Saturday, November 3, 2012

The scoop on Ogden's 'Presidential' streets

By Lynn Arave

Some of the streets of Ogden City boast a "presidential flair" and have for almost 125 years now.
Seventeen of Ogden's main north-south streets are titled after U.S. presidents. Knowing them — and their order — may help you find your way around town. We're talking Washington Boulevard as the city's key thoroughfare.
 Going east, the full block streets advance in order to the 15th president, James Buchanan. Drop down to west of Washington Boulevard and there are two more, out-of-order presidential streets, Lincoln and Grant.
Ogden isn't unique in presidential street-naming, but for Utah it is unusual.
Other U.S. cities, including Kennewick, Wash., Hollywood, Fla., Trenton, N.J., Alcoa, Tenn., and more also have it in place.
 Missing from Ogden's streets is a Johnson Avenue, for the 17th President, Andrew Johnson. Why he's absent is not clear, but perhaps it was because Johnson was not elected president and/or because he was impeached.
In addition, no continuation of presidents after Grant have been added to Ogden's streets layout over the decades.
But Ogden's streets weren't always named after the top American leaders.
Originally Ogden received just a few street names. Locations in Ogden's early days were mostly identified by phrases like, "south of the Ogden River," or "north of the Ogden River."
Or, roads were referred to by ownership, like "Tithing Yard Street," "Blacksmith Shop" road; or the "First Street North of the Mayor's House."
It wasn't until 1870 that the Ogden City Council named its streets.
Then, some of Ogden's north-south streets were named after prominent leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon pioneers settled Ogden, and like Salt Lake City, LDS names soon dominated the street grid.
 For example, Washington Boulevard was first  titled Main Street. Lincoln was Franklin Street, for Franklin D. Richards; and Grant Avenue was Young Street, for Brigham Young. Also, Jefferson Avenue was Smith Street, for Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church.
There were other streets too, like Pearl, Green, Spring and Wall. (But, only the latter of those has survived today.)
Why did the street name changes occur? It was an attempt to "Americanize" Ogden, according to "A History of Weber County," by Richard C. Roberts and Richard W. Sadler.
The first non-Mormon mayor in Ogden, Fred J. Kiesel (1889-91), lobbied the city council to rename Ogden's streets at a meeting April 5, 1889.
 This was likely part of the rivalry between the Mormons and non-Mormons in Ogden at the time.
The Standard-Examiner had cautioned in a March 27, 1889 story that even Liberals in the future might regret taking away the honored Utah names, like Young and Franklin, from its street grid, in favor of overused national titles, like Lincoln and Grant.
Still, an April 3, 1889 report in the Standard-Examiner said that Mayor Kiesel was graceful and sincere with his street-renaming proposal.
And, news reports in the Standard Examiner, even just days after the streets were renamed, seemed to have seamlessly made the name changes, as if they had always existed as such. 
The only north-south street name left untouched was Wall Avenue. It was named for the wall of an 1855 pioneer fort that existed there and went east to today's Madison Avenue and also extended from today's 21st to 28th streets.
 The wall was some 8 feet high and cost $40,000, to its end of being just half-complete. In the later years, the city added Pierce and Buchanan as the city's roads extended to the foothills.
Kiesel also convinced the City Council to re-number the east-west configuration at the same time.
Prior to 1889, First Street ran along the north side of the LDS Church's Tabernacle block and Second Avenue was on the south. These boundaries were extended and the original First Street became 21st Street.
 Kiesel cared about roads period -- their condition too -- and set up a poll tax that required all men aged 20-50, to work one day a year on the streets, or they had to pay a $3 fee.
 He also started Ogden's first uniform house numbering system and required all builders in town to have permits.
Kiesel was a supporter of the separation of church and state and got a law approved that made it illegal for any city residents to use a church meetinghouse as a school building, building too.
Grant Avenue and 24th Street were both essentially bogs in Ogden's early history. In the mid-1880s, loads of gravel were brought in to improve Ogden's streets. The city's first concrete sidewalks came in 1889.

 The first Ogden street paved was 25th Street, from Washington to Wall, in 1893 at the cost of about $100,000.

(Published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, Feb. 14, 2014, by Lynn Arave.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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