed to be the case as I checked various random corners of the British Isles. Twelve Mile Circle’s loyal UK readers should be able to confirm its usage and frequency if that’s the case.
They existed in Canada too. Canada Post included Close as an acceptable suffix. However it did not offer an abbreviation for it. The UK specified "Cl." In London’s Isle of Dogs someone could write a letter to Wheat Sheaf Cl and that would be acceptable. Head to Medicine Hat, Alberta, on the other hand, and the address should include the entire word, as in Smith Close SE. New Zealand also used the abbreviated form in its address system although I couldn’t find any real-world examples. I couldn’t find any information about Australia, though. Any Closes in Australia, dear readers? Conversely, the United States Postal Service didn’t even include Close amongst its recognized suffixes.
Nonetheless the suffix made perfect sense. The roads indeed closed at one end.
The US Postal Service did include something more unusual however, the suffix Cove. It referred to the same thing, a short road with a dead-end or a cul-de-sac. I suspected the usage must have been sporadic, geographically confined, or both. I’d never personally seen a street with a Cove suffix. Even so, the USPS reserved the abbreviation "CV", so it obviously existed with at least some level of frequency. Wikipedia referenced the suffix and singled-out Memphis, Tennessee. Naturally I needed to find a Cove in Memphis. I plugged common street names into a map randomly until Ash Cove appeared, as did several others nearby. I didn’t know why Wikipedia singled-out Memphis though. Other coves appeared in in Arkansas, Mississippi and Arizona before I got tired of looking for more.
I wish this suffix got greater use. I liked the image it evoked.
A cul-de-sac resembled a perfectly formed cove, like Lulworth Cove (map) along the coast of Dorset, England. A cove offered refuge and safety, a nice analogy for a quiet suburban home away from traffic.
I was most familiar with the use of Court as a suffix. I wondered if that sounded weird in other places, like Close and Cove sounded to me. Actually Court seemed so normal to me that I never even considered other possibilities until I stumbled upon Close. That, of course, made me wonder why someone chose Court as a suffix for a street with a cul-de-sac or a dead end. The etymology supported it, though. It derived from Old French via Latin, for an "enclosed yard." Over time it came to applied to various enclosures, e.g., royalty (king’s court), government entities (court of law), or sports (tennis, basketball, etc.). A street closed at one end, using the same logic, could also be a Court.
I enjoyed the photo I found to represent the concept. Aspirations Court featured a Dead End marker — where aspirations went to die, perhaps? What were the sign makers in Modesto, California (map) thinking?