On The Street Where You Live, There May Be A Forgotten Story
Published on September 30, 2021
From Disdain for the Devil to Powerbrokers Building Legacies, The Tales Behind Morris County Street Names Are Many
Did you know Buddy Lane in Mendham Township was named for the first Seeing Eye Dog? And whatever happened to Devil's Punchbowl Road in Morristown and Florham Park?
There are histories, legends and mysteries surrounding the names given to the streets where we live in Morris County. Who still recalls that Shunpike Road in Chatham Township was so-named because it was an alternate route to toll roads, otherwise known as pikes? Thrifty travelers would “shun” them.
The history of street names is easily forgotten, and the paved lanes often are renamed as new people move into towns. The reasons for the original monikers fade or name changes become necessary.
"History and local folklore, as well as memorials and tributes to local citizens, lay behind the names affixed atop of street poles and stone markers, yet the stories are often overlooked and lost through time," said Jan Williams, a historian at the Morris County Office of Planning and Preservation.
She has initiated the Morris County "Street Histories Project," hoping to keep alive the stories behind street names by inviting everyone to share what they may know. The office is developing what historians call a “crowd-sourced” history project, asking residents or anyone else to send contributions to an ever-evolving public document designed to collect the histories.
The project’s current form is a rough and evolving webpage listed at Planning & Preservation Street Histories Project.
Share a Story
You do not have to be a historian to share a street name story. That is the point of a “crowd-sourced” history project. Just contribute a street name and a narrative. Submit what you know and it may jog someone else's memory and lead Morris County to more information.
Start by sending an email to Jan Williams at: [email protected]
Needed are the street name, the town, the story or legend and, when possible, please submit a photo of the street sign.
“People really like being part of Morris County history, and I'm so grateful for that. They are so invested,” said Williams of the project.
The project is important because roads played a vital role in the development of communities, commerce and leisure in Morris County and elsewhere, and their names reflect the history of bygone industries, structures, farms and people. Some pay homage to presidents or citizens. Many remember those who, in service to their country, gave the last, full measure of their lives.
On the “Street Histories Project” website, lost service members are marked with a gold star.
Williams says the project grew from her habit of keeping notes about local lore and mythology regarding local street names after numerous members of the public asked her about the origins of some strangely labeled roads.
Demons & Angels
Punch Bowl Road in Morristown and Florham Park is a frequent topic. Many people assume the name emerged from a glacial indentation in the landscape by the road. That is not completely accurate. The region was originally called the Devil's Punchbowl.
“Just imagine. According to some of the longtime local residents, early settlers would say, ‘Don't go in that area -- it's the devil's punchbowl.’ Or early mothers would refer to it while warning their kids about being out after dark,” Williams explained, noting the old road that passed through the area took on the name, “Devil's Punchbowl Road.”
However, when the Morristown Ladies Golfing Club purchased the area in the 1890s, they took umbrage with the reference to Lucifer. Giving the matter some due diligence, the club gave a much shorter moniker to the region and, as a result, the long street that passed through: Punch Bowl Road.
However, the righteous piety did not end there. The golf club also omitted the 13th hole from its course.
“It lends credence to the folklore. Maybe they were prim and proper and didn't want ‘devil’ associated with anything," Williams said. “It’s charming that the etymology changed not only for the area, but down to the street name.”
Many street signs have an “honor blade,” an honorary street name atop the official sign to name it for a veteran who died in service or even a noted community leader.
Riverdale's Post Lane is named for Peter Post, who established residential and industrial buildings in the area in the 1730s. An honor blade was added in 2013, designating Post Lane as Capt. “Papa” Joe Ezzo Way, for the Riverdale Fire captain who died while responding to a call in August 1982. Feeling ill, Ezzo managed to control the tanker he was operating long enough to pull off the road before dying behind the wheel. Captain Ezzo is also remembered on the National Fallen Fighters Memorial.
Some street names were changed with the advent of technology.
In the 1990s, Boonton Township was adopting a modern 911 alert system. That modern technology brought a series of problems, including requiring streets to be renamed so that they would not be confused with similar sounding streets. For example, local residents Dorothy and George Newton, Jr., lived on North Road, which was similar to another street in town. Therefore, Mr. Newton, a historian, requested their North Road be changed and designated “Whispering Pines Road” in honor of the trees behind his home – trees planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Streets Named by the Rich & Powerful for the Rich & Powerful
New York financiers Joseph Blackwell and Henry McFarlan lent their names to two of Dover's main thoroughfares, Blackwell Street and McFarlan Street – both of which had portions absorbed years later by Route 46. The businessmen purchased a large chunk of the unincorporated “village” in 1917 while settling a debt owed by the owners of the local iron works. The 450 acres they acquired included the iron works and what is now the central business district in Dover that grew up around it, although there were only 12 buildings at that time
Blackwell and McFarlan began laying out streets in the village in classic grid patterns, and took the time to name them.
The “Street Histories Project” has already stirred interest and received some responses from local residents.
One Mendham Township resident contributed information recently about a development where the streets are named for places in Bermuda, such as Devonshire Lake, Langford Drive and Penderhill Road. The developer who built the neighborhood apparently was fond of his vacations in the tropical North Atlantic islands.
The “Street Histories Project” also has since learned that the Township of Butler's street names designate many luminaries, including Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. The story is that he was a friend of the town's namesake, Richard Butler, who also was founder of the Ace Hard Rubber Works. In decades gone by, Ace combs were handed out to schoolchildren on picture day in Butler -- hence, the significance of Ace Road in the township.
The project would like to learn more about many other streets, including:
Featherbed Lane in Harding Township. That cannot be by accident.
Collegan Lane in Mine Hill. The street no longer exists, but it is noted on old maps. Some evidence suggests it was named for W. Collegan, who may have been a miner.
Kossuth Street in Wharton is probably named after a long-gone establishment known as Kossuth Hall, which was the meeting place of a Hungarian group called the Lajos Kossuth Society, named in honor of the leader of the Hungarian Revolution. However, the “Street Histories Project” would love to learn more. After all, the street runs parallel to Wharton's nod to a hero of the American Revolution -- Washington Street. Was that coincidental?
Washington Street, Lane, Court, Avenue or Boulevard in any town.
The “Street Histories Project” would like a photo of every street named for George Washington in every town in Morris County, where the General headquartered during the Revolution. The idea is to collect one photograph representing each street.
Keller Avenue in Rockaway Borough and the Central Hotel.
A trio of signs replace Pequannock's Old King's Road.
In 2004, Jefferson's Michele Road was changed to 2nd Lt. J.T. Wroblewski Lane, in honor of the fallen 25-year-old Marine.
Riverdale's Post Lane with Capt. "Papa" Joe Ezzo Way honor blade.