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"Hindsights"


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A Hidden Message in Fredericksburg Street Names

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Art Kowert, long-time editor and publisher of the Fredericksburg Standard, once wrote a story about the time a visitor to Fredericksburg asked an old-timer, whose first language was Town Creek German, for directions to a certain place.

"Sure," the old-timer said. "Go the street down, drive the bridge over, turn the corner around and there you are."

Believe it or not there was a time not so long ago when finding your way from one place to another, even in a small town, was a little more involved than just punching numbers and letters into a GPS. As the visitor to Fredericksburg found out, arriving at your destination in the old days, before marked streets and house numbers, could be a little confusing.

Street names, house numbers and specific addresses are a part of modern life we take for granted, but they are relatively recent innovations in Gillespie County. Although most streets in Fredericksburg had unofficial names since the 1800s (some streets had multiple names), the town had no house numbers or official street names before 1937.

Navigating unfamiliar territory in those early days was not an exact science. It meant starting from a fixed point (usually where you were standing), determining the general direction of your destination (by guessing or by asking directions from an old-timer) and then wandering around for a while until you stumbled upon the place you were looking for.

My wife says it's a method I still use - except for the part about asking directions.


A plan to name and mark the streets and number the buildings in Fredericksburg had been kicked around since at least 1926. Finally in 1937 the local Lions Club took on the project. The main objective was to aid the post office in mail delivery.

In the old days a letter often made its way slowly around the country marked with nothing more than a person's name and home town. Only by the diligence of postal workers did letters actually get into the hands of the ones intended.

Marked streets and numbered buildings would expedite mail delivery and allow Fredericksburg to adopt door to door mail service. At the same time specific addresses would make it easier for police officers, sheriff's deputies and volunteer firemen to pinpoint the exact location of emergencies, shortening response times.

With a wide range of support the project got the green light from the city council in the spring of 1937.

Phase1 of the plan changed the name of the main drag through the middle of town from San Saba Street to Main Street. Then city workers began marking the other streets with signs at all active intersections and assigning numbers in sequence to all homes and buildings in the city limits.

The rest of the plan had a clever Fredericksburg twist. There is a hidden message in the street names that only a local would know about and only a visitor with a pathological attention to detail would notice.

Texas - Fredericksburg Gillespie County Maps
Fredericksburg Gillespie County Maps
Courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

The 10 cross streets east of the courthouse in order are Adams, Llano, Lincoln, Washington, Elk, Lee, Columbus, Olive, Mesquite and Eagle. The first letter of each street name spells the phrase ALL WELCOME.

The 10 cross streets west of the courthouse in order are Crockett, Orange, Milam, Edison, Bowie, Acorn, Cherry and Kay. The first letter of each street name spells the phrase COME BACK.

The first of the new street signs went up at the corner of Main and Edison, popularly known as Kraus Corner, in May 1937. Each new street sign sat atop a 2 inch cast iron post set in concrete. The signs were 6 feet 6 inches above the street. The name of the street was in white on a blue enamel background.

And so by 1938 Fredericksburg, Texas was no longer an uncharted wilderness. It had been named, marked, branded and numbered, making life a little less confusing for postal workers, officers of the law, firemen and those quirky visitors who preferred maps and street guides to wandering aimlessly and asking for directions as a last resort.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" June 15, 2021 Column

Sources:
""C. of C. Directors Meet," Fredericksburg Standard, March 13, 1926.
"Free Mail Service," Fredericksburg Standard, October 12, 1929.
"Streets To Be Named Houses To Be Numbered," Fredericksburg Standard, March 25, 1937.
"First of New Street Signs Erected Sat'day," Fredericksburg Standard, May 6, 1937.
"Committee Issues Guide To Follow In Finding Streets," Fredericksburg Standard, July 29, 1937.
"Around the Square," Fredericksburg Standard, May 26, 1976.




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