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You can learn a good deal about your community by understanding how the streets got their names.

In Indiana Harbor, my home town, the streets were named for plants of some kind, which is more than a touch of irony in the world's most industrialized city.

What's tricky about the Harbor is that there are two downtowns just a few blocks from each other. The original downtown was Michigan Avenue, which ran over the pipes of the water company from Four Corners in East Chicago to the Four Corners of Indiana Harbor and then on to Lake Michigan.

The other main street is called just that, "Main Street." Originally, it was just another plant in the horticultural system of the town. The central street in the system is "A" for Alder Street, alder being a tree.

From that baseline, the streets going off in both directions were alphabetical, somewhat changed by events. Going westward we have Beech Street, which became Pulaski, a reflection of the population living on the street.

Casimir Pulaski was a Revolutionary War hero from Poland, which is an interesting story in itself, and Beech/Pulaski Street was inhabited by hundreds of Poles and led into the Polish church and school, St. John Cantius.

The next street westward was Cedar Street, which became Main Street. That's because the Green Line streetcar rolled up and down that street on its way to East Chicago.

Main Street also developed during the Baldwin Boom of 1912, when rumors flew thicker than aerosols that the Baldwin Locomotive Company of Philadelphia was planning to build a huge factory in Calumet and employ more than 10,000.

The boom affected mostly Calumet, but also had implications for Indiana Harbor. The chief promoter of the street was a man named Markovich who, one might say without fear of exaggeration, was the father of Main Street.

The next street going west is Deodar, named for a softwood tree that has big leaves and long-stemmed pods. Kids dried out the pods, called cigars, and smoked them. The street was home to many from Eastern Europe.

Deodar Street also featured Katherine House, built by the First Baptist Church of Indiana Harbor to combat juvenile delinquency, which raged there during World War I.

Deodar Street also featured the first and only parochial school that was Protestant. Its most remembered graduate was Ernie Miller, an all-star lineman and later East Chicago school superintendent. Deodar also gave its name to the notorious Deodar Gang, youngsters with a yen to outdo gangsters of the day.

Next to the west were Elm, Fir, and Grapevine. As the town developed, Grapevine became the prestige street from Michigan Avenue to the Washington Park neighborhood. As hundreds of the best people  located on the street, its name became Grand Boulevard.

Next was Hemlock Street, and then Parrish Avenue. which broke up the pattern of streets named for plants. John C. Parrish was a stockholder in the East Chicago Company, which was developing the city.

Parrish was carried away by the naming of a street for him and, in appreciation, erected a handsome iron drinking fountain where people and horses could wet their whistles. Alas, the ceremony had outrun the town's ability to provide water at the fountain.

So the clever Harborites installed a concealed wooden tank connected by pipe to the fountain. John Parrish took the first swig, followed by thirsty dignitaries. All were hustled off before the tank went dry.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

 

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