Place names are fascinating, especially in a state like Maine, with its long history, its worldliness, (a quality gained largely though not exclusively thanks to a seafaring heritage); and its sense of humor.

Street names are also important to people because they are personal, so literally close to home, and often named for children, wives, and other family members, e.g. Archy’s Way or Mehitable’s Meadow.

Those made-up names may exist somewhere, but are not contained in the invaluable study produced about 20 years ago by Norm and Althea Green, “The Origins Of The Street Names Of The City Of Portland, Maine.”  You can find their work in the Portland Room at the Portland Public Library.

Housed modestly in a black binder, and presented to the library as a gift, the Greens’ work covers 850 streets (as of publication); is informative, easy-to-get-lost-in entertaining, and makes no claims of omniscience. Instead, it is noted of the Origins:

“90 percent are correct and supported by solid evidence, 5 percent are conjectural and are so indicated, (and) 5 percent are quite probably incorrect, since No Records Were Ever Kept as for when the Streets were named.”

As one would expect, there’s plenty of historical info. The West End’s Clark Street: for Thaddeus Clark, lieutenant, “killed in May 1690, with a party of 13 men who were ambushed by Indians near Fort Loyall at the end of India Street.”

Or Holwell Street. “Edward Deering Noyes of Portland named this Street after his great great grandfather British Major John Z. Holwell, the hero of ‘The Black Hole of Calcutta.'”

In more recent vein, how about Abby Lane in North Deering. “For ‘Abbe Lane,’ a popular Radio and TV singer with, and wife of, the Band Leader, Xavier Cugat and personal friend of the Developer.”

On another personal note, Orland Street in Deering Highlands was named “by Developer George T. Edwards who had a custom of naming his streets after small towns.” Here, the Hancock County hamlet east of Bucksport is honored.

Of Marion Street, on the Hill, the Greens offer: “For Marion Deering Noyes. We feel that since her brother … had a Street named for him, she wanted one named for her.”

Not all street names are as individualized or as resonant. From the newspaper-clip portion of the Greens’ work, here’s a helpful headline from 1947: “Oak Street One Of Many Here Named For Trees.” One wonders about the “why” of Euclid Avenue’s “For the ancient Greek Mathematician.”

Many a businessman is celebrated in a Portland street name. Edwin J. Vannah, Ice Dealer. William P. Hastings, Organ Builder. Hubbard H. Nevens, Manufacturer of Coffees and Spices.

But there’s more to Maine than Portland. The accompanying photos highlight some street names we’ve stumbled across.

Tim Sullivan of the Portland, Maine History Facebook page kindly supplied a useful link to William Willis’s 1865 “The History of Portland, from 1632 to 1864” that explains a number of street names and is particularly good in detailing what streets used to be called. (See https://archive.org/stream/historyofportlan1865will#page/472/mode/2up.)

For example, High King Street became India years after the American Revolution helped make the previous name distasteful. Center Street was formerly Love Lane. And Thames Street “was absorbed in Commercial street, and no longer exists.” It’s been reborn, of course.

If you have a street name and/or a photo to add to the roster, please send to the e-mail address below.

 

The Design feature is produced by the Marketing Department of the Portland Press Herald.

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