AUGUSTA — Ballard Road, which was named for Martha Ballard of “A Midwife’s Tale” fame, will soon be renamed Jeff Gagnon Way.

City councilors voted unanimously to rename the road Thursday, both to avoid emergency responder confusion with the similar, but not nearby, Ballard Street, and to honor Gagnon, who was shot and killed in 1989 at the age of 25.

Gagnon grew up on Ballard Road and his parents, Jim and Diane Gagnon, still live there.

Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis proposed the change. Paradis said the road will officially be changed to the new name when Gagnon’s parents, who couldn’t attend Thursday’s council meeting, can attend a presentation.

A sign with the new name will likely be placed on the road by the city’s public works crew the day following the presentation.

Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said Paradis’ proposal to rename the road after Gagnon was “a respectful tribute to someone who has been taken too soon from the community, and it’s a nice gesture.”

Martha Ballard was immortalized in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary 1785-1812,” by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Ruth Ballard, of Sidney, a descendent of Ballard, emailed the Kennebec Journal when the change was originally proposed, objecting to the change. Ballard delivered hundreds of babies in the area and her descendant said, “I think more people need to understand why it was named Ballard Road.”

She declined to be interviewed Friday for this story.

Paradis said while some of Ballard’s descendants lived on or near Ballard Road, a local historian told him there is no indication Ballard ever lived on the road.

Phyllis von Herrlich, a historian and member of the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission and board member of Kennebec Historical Society, said Ballard is believe to have lived near the intersection of Old Belgrade Road and West River Road, roughly a quarter-mile from Ballard Road.

“The Ballard Road they’re renaming is beyond that, closer to Eight Rod Road,” von Herrlich said. “She doesn’t have any specific connection to that geographic place.”

She said Ballard lived in three locations in the city after moving to Augusta in 1778: on Bond Brook, where her husband had a sawmill off what is now Mount Vernon Avenue; off State Street near where Dairy Queen now is; and, until her death, in the Cushnoc Heights area, now Sand Hill, near Old Belgrade and West River roads intersection. She said Ballard’s burial location is not known.

Von Herrlich said while it is hard for her to see Ballard’s name dropped, she understands the need to avoid having similar street names in the city.

Fire Chief Roger Audette has said having both a Ballard Road and Ballard Street in the city can cause confusion when an emergency call comes in. He said public safety workers could be sent to the wrong address, costing valuable time when responding to an emergency.

The short dead-end Ballard Road is in north Augusta, on the west side of the Kennebec River, while on the other side of the river, off Eastern Avenue about three miles away, is Ballard Street.

Paradis said he meant no offense to Ballard with the name change.

He said he’s in favor of putting up a “well-deserved” plaque alongside Bond Brook, Ballard’s first residence in the city, as part of the Museum in the Streets series of historical markers.

“Martha Ballard is a well-respected historic name for the city of Augusta; we don’t take away from that,” Paradis said. “A plaque and a sketch on Bond Brook would have much higher visibility than Ballard Road. And we’ve removed a safety concern, so the fire department doesn’t have to run equipment to two different places, in two different parts of town, in an emergency.”

Diane Gagnon said before the name change was approved that she and her husband would be honored to have the road named for their son.

Gagnon, 25, was shot in July 1989 in Canton and his body was found a year later. Danny McCluskie, formerly of Augusta, was convicted of murder in 1991 in connection with the shooting.

The Gagnons helped found the Maine chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, a support group they said helped them through the ordeal of losing their son, and which gives them the opportunity to help other families who have had a loved one murdered.

This summer the group dedicated the Maine Murder Victims’ Memorial Monument at Holy Family Cemetery on Townsend Road in Augusta, where Jeff Gagnon is also buried.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj