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Monday, February 26, 2024

The Curious Curator – A street by any other name…


Resources have not yet revealed how Joseph Naper, town founder and real estate developer, selected the names of the first 11 streets to the village that would become Naperville.

Brian-Ogg-DSC_5596Was there a committee? Did his wife, Almeda, help?

In 1842, Naper surveyed and mapped the village of Naperville into 19 blocks containing 205 lots.

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These lots and blocks were separated by six streets and five avenues. The benefit of being a developer or creator of a subdivision has the privilege of naming the streets contained within that subdivision.

Naper was politically aligned with the Democratic Party, specifically the Jacksonian Democrats, which was the people’s party of President Andrew Jackson.

It comes as no surprise that of the seven streets or avenues named by Naper, four would be named after Jacksonian Democrats —Van Buren, Ewing and Benton — including President Jackson.

The other streets were “place” names like Mill and Main which indicated where the mill was located or business was transacted. Naper also included patriotic names, such as Eagle, Franklin, Washington and Jefferson.

Whether it was conscious decision or not, the East-West roads were named “avenues” while the North-South roads were named “streets.” This is opposite of Chicago and other urban centers using the grid system.

Here is a brief list of early Naperville streets and avenues and who or what they were named after:

Washington, President George Washington

Jackson, President Andrew Jackson

Jefferson, President Thomas Jefferson

Van Buren, President Martin Van Buren

Franklin, named after US statesman, publisher and inventor – Benjamin Franklin

Ewing, most likely named after William Lee Davidson Ewing, Brigadier-General of Illinois State Militia during the Blackhawk War, Naper and other Napervillians served under his command

Eagle, symbol of America

Main, functional

Mill, Naper’s sawmill located at the foot of this street on the DuPage River

Benton, most likely named after Thomas Hart Benton, Missouri senator and devoted supporter of Presidents Jackson and Van Buren

Center, named with the thought that the DuPage County courthouse square would become the “center” of town

Court, the street bordering the former courthouse square

High, (now Aurora Road) named by George Martin (from Scotland). In the British tradition – “high” street was the “business” district or main street of shops in the British Isles and their influence. Martin was a businessman, land developer and civic leader. The street name was changed July 12, 1915 (Ord. 57, Book D Page 625).

College, named by George Martin – possibly in anticipation of wooing North-Western College from Plainfield to Naperville – later named Maple, now Hillside

Porter, possibly named after Rev. Jeremiah Porter, one of Naperville’s first ministers with the Missionary Home Society, friend of George Martin

Liberty, patriotic – near county seat (renamed Van Buren)

Front, “facing” the county seat – later changed to Ellsworth after early land developer and nurseryman, Lewis Ellsworth, whose house was at the south end of this street

Fremont, after John Charles Fremont, Civil War general and western explorer

Douglas, after Stephen Douglas, the great Democratic senator from Illinois

Mechanics, later renamed School (4/14/1936) because of North Central College

North, directional – was the northern edge of town

West, directional – was the western edge of town

Spring, practical, after the spring which cut through downtown Naperville from its place of origin on the Stenger property

Water, practical (followed the river)

Columbia, named in honor of the Columbian World’s Fair of 1893, Chicago

Highland, practical – this was land on Fort Hill overlooking the DuPage River

Chicago- partially Water street, practical, this was the main route to Chicago (old Plank Road)

Land developers like Captain Morris Sleight and the heirs to his landholdings named streets for family members, for example:

Brainard, named after a Sleight family in-law, Evelyn Sleight married Dr. Daniel Brainard (2/6/1845)

Loomis, named after a Sleight family in-law, Julia Sleight married Henry Loomis (7/6/1841) (A Loomis ancestor helped designate Naperville as the county seat for DuPage County)

Sleight, named after land developers Morris (father) and Delcar (son)

Wright, named after a Sleight family in-law, Ida Sleight married William Wright (10/3/1872)

(later Wright was the National Commander of the GAR, a Civil War veterans organization)

Julian, named after the only male heir of Delcar Sleight, land developer

The Hobson West subdivision used the names of Civil War battles for their streets and cul-de-sacs: Bull Run, Appomattox, Antietam, Sumter, Manassas, etc. In the Moser Highlands, tree and shrub names were used, such as Sandalwood, Lilac, Rose, Cypress, Aspen, Sycamore, etc. Even the horse names of Kentucky Derby winners were used in the Hobson Village subdivision including Whirlaway, Secretariat, Sir Barton, Dark Star, Citation, etc!

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Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg is a local historian and curator of local legend, stories and lore.


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