Hello! Every seven days, for the rest of the year, This Week in Portland History is bringing to light a person or event from the city’s past.
I’m switching things up this week. Instead of telling you a tale from years ago, I’m serving you a historic internet listicle — or a histacle.
Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a fun book in the Portland Public Library. It was such a fun read, I forgot what I was doing and devoured it, cover to cover, in one sitting.
It was written by retired couple named Norm and Althea Green back in the 1990s. The sheaf of photocopied, typewriter-written pages were held together in a three ring binder. The pages told stories behind some of the city’s 800 street names.
Some were boring tree streets (elm, oak, pine) or various views (ledge, bay, fair) and more than a few are just named for developers’ mothers. But many are obscure gems — like the one named for an elevator operator and the one bearing an odd, 1940 presidential loser’s first name.
The Greens gathered some of their tidbits from a series of articles the Portland Press Herald ran in the 1940s. But most came from their own research. It took them two years to finish their book.
Today, I’m giving you just a taste of what they found. If you want more, go to the library and tell them I sent you. It’s also been digitized so you can also download it as a PDF.
- Adams Street is named for our second president. Lincoln Street, Cleveland Street, Madison Street, Monroe Street, Taft Avenue and Washington Avenue are all named for presidents, too.
- Alba, Percival, Clinton, Hartley, Madeline, Florence, Mabel and James Streets are all named for James Phinney Baxter’s children. Baxter was an influential mayor of the city and got Baxter Boulevard named for himself.
- Arlington Street was named by developer J.W. Wilbur after the town in Massachusetts. In all, he named 22 streets after places in the Bay State.
- Belknap Street got its name from C.W. Belknap a poultry and tripe dealer.
- Bradley Street takes its name from a 19th-century preacher who was said to be funny and once taught Nathaniel Hawthorne in school.
- Bramhall Street, like many streets in town, is named for someone who used to own the on which land it sits. George Bramhall used to own the whole West End.
- Burnside Avenue is one of four thoroughfares named for Civil War generals. The other three are Grant, Sherman and Sheridan streets. Men’s sideburns are also named after him.
- Capisic Street sounds like it might be named for an Italian family but it’s probably a corrupted version of a Native American name for the area.
- Clark Street bears the name of an English soldier killed in a skirmish with Native Americans outside the walls of Fort Loyal in 1690. That was right before the siege that ended in every English settler’s death.
- Cleaves Street is named for early settler George Cleeve, though it’s spelled wrong.
- Congress Street used to be Back Street. Fore Street was the first street on the waterfront and Middle Street was in between them.
- Diamond Street got its name from the Diamond Match Co. in 1955.
- Dow Street is usually thought to be named for Neal Dow, whose house was nearby. It’s actually named for his father, Josiah Dow.
- Emerson Street, and the old Emerson School, were named for Andrew Emerson, Portland’s first mayor.
- Exchange Street was laid out in 1724 and was called Fish Street. In 1810, it got a name change because of all the banks and merchants that called it home.
- Fenway Street is probably named for Fenway Park in Boston.
- Fessenden Street is named for a powerful 19th-century U.S. senator from Maine named William Pitt Fessenden. William and Pitt streets are named for him, too.
- Freeman Street got named for Samuel Freeman who served in various city offices for 50 of his 88 years in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Halet Street is a misspelling of John Hallett’s name. He was an elevator operator who lived a half a block from the end of the street.
- Hooper Street is named for Oren Hooper who died aboard the steamship Portland when it went down in a November gale in 1898. His fathered owned a large department store in town.
- Huntress Street is named for a steamship than worked Maine’s coast from 1847 until 1916.
- Ivaloo Street was named by the ever-creative developer J.W. Wilbur who named more streets in this city than anyone else, by a long shot. It’s named for a comic character in a novel by Sir Walter Scott.
- Longfellow Street is named for guess who. Yep. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
- Milk Street is not named for the cow-produced beverage. Instead, it gets its name from Deacon James Milk who owned a nearby tannery and built boats at the end of it.
- Monument Street is named for the Portland Observatory, which people used to call “The Monument.” The street runs right behind it.
- Mountjoy Street is named for George Mountjoy. Munjoy Hill is also named for him, though spelled wrong.
- Neal Street is also often erroneously thought to be named for Neal Dow. It’s actually named for his cousin, John Neal, who was probably America’s first art critic.
- Parris Street takes its name from Albion Keith Parris, former mayor of Portland and governor of Maine. Albion Street also is named after him.
- Old Barn Lane gets its name from an old barn that used to stand there. Duh.
- Poe Street is named for Edgar Allen Poe, and Tamarlane Street is named for his poem of the same name.
- Ray Street refers to Dr. Isaac Ray, a Bowdoin College-educated man who wrote the first book on forensic psychology in 1838. It was the standard text on the subject for years.
- Spring Street’s name comes from a burbling spring that was somewhere near where the Fire Museum now sits.
- Summit Street sits on the highest point in the city.
- Wendell Street is oddly named for Wendell Willkie, a Republican born and raised in Indiana who lost to Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. He’d been a Democrat up until the year before.
If you find this stuff interesting, there’s hundreds more entries like these in the Green’s charming, hand-made book. Norman Green died at age 89 in 2005. His wife Althea died in 2011 when she was 85. But before their deaths, the City Council issued a proclamation in August 1998 honoring them and their work.
I’m raising my cup of coffee to them right now. Well done.
Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches and historical tidbits are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.