We Have Moved

Well, we haven’t really moved, but that’s the way my husband reported it when he announced the other day that our address had changed.

And no, our address hasn’t really changed, either. The only difference is that we no longer have any excuse for avoiding the inevitable.

A little history: Since the founding of our town as a single-tax colony in 1894, it has grown more or less organically. From earliest days, there were a main street, Fairhope Avenue, and a cross street, Section Street, and the town expanded from there, with streets and lots laid out in a fairly regular grid insofar as topography permitted. Presumably the Single Tax Colony, which owned most of the land, named the streets, but those who built on them were evidently allowed to select their own house numbers, with the result that, even today, there are houses in our neighborhood whose street addresses are not sequential.

An early map of Fairhope shows Fairhope Avenue and Magnolia Avenue converging around Knoll Park (as they do today) to proceed together down to the pier. Streets to the north of Magnolia are labeled OAK ST, KIEFER STREET, POWELL STREET, and BLAKENEY (too short to allow room even for ST), bounded (as they are today) by SUMMIT STREET and BAYVIEW STREET.

At some point the City (which had incorporated in 1908) got hifalutin notions and decided to designate all east-west streets as “avenues.” Not surprisingly, there was stubborn resistance to this change among the Oldest Inhabitants.

When we moved here in 1980, we were aware of this history. Although our address was nominally on Oak Avenue, most of the residents were still calling it Oak Street, and we also felt that a street only four blocks long (in several distinct segments) and barely two lanes wide, with no curbs, was not grand enough to be an “avenue,” so we gave our address as Oak Street. We were in good company; even the Eastern Shore Art Center shows its address as 401 Oak Street.

This did cause some confusion along the way, but no less than was occasioned by the fact that some of the street signs said “Street” and some said “Avenue.” At some point, the sign at the corner of Oak and Summit fell or was knocked down. When I called the City about a replacement, I gave the name as “Oak Street,” and that is what was put on the sign, with the result that our block was Oak Street at one end and Oak Avenue at the other.

With increasing standardization of postal addresses, we were forced to acknowledge that, according to the U.S. Postal Service, our address was Oak Avenue, but we continued to give it as Oak Street and count on the ZIP+4 to get our mail delivered correctly. It was a losing battle, though, as bulk mailers who verified their databases with the USPS corrected our address to Oak Avenue.

There were other problems as well. For a time, If you searched Google Maps for Oak Avenue (or Street, I forget which) in Fairhope, you were directed to an address in Lakewood Estates, a country club subdivision in Point Clear, several miles south of here. Today, you get the right location, but it is still labeled “Oak St,” along with “Kiefer St,” “Powell St,” and “Blakeney Ave,” all sandwiched between “N Summit St” and “N Bayview Ave.” The other day, a local courier, given an address on Oak Avenue, had to call for directions because his GPS showed Oak Street.

Be that as it may, what my husband was reporting the other day was that the City had put up new street signs at both ends of our block; both say “OAK AVENUE,” so we will now bow to the inevitable. I have corrected all my letterheads, labels, business cards, and the like, and I suppose it will be a relief not to be conflicted about our address, but it does feel like the end of an era.

As an aside, observing the street signs as I was walking this morning, I made note of which ones were new and compared the format of the various vintages. The older signs have “N” (for “North”) and “ST” or “AVE” in smaller letters. There are no such frills on the new signs. Some have “Street” or “Avenue” spelled out if the street name is short—whatever fits, apparently. The new signs for N. Bayview Street at both ends of our block have an ill-advised period after the N, but inconsistent spacing: “N.BAYVIEW ST” (note extra space that could have been used after the period). And poor Blakeney Avenue doesn’t rate a cross-street sign at either end (N. Bayview or N. Summit). Perhaps the City will get around to adding those in the next wave of improvement.

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