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Thursday, 14 August 2014 00:00

How Hodunk Road got its name, and other quirks of roadway history

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Temperence Trail, the winding road near Allens Grove. Though it’s spelled differently than the once popular movement banning alcohol, there’s a chance that a prohibitionist may have had a hand in the name. Temperence Trail, the winding road near Allens Grove. Though it’s spelled differently than the once popular movement banning alcohol, there’s a chance that a prohibitionist may have had a hand in the name. Terry Mayer/staff

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- In our power-up-and-go society, road names have become just a nugget of information we plug into the GPS, part of the equation that leads to a destination.

But when it comes to those names, maybe we should stop and savor the journey.

PHOTO GALLERY: Roads of Walworth County

Roads and their names have a history that’s older than the automobile or even the horse-drawn carriages that preceded them. That’s no exception in Walworth County.

Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-WalworthCountySunday

"A lot of the roads here started out as Indian trails," said Larry Price, operations director for the Walworth County Public Works Department. "They were basic lines or routes that they followed."

One of those trails -- now County Highway ES -- stretched from Milwaukee to Galena, Illinois. Before Interstate 43 crossed Walworth County, Highway ES, then known as Highway 15, was the route drivers took to Milwaukee, Price said.

County highways got their start in the 1920s when auto travel rolled into gear. Most county highways, with one, two or three letters in their names, were marked sequentially when they were mapped out. Some, however, had local connections, according to Ken Amon, a lifelong resident of the town of Lafayette, who began working with his father, a rural contractor, in 1946. Amon mentioned the old County Highway RW, which stood for Richmond and Whitewater, and SD, for Sharon and Darien.

Smaller roads in cities, towns or just along the countryside had much more varied -- and interesting -- names.

"To my knowledge, most all of the roads got named after World War II, and probably by the town boards," said Amon, whose collection of old plat books includes an 1857 map of Walworth County.

The names could be descriptive, historic or practical.

"Back Road always has been called ‘Back Road’ because it is the back road to Lyons. Likewise, Short Road is the shortest road to Lyons, both as opposed to Sheridan Springs Road," said Lake Geneva historian Patrick Quinn.

Some names mark businesses, towns or features long gone, like Leon’s Mill Road in the town of Troy. The eponymous Peck Station Road in the town of Lafayette led to a once bustling town, complete with train station and railroad line once used, Price said, by ice cutters on Lulu Lake who sent blocks of ice to Elkhorn then on out to Chicago. Bissell Road south of Zenda was once home to the Bissell Cheese Factory and the Bissell Post Office, said area historian Ginny Hall. Kennel Road was where Willis White, who ran a dog shelter years ago, once lived. And Amon said Island Road, near County Highway M, south of Richmond, abutted a pond with an islandlike piece of land.

Early road names were a driver’s guide. St. Peter’s Road led to the church cemetery. Theater Road in the town of Delavan was named for a drive-in theater that operated for years. Stringer’s Bridge Road in the town of East Troy drew fishermen.

"As a kid, I always saw people fishing from that bridge," Price said.

"North Shore Drive (in Delavan) has roads named after some of the resorts and ballrooms -- Woodlawn Drive, Lakeview Drive, Beckman Drive, Hiawatha Drive and Highland Drive," said Patti Marsicano, president of the Delavan Historical Society, in an email.

Hall, the author of several Walworth County guide books, pointed out two Cobblestone roads. One, off Wisconsin Highway 11 near Delavan, is named for a cobblestone house. The other, east of Walworth off County Highway B, is named for Cobblestone Cemetery and Cobblestone School.

Schools were popular road names, Hall said, noting Bell School Road and Stone School Road, which was built from stones in the area. Another school, running between County highways H and B in the town of Bloomfield, can thank a bird both for its name and the road where the school is located.

"White Pigeon Road got its name when a white pigeon was found nesting in the (White Pigeon) school building as it was being built," Hall said.

It was people who frequently lent their names to roads, particularly early settlers, longstanding farmers or even famous people, from U.S. presidents to military leaders. In his book, "Sketches of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: A Rich History Revisited," Quinn noted Sheridan Springs Road in Lake Geneva was named after Civil War General Philip Sheridan, who spent two summers in Lake Geneva during the 1870s. And Wrigley Drive was named after P.K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs and the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company.  

"I think that most streets in the mid-19th century were named after well-known individuals," Quinn wrote in an email. "These days, developers name streets after their children or pompous names of streets located elsewhere. The old-time means of honoring individuals is perhaps preferable."

Geographic features were common names, too. Cranberry Road, off Wisconsin Highway 50 on the east end of the county, was once home to wild cranberries, Hall said.

Lakeshore is a common name in Walworth County municipalities, including Lake Geneva, Delavan and the landlocked town of Sharon -- with no lake in sight.

"Lakeshore is near the border with Rock County and was a low, marshy spot years and years ago," Price said. "The joke, according to Jack Delaney, one of the guys I work with, was back then, supposedly the worst early winter or late fall storm in the history of the area came up, and temperatures dropped quickly. There had been a huge flock of ducks on the lake of the marsh, and overnight the water froze. The scared ducks flew off, but when they took to the air, they took the frozen lake with them."

What they left behind was the name Lakeshore Road.

Then there’s Hodunk Road in the town of Lafayette, a hilly stretch with such a steep grade, there are warning signs posted for truckers to slow down to 35 mph.

The story goes that a man -- details vary between a farmer or a musician -- regularly drove his donkey down the road. He would yell out to caution the animal, "Whoa, donk," which became "Hodunk."

Other name origins are still mysteries. Hall wonders at Plantation Road -- with no trace of a plantation.

"I went over our map (at the highway department) and see so many strange names, and I just don’t have an explanation for them," Price said.

Those include Trumpet Street in the village of Bloomfield, Turkey Run Road in the town of La Grange. Tam O Shanter Drive in the village of Fontana, Woodchuck Alley in the town of Whitewater and Scotch Bush Road in the town of Lafayette.

Swamp Angel Road is marshy, but instead of supernatural beings showing up there, it’s migrating birds in the spring.

"Red-wing blackbirds show up first on the 25th of February through about March 1 or 2," Price said. "They’ll be hanging from the bull rushes along the road."

Some roads just end up naming themselves, like Temperence Trail, the winding road near Allens Grove. Though it’s spelled differently than the once popular movement banning alcohol, there’s a chance that a prohibitionist may have had a hand in the name.

"The story was you were advised to drive the road sober in order to get home," Price said.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Sharon

    I grew up at the intersection of Swamp Angel Road and State Line Road. Swamp Angel Road got its name from the mist that would form over the marshy grounds in early evenings and early mornings. The white haze looked (sort of) like angels hovering. The swamp is long gone, but I still remember seeing those misty formations.

    about 3 months ago
    Like 0 Short URL:
  • Guest - Greg

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tam_o'_Shanter_(cap)

    about 3 months ago
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  • Guest - W. Holtz

    Devils Lane Rd. in Walworth, just off of Cty. B, was named for some naughty children. There used to be a farm on that road, and farmer's children would get into a lot of trouble.

    about 3 months ago
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