By Wesley Harris
Back in the ’70s, my job required memorizing every street in Ruston. With an interest in history, I insisted on learning how Ruston streets acquired their names.
The town site for Ruston was located and surveyed in 1883 by Frank P. Stubbs and F. Y. Dabney for the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Pacific Railroad. Stubbs was a lawyer for the railroad and Dabney its chief engineer and superintendent.
The railroad obtained the property from Robert Russ, a large landowner. In addition to selling land to the railroad and others, Russ donated land for churches, schools, and a cemetery.
Stubbs and Dabney laid out a plan of perfect symmetry for Ruston streets. The simple grid pattern covered about 50 square blocks.
The unsophisticated grid helped me learn street names back in 1977. I should say streets, avenues, drives, boulevards, circles and lanes. In the oldest part of Ruston, the Downtown Historic District encompassing the original grid, streets running north-south were named after neighboring communities of the day—Vienna, Trenton, Monroe, Minden, Homer, Bonner, Sparta Vernon.
The villages of Bonner, Sparta and Vernon disappeared long ago, and Trenton became West Monroe, so many locals don’t recognize the names as north Louisiana communities of the 1880s.
Avenues in Ruston run east-west. Those in the downtown area were named after southern states—Maryland, Virginia, Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and so on. Western states—Colorado, Arizona, California—were added as the town grew. Many decades passed before any roadways were named after Yankee states.
Numbering of the east-west avenues starts at Vienna Street; therefore, 502 West Alabama Avenue would be five blocks west of Vienna Street. Moving away from downtown in any direction, the even house numbers are on the right, odd on the left. 304 East Arizona, going east from Vienna Street, is on the right three blocks away.
For streets, the numbers start at the railroad tracks. Three blocks south of the old V.S.&P., now the Kansas City Southern Railroad, is the 300 block. Ten blocks north, the 1000 block.
Moving further away from historic downtown, the winding streets, usually designated at drives, circles or lanes refuse to follow the rules of Ruston’s original surveyor. Subdivisions are especially tricky. Gordon and Glendale Drives nearly form circles. Unlike the downtown avenues, Wyoming and Tennessee are out of place compared to the U.S. map but Illinois and Ohio—off LA 33—seem to be about right although separated from the other states.
Crossing the railroad tracks from downtown, you have Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona Avenues. But then there’s Colorado. What happened to New Mexico Avenue? Then on to California from Colorado, skipping Nevada and Utah.
To add to the confusion, Dubach Avenue running west off Tech Drive should be a north-south street. Of course, the town of Dubach did not exist when Ruston’s first streets were laid out, so it was squeezed in later, albeit far out of place, with the residential building boom around Tech in the late 40s-50s. But why wasn’t the name used for a street instead of an avenue?
Then there’s Vaughn and Garr, which should be Vaughan and Gaar for the men the streets were intended to honor.
A few tricks helped me place names with locations. The “bird” streets of Robin, Oriole and Cardinal ran off Cornell Avenue. The “trees” of Maple and Dogwood Streets and Walnut and Dogwood Avenue composed a subdivision south of Barnett Springs Avenue. The “lakes” of Bruin, Bistineau and D’arbonne circled the Cypress Springs lake.
The rules leading to perfect symmetry in Ruston’s thoroughfares faded over time, making more recent roadways more convoluted. The address number procedures still apply. If a new street is constructed off the North Service Road East near Tractor Supply, the house numbers would be calculated by determining how many blocks, actual or imaginary, the new construction is north of the railroad.
As Ruston grows and changes, the thoroughfares change as well. Wilaford Street vanished with the addition of Tech’s Institute for Micromanufacturing. Blondin Drive, a short block off of Center Street, once extended to the north to what is now the rear of Celebrity Theatre before Interstate 20 construction in the late ’50s chopped it short.
One of the biggest changes over the years has been the use of one-way streets to facilitate traffic flow. It’s the one-ways that cause the most confusion for visitors and newcomers. The one-way service roads require some circuitous routes to reach your destination but seem to work well. Both Vienna and Trenton downtown were once two-way streets. Hard to imagine that now.
The one-ways tend to confound some, but the pattern of Ruston’s roadways is quite sensible.
Learning the ins and outs of the Ruston street map helped me and other first responders get to calls quickly to protect and serve our community.
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