German Street Name Changes, Part II | Newberry

German Street Name Changes, Part II

In Part I, I examined the background of German street name changes in Chicago. In this post, I want to discuss how I found the exact name changes that occurred.

There are some good resources for studying the history of Chicago’s streets online. The most useful resource William Martin’s Chicago Streets guide, which the Chicago Historical Society has placed online (it is also available at the genealogy reference desk here at the Newberry.) Martin listed every street that has existed in Chicago, and each street’s former or later names. However, the guide does not list the date of name changes.

For example, it shows that  McLean Street formerly went by a number of names: Bryon Ave. Canal Place, Caver Street, Coblentz Street, Powell Park, Tondern Street, C street, Ovitt Place. But the guide does not explain when those changes happened.

Finding more precise details of a street name change requires a visit to the Municipal Reference Collection on the 5th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center – the main branch of the Chicago Public Library. At the reference desk, there is a photocopied card file of Chicago’s streets. For each street, it gives a reference to the City Council ordinance that changed the name.

To start my search, I looked up Coblentz to see when it was renamed. The entry for Coblentz indicated that its name was changed June 17, 1918. The reference library also has print and fiche copies of the City Council Proceedings. Checking the Proceedings for June 17, 1918, I found the full text of the ordinance. The council agreed unanimously to the following changes:

Berlin street, change to Canton street, from North Hoyne avenue to North California avenue
Clara place, change to Canton street, from North Western Avenue to North Maplewood avenue
Ems street, change to Colvin street, from North Leavitt street to North Maplewood avenue
Frankfort street, change to Charleston street from North Robey street to North Maplewood avenue
Lubeck street, change to Carolina street from North Robey street to North Western avenue
Coblentz street, change to Carver street from North Robey street to North Western avenue
Rhine street, change to Coyne street from North Leavitt street to Milwaukee avenue

So now I understood when the German names were removed. Surprisingly, they were not replaced with the current names, such as Dickens and Shakespeare.  So when were the current names adopted?  And why were the German names replaced with street names beginning with ‘C’? 

To find the answer to the first question, I went back to the card file at the municipal library and looked up McLean Street.

The card index for  “McLean street” indicated that on October 7, 1936, Carver was changed to McLean. Hundreds of other names were also changed that day, as the City Council unified “broken link” street names. On Oct. 6, the Chicago Tribune reported on the debate in City Council.

Mayor Edward Kelly was pushing a bill to connect many of the broken link streets- so that streets that ran along the same latitude would carry a single name. The renaming was a prerequisite for a federal grant for new street signs, and the mayor was anxious to push it through.

Many aldermen were opposed to the change, perhaps because their constituents wanted to keep their street names.

Some of the objection was sentimental. Alderman Coughlin objected to “changes which will eliminate names intimately connected with my childhood days.”  Under the heading “Heart-Rending Tale,” the Tribune recorded Coughlin’s objection to renaming Lytle street. “ I played ball with the late Charles Comisky on Lytle street, and that street is dear to me.”

Others objected for territorial reasons. Alderman Keen argued with Alderman Crowe over changing Iowa street to Chestnut Street:

“Whoever suggested these changes must have had the gold coast in mind” declared Keane. “What’s the idea of changing names in my ward to fit those little streets over on the lake shore?”

“We were trying to preserve the older street names” declared Crowe, who represents the Pearson and Chestnut street residents.  “We thought that extending these exclusive gold coast names to the west side would increase property values there. And besides, who ever heard of Iowa street?

“Iowa street is the greatest street in Chicago” declared Ald. Keane.

Apparently, Keane’s stirring defense of Iowa street carried the day, as it still exists,  parallel to Chestnut west of Wood street.

The renaming of “broken links” was part of a longtime effort to rationalize Chicago’s street names and addresses, spearheaded by a man named Edward P. Brennan.

His greatest achievement was the implementation of the standard address grid in 1909.

Brennan also supported a street-naming plan devised by John C. Reilly, the Superintendent of the city Bureau of Maps.

Reilly proposed that Chicago adopt an alphabetical pattern of street names. In the plan, the north-south street names in the first mile west of the Indiana border were to begin with “A”, names in the 2nd mile would begin with “B” and so on. 

It appears that the “C” names applied to the east-west streets in Bucktown may have been part of similar plan, although I haven’t found any record of such a plan.


Chicago Tribune articles:

“Aldermen on Spot; Votes vs. Street Names.” Oct. 6, 1936
“109 More Street Names Changed by City Council.”  Oct. 8, 1936, pg. 3