Street smarts

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Dear Ace: Any time I take a scenic drive around Charlottesville, the street I’m driving on inevitably goes through about 15 name changes. What’s the deal?—Jane Jing Lane

Yes, Jane, Ace must concur—Charlottesville street names seem to change names more often than Paris Hilton changes partners. But you should count your blessings—you could, after all, be living in Atlanta. Ace himself spent a few years in Hotlanta (where he relocated to obtain the absolute freshest Coca-Cola for his Jack and Cokes), and, while it may be known as “the city too busy to hate,” that sure didn’t prevent Ace from learning to hate the road system. Not only are there 800 streets named “Peachtree,” but almost every road seems to change names at least once, particularly as they cross Ponce de Leon Avenue. Turns out, as the Emory University Medical School website helpfully informs its soon-to-be-flummoxed incoming students, “this dates from the days of racial segregation, when it was meant to convey an unsubtle message of divided territory.” So basically, after the Civil War, rich white folks on one side of Ponce renamed their precious little stretches of road to (technically) avoid living on the same street as black folks, confusing generations of drivers, pedestrians and nonracists in the process.

Knowing this bit of history, Ace was looking forward to sinking his teeth into your question, Jane, in the hopes that our fair city would have a similarly juicy story. But the facts? Not so juicy.

Ace put in a call to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society and talked to Margaret O’Bryant, Society Librarian and Charlottesville expert. According to Ms. O’Bryant, there are any number of reasons a street in town might change names over its course. “The names are assigned at different times for different reasons, to mark different events or commemorate different people,” she says. “As communities grow, the course of a street may change.”

Take the Ridge/McIntire switcheroo. As you drive down Ridge, you might find yourself suddenly on McIntire, and, shockingly, vice-versa. According to our trusty librarian: “Ridge Street ran along”—you guessed it—“a ridge south of the main area that makes up historical Charlottesville. McIntire Road is named in honor of Paul Goodloe McIntire, as is everything called ‘McIntire’ in the area.” So why the mix-up? It’s just a result of the two (originally separate) streets being joined as Charlottesville has grown. Turns out the same explanation holds true for most of the changing streets in the area.

So instead of contemplating the deep, dark secrets behind why Main Street turns to University as it snakes past a certain university and then to Ivy as it heads out towards Ivy, just rest assured that these things happen for a reason: Namely, our town keeps a-growin’, and people like naming stuff after themselves. After all, they don’t call the beeline from Miller’s barstools to its men’s room Atkins Avenue for nothing.

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