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A Common Roadblock in City Directory Research

Posted by Hank Burnham December 5, 2017

Street Name Changes and Alias Names for the Same Street

ASTM E1527-13 lists “local street directories” as one of the standard historical sources used to conduct a Phase 1 Site Assessment. This is just one reason city directories have become a valuable and helpful tool in environmental due diligence. Historical research data can help determine current and former occupants, owners, business names and prior use of specific addresses. However, a researcher should be prepared to face some roadblocks in their historical investigation. In this blog post, I will discuss a big challenge associated with city directory research; street name changes and alias names for the same street.

Street name changes have been common since cities and towns were first established in North America and have only increased in frequency. In Portland, Oregon, alone, there have been over 3,000 name changes to streets or portions of streets since 1890. This can present a problem in trying to locate historical address information for a property. However, if the researcher incorporates proper research procedures overcoming this roadblock can be attainable.

One research procedure to overcome a street name change is to find the earliest directory where the street name appeared and research the specific listings in the alphabetical section of the book. For instance, if Smith’s Grocery is listed at 101 Oak Street, Jones Cleaners at 103 Oak Street and Williams Filling Station at 110 Oak Street in a 1952 city directory but Oak Street is not listed in the 1951 city directory. Consulting the alphabetical section of the book (often the white pages) may show Smith’s Grocery at 101 Plum Street; Jones Cleaners at 103 Plum Street and Ralph’s Filling Station at 110 Plum Street. This is evidence that Plum Street or a portion of Plum Street was renamed Oak Street at some point during or between the publication years.  Often, city directories may note a previous name at the head of the listings for the specific street.

Streets named for individuals were often known by other names in the past. The civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has 730 streets bearing his name or initials in the United States. All of these streets were known by other names prior to the 1970s. In Atlanta, most of MLK, Jr. Boulevard was previously known as Hunter Street.  When a street disappears in the listings for earlier publications of a city directory, the researcher should be aware that the street may have been known by a previous name.

Additionally, if earlier directories exist for a city, but the street is not listed, it could indicate that either that portion of the city was not covered in the directory listings or the street was recently developed and is new.

Learn more about Envirosite's proprietary City Directory research process.

 


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