AARoads Forum

Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length

Author Topic: Alphabetically named section-line roads in Iowa and Minnesota counties  (Read 1757 times)

KCRoadFan

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 910
  • Enthusiastic fan of roads, sports, and waterparks.

  • Age: 29
  • Location: Kansas City, MO
  • Last Login: Today at 01:22:48 PM

One thing that has always fascinated me, which I know about from family trips up to Minnesota, is how many counties throughout Minnesota and Iowa have a remarkably similar means of naming the rural section-line roads throughout the county (that is, the roads one mile apart from one another, corresponding to the section lines drawn when the county was surveyed): namely, the east-west roads are numbered, starting at a given value (most often “10th Street” or “100th Street”) at either the north or south county line and increasing by 10 every mile. Meanwhile, the north-south roads are named, with the road on the west county line starting with the letter A, the road one mile to the east beginning with B, and so on through the alphabet.

That being said, what I want to know is this: what goes into the actual names of the roads, exactly? I know that some counties have an obvious theme - for example, Franklin County, Iowa, names their section-line roads for birds and trees/plants, with the first several names being Apricot, Balsam, Cardinal, Dogwood, Eagle, Fir, Grouse, and Heather. However, other counties appear to use proper names instead, which makes me wonder: were they named for local landowners and/or civic/political figures, or just chosen randomly? I’ve sometimes imagined meetings of county commissioners huddled around a table decades ago, talking late into the night trying to decide on road names for each letter of the alphabet. Or is the story somewhat less fanciful, perhaps? Regardless, it would be great if I could have some insight into the naming process.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2022, 09:36:56 PM by KCRoadFan »
Logged

rarnold

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 160
  • Location: Kansas
  • Last Login: May 28, 2023, 10:29:26 PM

One thing that has always fascinated me, which I know about from family trips up to Minnesota, is how in many counties throughout Minnesota and Iowa have a remarkably similar means of naming the rural section-line roads throughout the county (that is, the roads one mile apart from one another, corresponding to the section lines drawn when the county was surveyed): namely, the east-west roads are numbered, starting at a given value (most often “10th Street” or “100th Street”) at either the north or south county line and increasing by 10 every mile. Meanwhile, the north-south roads are named, with the road on the west county line starting with the letter A, the road one mile to the east beginning with B, and so on through the alphabet.

That being said, what I want to know is this: what goes into the actual names of the roads, exactly? I know that some counties have an obvious theme - for example, Franklin County, Iowa, names their section-line roads for birds and trees/plants, with the first several names being Apricot, Balsam, Cardinal, Dogwood, Eagle, Fir, Grouse, and Heather. However, other counties appear to use proper names instead, which makes me wonder: were they named for local landowners and/or civic/political figures, or just chosen randomly? I’ve sometimes imagined meetings of county commissioners huddled around a table decades ago, talking late into the night trying to decide on road names for each letter of the alphabet. Or is the story somewhat less fanciful, perhaps? Regardless, it would be great if I could have some insight into the naming process.

Not all counties use that convention. Kossuth County, Iowa, for instance, uses numbered streets for E-W roads, and number avenues for N-S roads. Cass County, Iowa uses names for E-W roads and numbered streets for N-S roads.
Logged

swake

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 104
  • Location: Tulsa
  • Last Login: Today at 05:31:56 PM

Not in Iowa or Minnesota, but…

Tulsa does this. Tulsa’s street system  is a perfect one mile grid and is based on old section line roads with almost all major streets perfectly straight and each one mile apart.

East and west streets start downtown at 1st St South, then a mile south to 11th St S. going up by 10 every mile. 51st, 61st, 71st, 81st and on and on. Going north of downtown streets are named and go alphabetically going A-Z once and then they are numbers again. North side streets offset the major streets numbers by 6. So there’s 36th St N, 46th St N, 56th etc.

North and south running streets are called “avenues” and start at Main Street (yes street) as the center line north/south street. Go east one block of main and you have Boston Ave, then Cincinnati Ave and it runs through the alphabet a few times with the names of cities east of Tulsa.  Going west one block from main you start with Boulder Ave, then Cheyenne Ave, then Denver Ave and on with the names of cities west of Tulsa. West only goes through the alphabet once. Both east and west once they are done with named avenues they revert to numbers with each mile going up by 16 instead of 10 like streets do. So west of downtown you have 33rd W Ave, then 49th W Ave and so on. East you have 129th E Ave, then 145th E Ave.
Logged

froggie

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 12678
  • Location: Greensboro, VT
  • Last Login: June 03, 2023, 08:36:16 PM
    • Froggie's Place

One thing that has always fascinated me, which I know about from family trips up to Minnesota, is how in many counties throughout Minnesota and Iowa have a remarkably similar means of naming the rural section-line roads throughout the county (that is, the roads one mile apart from one another, corresponding to the section lines drawn when the county was surveyed): namely, the east-west roads are numbered, starting at a given value (most often “10th Street” or “100th Street”) at either the north or south county line and increasing by 10 every mile. Meanwhile, the north-south roads are named, with the road on the west county line starting with the letter A, the road one mile to the east beginning with B, and so on through the alphabet.

That being said, what I want to know is this: what goes into the actual names of the roads, exactly? I know that some counties have an obvious theme - for example, Franklin County, Iowa, names their section-line roads for birds and trees/plants, with the first several names being Apricot, Balsam, Cardinal, Dogwood, Eagle, Fir, Grouse, and Heather. However, other counties appear to use proper names instead, which makes me wonder: were they named for local landowners and/or civic/political figures, or just chosen randomly? I’ve sometimes imagined meetings of county commissioners huddled around a table decades ago, talking late into the night trying to decide on road names for each letter of the alphabet. Or is the story somewhat less fanciful, perhaps? Regardless, it would be great if I could have some insight into the naming process.

It's completely up to the local jurisdiction.  The only Minnesota county I can think of offhand that follows the convention you mention is Dakota County.  Most counties in Minnesota have numbered streets and avenues instead of using names.  But even here, there's variability.  Kandiyohi County, MN, for example, has NE/NW/SE/SW quadrants with the "zero point" being where 1st St (BUS US 71/MN 23) crosses the BNSF tracks in Willmar.  Anoka, Isanti, and eastern Sherburne Counties also have quadrants, but in their case "zero point" is in downtown Minneapolis, while western Sherburne County has a "zero point" in St. Cloud.
Logged

KCRoadFan

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 910
  • Enthusiastic fan of roads, sports, and waterparks.

  • Age: 29
  • Location: Kansas City, MO
  • Last Login: Today at 01:22:48 PM

One thing that has always fascinated me, which I know about from family trips up to Minnesota, is how in many counties throughout Minnesota and Iowa have a remarkably similar means of naming the rural section-line roads throughout the county (that is, the roads one mile apart from one another, corresponding to the section lines drawn when the county was surveyed): namely, the east-west roads are numbered, starting at a given value (most often “10th Street” or “100th Street”) at either the north or south county line and increasing by 10 every mile. Meanwhile, the north-south roads are named, with the road on the west county line starting with the letter A, the road one mile to the east beginning with B, and so on through the alphabet.

That being said, what I want to know is this: what goes into the actual names of the roads, exactly? I know that some counties have an obvious theme - for example, Franklin County, Iowa, names their section-line roads for birds and trees/plants, with the first several names being Apricot, Balsam, Cardinal, Dogwood, Eagle, Fir, Grouse, and Heather. However, other counties appear to use proper names instead, which makes me wonder: were they named for local landowners and/or civic/political figures, or just chosen randomly? I’ve sometimes imagined meetings of county commissioners huddled around a table decades ago, talking late into the night trying to decide on road names for each letter of the alphabet. Or is the story somewhat less fanciful, perhaps? Regardless, it would be great if I could have some insight into the naming process.

It's completely up to the local jurisdiction.  The only Minnesota county I can think of offhand that follows the convention you mention is Dakota County.

Wright and Rice counties do it too, in terms of having north-south roads whose initial letters are based on the distance from the baseline. Sometimes, I just wonder where the counties come up with the names themselves - which is the basis for my post.
Logged

SD Mapman

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 1740
  • The best pace is a pace, and today is a good day.

  • Location: Running somewhere in Lawrence County
  • Last Login: June 01, 2023, 08:49:52 AM

One thing that has always fascinated me, which I know about from family trips up to Minnesota, is how in many counties throughout Minnesota and Iowa have a remarkably similar means of naming the rural section-line roads throughout the county (that is, the roads one mile apart from one another, corresponding to the section lines drawn when the county was surveyed): namely, the east-west roads are numbered, starting at a given value (most often “10th Street” or “100th Street”) at either the north or south county line and increasing by 10 every mile. Meanwhile, the north-south roads are named, with the road on the west county line starting with the letter A, the road one mile to the east beginning with B, and so on through the alphabet.

That being said, what I want to know is this: what goes into the actual names of the roads, exactly? I know that some counties have an obvious theme - for example, Franklin County, Iowa, names their section-line roads for birds and trees/plants, with the first several names being Apricot, Balsam, Cardinal, Dogwood, Eagle, Fir, Grouse, and Heather. However, other counties appear to use proper names instead, which makes me wonder: were they named for local landowners and/or civic/political figures, or just chosen randomly? I’ve sometimes imagined meetings of county commissioners huddled around a table decades ago, talking late into the night trying to decide on road names for each letter of the alphabet. Or is the story somewhat less fanciful, perhaps? Regardless, it would be great if I could have some insight into the naming process.

It's completely up to the local jurisdiction.  The only Minnesota county I can think of offhand that follows the convention you mention is Dakota County.

Wright and Rice counties do it too, in terms of having north-south roads whose initial letters are based on the distance from the baseline. Sometimes, I just wonder where the counties come up with the names themselves - which is the basis for my post.
Probably just finding things they can list alphabetically; in Nebraska some counties just use straight up letters (T Rd, S Rd, R Rd, etc.) to avoid having to think of anything. In SD, there's no need for imagination as we have a statewide county road naming system that is independent of county, so the only people who have to think of road names are us Westerners when the grid breaks down due to topography.
Logged
The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. - G.K. Chesterton

DandyDan

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 1385
  • Age: 50
  • Location: Mason City Iowa
  • Last Login: June 02, 2023, 04:54:42 AM

FWIW, Cerro Gordo and Worth Counties have the same N-S street names as Franklin County. Of course, they neatly stack up one atop the next.

My guess is they had to come up with something quickly once it was determined they had to name all the roads.
Logged
MORE FUN THAN HUMANLY THOUGHT POSSIBLE

US 89

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 5831
  • 189 to Evanston

  • Location: Tallahassee, FL
  • Last Login: Today at 01:41:35 PM
    • Utah Highways

Not in Iowa or Minnesota, but a number of counties in western Colorado do something quite similar. N/S roads are generally numbered by their distance from the Utah state line. E/W section line roads get letters, the origin of which varies by county, and they don’t even bother to give their lettered roads names beyond the letters.

In Mesa County, the letters start somewhere at the very south end of the greater Grand Junction area. There’s plenty of Mesa County south of there but those parts are hilly or mountainous and don’t really have section line roads. So their E/W section line roads are “C Rd”, “D Rd”, and so on while their N/S section lines are “28 Rd”, “29 Rd”... The fun part of that system is that the intermediate roads get fractional names - both letters and numbers. So you’ll get stuff like “F 1/2 Rd”, “24 3/4 Rd”, or even “K 6/10 Rd”. Also, they don’t skip any letters that look like numbers, so stuff like “I 1/2 Rd” is a thing.

Montezuma County names their roads as “(Montezuma County) Road G” or sometimes just “CR G”. Their letters increase northward from the Ute reservation boundary, skip I, O, and Q, then start over at AA, BB… until they run out of county. Roads in between get decimal points instead of fractions, so you’ll see “Rd 24.5”, “Rd F.8”, or “Rd G.15”.

Dolores County is almost identical to that, but their letters start at the northern county border and increase to the south.

SD Mapman

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 1740
  • The best pace is a pace, and today is a good day.

  • Location: Running somewhere in Lawrence County
  • Last Login: June 01, 2023, 08:49:52 AM

Not in Iowa or Minnesota, but a number of counties in western Colorado do something quite similar. N/S roads are generally numbered by their distance from the Utah state line. E/W section line roads get letters, the origin of which varies by county, and they don’t even bother to give their lettered roads names beyond the letters.

In Mesa County, the letters start somewhere at the very south end of the greater Grand Junction area. There’s plenty of Mesa County south of there but those parts are hilly or mountainous and don’t really have section line roads. So their E/W section line roads are “C Rd”, “D Rd”, and so on while their N/S section lines are “28 Rd”, “29 Rd”... The fun part of that system is that the intermediate roads get fractional names - both letters and numbers. So you’ll get stuff like “F 1/2 Rd”, “24 3/4 Rd”, or even “K 6/10 Rd”. Also, they don’t skip any letters that look like numbers, so stuff like “I 1/2 Rd” is a thing.

Montezuma County names their roads as “(Montezuma County) Road G” or sometimes just “CR G”. Their letters increase northward from the Ute reservation boundary, skip I, O, and Q, then start over at AA, BB… until they run out of county. Roads in between get decimal points instead of fractions, so you’ll see “Rd 24.5”, “Rd F.8”, or “Rd G.15”.

Dolores County is almost identical to that, but their letters start at the northern county border and increase to the south.
I think some eastern CO counties do as well if I remember right. I know Larimer and Weld are all numbers, but I don't remember exactly where the letters are.
Logged
The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. - G.K. Chesterton

US 89

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 5831
  • 189 to Evanston

  • Location: Tallahassee, FL
  • Last Login: Today at 01:41:35 PM
    • Utah Highways

^ Looks like Washington and Yuma Counties use a similar system, except their letters are on north-south roads and increase to the east. Washington County is just wide enough that it exactly completes two trips through the alphabet skipping I and O, so the next road east of ZZ is the county line, and that's Yuma CR A. The two counties also share a southern boundary (numbered CR 0), so their east-west numbered roads are all the same and they might as well be considered to share a system.

Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Prowers, Bent, Baca, and maybe more counties all appear to use basically identical systems with northward-increasing lettered county roads. All of them appear to skip I and O, some also skip Q.

paulthemapguy

  • *
  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 6832
  • nobody asked me

  • Age: 33
  • Location: Illinois
  • Last Login: June 03, 2023, 09:11:15 PM
    • Paul Across America

I noticed this when driving across Iowa last October, and I love it too.  I love the idea of having one road name for each letter of the alphabet, and you advance through the alphabet sequentially as you drive a certain direction.  I have planned and drawn imaginary towns and subdivisions since I was a little kid, and I like having a catalog of road names in my brain that I can use when making imaginary maps.  There's a whole category of street names up there based on trees.  Since I can never think of any tree-based names starting with certain letters like I and K, seeing "Indigo Street" and "Kiwi Road" fascinated me when I saw them in Washington County, Iowa. I like this a lot better than simply using letters or grid numbers. Why just have "A Road", "B Road", and "C Road", when you can give them names so people can more easily tell them apart. (It's easier to hear the difference between "Cherry Road" and "Dogwood Road" than the difference between "C" and "D".)

In Audobon County, Iowa, the north-south section line roads are all named after birds! https://www.google.com/maps/@41.6651392,-94.9670426,15.71z
Logged
Avatar is the last interesting highway I clinched.
My website! http://www.paulacrossamerica.com
My USA Shield Gallery https://flic.kr/s/aHsmHwJRZk
TM Clinches https://bit.ly/2UwRs4O

National collection status: 357/424. Only 67 route markers remain!

KCRoadFan

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 910
  • Enthusiastic fan of roads, sports, and waterparks.

  • Age: 29
  • Location: Kansas City, MO
  • Last Login: Today at 01:22:48 PM

In Audobon County, Iowa, the north-south section line roads are all named after birds! https://www.google.com/maps/@41.6651392,-94.9670426,15.71z

Given the name of the county, that makes perfect sense.
Logged

SD Mapman

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 1740
  • The best pace is a pace, and today is a good day.

  • Location: Running somewhere in Lawrence County
  • Last Login: June 01, 2023, 08:49:52 AM

Just realized I had an example that slipped my mind; Atchison County, KS uses the Topeka street grid for its east-west roads (so the southern county line is like 200th Rd and the northern line is like 320th Rd) but for the north-south roads it uses Kansas counties in alphabetical order from west to east (the west line is Allen Rd and the east side varies from Sedgwick to Thomas).
Logged
The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. - G.K. Chesterton

Scott5114

  • *
  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 18456
  • Nit picker of unprecedented pedantry

  • Age: 33
  • Location: Norman, OK
  • Last Login: Today at 05:06:35 PM
    • Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards

Just realized I had an example that slipped my mind; Atchison County, KS uses the Topeka street grid for its east-west roads (so the southern county line is like 200th Rd and the northern line is like 320th Rd) but for the north-south roads it uses Kansas counties in alphabetical order from west to east (the west line is Allen Rd and the east side varies from Sedgwick to Thomas).

Woods County, Oklahoma uses the counties of Oklahoma in alphabetical order for its east-west roads, from south to north.
Logged

Fredddie

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 58
  • This space for rent

  • Age: 40
  • Location: Des Moines
  • Last Login: June 01, 2023, 12:11:26 AM
    • Wikipedia
Re: Alphabetically named section-line roads in Iowa and Minnesota counties
« Reply #14 on: March 11, 2023, 11:10:02 AM »

In Audobon County, Iowa, the north-south section line roads are all named after birds! https://www.google.com/maps/@41.6651392,-94.9670426,15.71z

Given the name of the county, that makes perfect sense.
My wife and I were traveling through there on Iowa 44 and didn't see county line sign but we did notice the bird roads. I think we got to H before we realized it was Audubon County.

Each county does its own thing for the most part. Several counties like Boone and Dallas do single letters on the N/S section lines, but might have a name for an intermediate line (think A Ave. and Anderson Ave.). Polk County roads build off of the Des Moines city grid. Clinton County starts at 100th Ave. in the west and 100th St. in the north.  It'd be nice if there were one system for the whole state, but that should have been worked out 30+ years ago when the E911 road names were rolled out.
Logged

SD Mapman

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 1740
  • The best pace is a pace, and today is a good day.

  • Location: Running somewhere in Lawrence County
  • Last Login: June 01, 2023, 08:49:52 AM
Re: Alphabetically named section-line roads in Iowa and Minnesota counties
« Reply #15 on: March 11, 2023, 11:57:04 AM »

In Audobon County, Iowa, the north-south section line roads are all named after birds! https://www.google.com/maps/@41.6651392,-94.9670426,15.71z

Given the name of the county, that makes perfect sense.
My wife and I were traveling through there on Iowa 44 and didn't see county line sign but we did notice the bird roads. I think we got to H before we realized it was Audubon County.

Each county does its own thing for the most part. Several counties like Boone and Dallas do single letters on the N/S section lines, but might have a name for an intermediate line (think A Ave. and Anderson Ave.). Polk County roads build off of the Des Moines city grid. Clinton County starts at 100th Ave. in the west and 100th St. in the north.  It'd be nice if there were one system for the whole state, but that should have been worked out 30+ years ago when the E911 road names were rolled out.
It has its ups and downs, having one system for the whole state is nice for navigation but having the counties go off the major city's street grid helps consistency with addresses (e.g. 27209 475th Ave is across the street from 620 N. Cliff Ave. in Harrisburg).
Logged
The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. - G.K. Chesterton

Flint1979

  • *
  • Online Online

  • Posts: 8434
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Michigan
  • Last Login: Today at 07:06:59 PM
Re: Alphabetically named section-line roads in Iowa and Minnesota counties
« Reply #16 on: March 11, 2023, 01:52:16 PM »

Calhoun County, MI has roads running east and west that are just a letter of the alphabet. Such as A Drive N and A Drive S which are right by each other I'm not totally familiar with that area of Michigan but it seems like that might cause some confusion. The two A Drive's are a mile apart in the central part of the county running parallel to each other. A Drive S reappears before turning into O Drive in Kalamazoo County which also has roads running east and west that are just a letter but Kalamazoo County has two letters at times too.

Most of the north-south roads in Calhoun County are mile roads like 2 Mile, 3 Mile, 4 Mile and so on. In Kalamazoo County they are numbered roads starting with 48th at the Calhoun County line, Kalamazoo's western border in Van Kal with 1st Street within a mile east of it.
Logged

GaryV

  • *
  • Offline Offline

  • Posts: 3078
  • Location: Southeast Michigan
  • Last Login: Today at 06:14:00 PM
Re: Alphabetically named section-line roads in Iowa and Minnesota counties
« Reply #17 on: March 12, 2023, 07:05:23 AM »

... Kalamazoo County which also has roads running east and west that are just a letter but Kalamazoo County has two letters at times too.
The 2 letter roads are halfway between the letter roads. VW (near where my daughter used to live) is between V and W.
Logged

Flint1979

  • *
  • Online Online

  • Posts: 8434
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Michigan
  • Last Login: Today at 07:06:59 PM
Re: Alphabetically named section-line roads in Iowa and Minnesota counties
« Reply #18 on: March 12, 2023, 08:55:35 AM »

... Kalamazoo County which also has roads running east and west that are just a letter but Kalamazoo County has two letters at times too.
The 2 letter roads are halfway between the letter roads. VW (near where my daughter used to live) is between V and W.
Well that does make some sense just a combination of the two letter roads that are a half mile in each direction, that way you know what the previous road was and what the next road will be.
Logged

 


Opinions expressed here on belong solely to the poster and do not represent or reflect the opinions or beliefs of AARoads, its creators and/or associates.