Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sutton Street Names or "Why Saunders Avenue?"

The first settlers on the Great Plains faced open territory and a blank map. One of their chores as they filled the territory was to also fill the map with names for physical features they found and created. Sutton has about 40 named streets and avenues. Where did those names come from; that is, who or what is a Saunders?

Our east-west thoroughfares are streets and avenues run north and south. We can account for most of the streets very quickly with the “Tree Theme”. From the township line north of the park we have an almost alphabetical list of tree-related names to the south: Ash, Beech, Cedar, Maple (Wrong! Why not Dogwood?), Elm, Forest and Grove (not kinds of trees, but OK), Hickory, Ivy (once was “Joy Street”), Laurel and Myrtle. (No “K”. Can you think of one?).

But why trees? If there was one thing early explorers, Oregon Trail Diarists and settlers all agreed upon, it was that THERE WERE NO TREES. The township southwest of Clay Center is even named “Lone Tree”.

South of the tree section are three streets between Myrtle and Highway 6. A banker by the name of Fowler developed that addition and named Helen, Anna and George streets. Betty and Roger Sheridan gave the historical society several photos collected over the years and one is labeled “Fowler girls, Helen, Anna, Madge, Geo. Fowler” - Madge didn’t get her street.

Crossing back to the north of the park the first little street north of Ash Street is Lake Street. Let’s call names like this a “descriptive name.” Such descriptive names are the second major category and reflect some feature that struck the founder’s fancy. Was there a lake or a pond north of Ash where the little creek comes from the west? Don’t know. Just north of Lake is Ridge Street. Sounds like another descriptive name and barring discovering a Mr. Lake or a Mr. Ridge somewhere in Sutton’s past, let’s picture a ridge over a lake here, or someone’s imagination of them.

Next is Lincoln Street. Perhaps more time and effort would uncover whether this street is officially named for President Lincoln or the state capitol city. A research projects like this is a “work in progress.” Suggestions welcome. The west end of Lincoln Street becomes Crestridge Circle Drive – another descriptive name.

Next is North Street and it is “in the north part of town”, yet another descriptive name. Then we have Ada Street. This section of town was once owned by Hosea Gray and George Bemis. Col. Gray’s daughter Ada was married to George Bemis. Ada was a gracious host and a fine musician with Sutton’s first piano. And with her own street.

North of the school and in line with the entrance to the cemetery is N. Silver Street Richard S. Silver arrived in Sutton in April, 1878 and owned 400 acres on the north edge of town. Silver was an important name in early Sutton but that name disappeared with the death of Cessna Silver in 1966.

That’s the streets; now for the avenues.

To the east of the middle of town are Maltby, Way, Main and French Avenues. Main Avenue was supposed to be the “main” street of Sutton and the first businesses were built on Main Avenue north of the Burlington tracks. Within just a few months, businesses began to migrate three blocks west to build on Saunders Avenue leading to the ambiguity and confusion that we are still dealing with today. Luther French, John Maltby and William Way were the three homesteaders of the three eighties that make up Sutton Original Town and the First Addition (about Ash to Helen and James to French).

Our project here takes an “incomplete” east of Route 6. Calvert, Phillips, Dorr, Owen and Dennis Avenues all appear to be named after people. Thomas Calvert was a Burlington railroad engineer in 1871 who worked on the Crete-Kearney section of track just as it was built. The state historical society has a story about him in its web site. That might be where this name came from – might be.

Dr. Charles Phillips was a dentist in Sutton but only from about 1905 until 1908. He is unlikely to be the source of this name, but possible – raise your hand if you know better.

There were Dorr’s in early Nebraska but none appear to have a any Sutton Connection, likewise Owen’s, though Mr. Owen Miles built the first school house and it was to the east of the main part of town, but that isn’t likely either. We can do better with Dennis Street. The Dennis family owned property to the east of town in the vicinity of Dennis Street (should have been an avenue). There is a Burlington Avenue out on the east edge  of town – did you know that?

Two descriptive names complete the east end of town, Terrace and Crestview Drives and Commercial Avenue is appropriate for its role along the highway to the southeast.

Near the north end of town is the one-block Gray Avenue – clearly named for the Gray family which owned this property. Horseshoe Avenue is recent and someone surely remembers the rationale for it. Was it descriptive of the intended shape or to recognize a horse pasture or something else?

Now, back downtown where we come to the governors. Alvin Saunders was Nebraska’s last territorial Governor serving from 1861-1867 and was later a senator from the state. Our founders saw fit to recognize the gentleman though they did not intend for the honor to be associated with the “main street” of the town. To the west are Butler and James Avenues named for David Christy Butler and William Hartford James, the first two governors of the State of Nebraska.

The west end of Sutton was developed by a very early businessman, I. N. Clark and his brother Dr. Martin V. B. Clark, the first doctor in town. Immediately west of James Avenue is …. Clark Avenue – no mystery there. Next is Glen Avenue. Clark’s Pond was first named Glen Lake, hence the name Glen Avenue. O.K., that begs the question of where did “Glen” come from? There doesn’t seem to have been anyone in the Clark family by that name. Perhaps the area of the lake/pond reminded someone of a little glen, suppose?

The rest of the avenues to the west are Park, Myra, Grand, Roy and Euclid. Park Avenue is on the west side of the Clark’s Pond and looks like a park even today. And the Clark’s must have thought that the town should have a Grand Avenue. Myra and Roy were two of I. N. Clark’s children so we only have Euclid left.

Why is an avenue in Sutton named after a Greek mathematician from 300 BCE? This is my favorite guess in the project. Euclid Avenue is in the Clark Additions so one of the brothers probably named it avenue. Isaac named two avenues after his kids so Euclid may be brother Martin’s contribution.

The Clark’s grew up in Parma, Ohio, now a south suburb of Cleveland. Off to the east is another suburb, Euclid. But what would be the connection? Dr. Martin Clark went to medical school at Western Reserve University, now Case Western. The main street of the Case Western University campus is also the major street that connects downtown Cleveland to the distant suburb of Euclid and is called ... Euclid Avenue. This guess is that Dr. Clark must have had some fond memories of that street that bisected his medical college. Maybe he lived on that street, or someone special did.

Dr. Clark also had a reputation as a serious student of science. He organized a local science club and once engaged in early “C.S.I.-type” work in a criminal investigation. It fits that he might recognize a man of science from over 2,000 years ago given the chance.

That concludes our mental trip across town north and south, east and west. There may be some literature buried about town where someone indentified all of the sources of street and avenue names and they may have found better answers that these. But until that literature surfaces we’ll declare this a first draft of a continuing effort. We’ll continue to look for Dorr and Phillips and the rest. Suggestions welcome.

This article appeared in the March and April issues of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about the magazine contact neighborhoodlife@yahoo.com or Mustang Inc., 510 West Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979.

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