Weaving through the streets of Abilene is a miniature history lesson – at least for those who look past the signs and into the names printed in the standard white Clearview font.
Texas and Pacific Railway brought Abilene into existence as the railroad began spreading west toward California.Â Several Taylor County businessmen and ranchers convinced the town-site locator, H.C. Withers, to have the railroad bypass Buffalo Gap. A new town was to be established between Cedar and Big Elm creeks, east of Catclaw Creek. C.W. Merchant is known to have suggested the name Abilene, after the cow town in Kansas. Abilene was promoted as the “Future Great City of West Texas.”
J. Stoddard Johnston and other railway officials planned the city in 1881. Johnson and the others named streets running north and south after trees and numbered those running east and west, similar to the system William Penn created in 1682 while settling Philadelphia.
More than 130 years later, Hickory, Pine, Walnut, Beech and Orange streets still run north and south through the central part of the city while the east and west streets are numbered.
Abilene High School history teacher Jay Moore produced a series of five DVDs entitled “History in Plain Sight” that aim to give Abilenians a look into the history of the city, including the streets.
Sitting in his history classroom, Moore digs through digital archives of old Reporter-News articles, pausing to discuss one that mentions street names that honor Abilene’s first families.
Among those historic streets are: Sayles Boulevard, named for rancher and city builder Henry Sayles; Sandier St., in honor of Dr. J. D. Sandier, Sr., longtime president of Hardin-Simmons University and Merchant St., named after Colonel C. W. Merchant, a prominent figure associated with the organization and early development of Abilene – just to name a few.
At least two, however, are misspelled. The most commonly known error is “Leggett St.,” named after judge, lawyer, church leader and educator – K. K. Legett. After the death of Judge Legett, the city decided to honor his life by naming street after him. His two daughters were out of town when the signs were planted on the street. The signs were misspelled, but the daughters agreed the Judge wouldn’t want to make a fuss over the spelling of his name. Thus, though misspelled, the extra “g” lingers on the green and white signs across town today.
Other misspelled street names include “Lillius St.,” named after Swedish immigrant Hjalmar Lilius and “Jeanette St.,” named after real-estate agent Louis Wise’s wife, Janette.
Influential lawyers, ranchers and businessmen don’t claim all the signs. Three streets in the University Hills subdivision, near the campus of Abilene Christian University, are named after successful ACU athletes. Morrow Lane is named after Bobby Morrow who won three gold medals in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. Smith Drive is named for Sonya Smith, the first female student-athlete from ACU to participate in the Olympics. Smith threw the javelin for Bermuda in 1984. Lastly, Pemelton Drive after Billy Pemelton who pole-vaulted for the United States in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
Hunt St., along the south side of McMurry is named for the first president of the university, J.W. Hunt. Simmons Ave. located on the west side of HSU pays tribute to James B. Simmons, who contributed to the university early on.
Former U.S. presidents Roosevelt, Lincoln and Truman along with Indian tribes, such as Arapaho, Cocopah and Sioux are also represented.
The streets, however, aren’t limited to people. The Fairway Oaks subdivision’s streets are named after famous golf courses including Turnberry Circle (Turnberry Golf Course in South Ayrshire, Scotland) and Muirfield (Muirfield Golf Club Gullane, Scotland). Various sights in the U.S. are also represented off County Road 127 south of Bell Plains Road with streets such as Canyon Rock Road, Gathright Drive and Rimright Road.
Other streets throughout the city make known the town’s family-friendly personality. Abilenians can explore the medieval and renaissance streets named from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, including Squires Road, Summoner Lane, Pardoner Road and Parson’s Road. Off Maple Street near Lake Kirby, one can find a whimsical development. Abilenians, too, can twist and turn down Lollipop Trail, Cinderella Lane, Sugar Berry Ave. and Cotton Candy Lane.
Real-estate agent Kristy Usrey recently sold a house on Lollipop Trail. “I haven’t found street names to be part of the criteria for purchasing a house – in other words, it’s not a deal breaker if they like the house,” she says. “The husbands might cringe a little, but it never keeps buyers from purchasing.”
Naming streets isn’t necessarily an easy task, according to developer Aaron Waldrop. “I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to come up with 6 or 7 names that haven’t been used or sound like a used name, but it’s difficult,” said Waldrop. Inspiration for names can come from family, friends or even strangers. Take Handsome Jack Road, for instance.
During the late 90s, Waldrop was responsible for naming the streets within the property he owned. He established names for all the streets except the main road that intersects with FM 1750.
One afternoon, Waldrop stopped into his bank. A man walking in the door drew the attention of the female teller assisting Waldrop. She said, “Oh, here comes handsome Jack!”
“I turned around and said, ‘thank you,'” Waldrop remembers with a chuckle. “She asked why and I said, ‘you just named my last street.'”
Jack Luther, known as “handsome Jack” to the female bank tellers, was coincidentally the previous owner of Waldrop’s land. This was Waldrop’s way of honoring Luther.
Other streets near Handsome Jack bear a rural-western motif – Sundance Road and Chiggers Trail, while others honor Waldrop’s personal memories -Sugar Biscuit Lane, named after the honey and sugar filled biscuits his grandmother fed him and his cousins for an afternoon snack to re-energize them and Cody Bug Road, named after his wife’s dachshund.
To change an existing street name or to add an honorary title, a multi-step process exists. The process includes a public hearing to get approval by both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council. The process also requires a petition signed by a minimum of 51 percent of street residents and the change costs $800.
Street signs reveal history of any town, Abilene included. Furthermore, history, according to Moore, is what connects you to your home. “And knowing the history of the streets makes city a home.”