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Old Brittania: Awful road name choices rule in Triangle

by Matt Robinson


We all know how entertaining it is to poke fun at street names in this area. This humor is nowhere easier to find than in new housing developments. Names like Wexford and Surrey Green have a hokey Anglo-Saxon flavor, somewhat incongruous in a state that has a town named— no lie— Lizard Lick.

But faux Britannic sentiment isn't the only bit of street name corniness. Naming streets with natural or pastoral overtones is as common a gesture as it is an empty one, considering how much of the natural world was razed to make way for our modern lanes.

For example, in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill/Durham area there are over 20 streets with "Oak" in the name, and almost 30 variants on the "Pine" theme. Likewise the Deer, the Dale, the Meadow, and the Hills, which are becoming increasingly scarce in our real world, just as their essence is being brutalized by their nominal Streets, Lanes, Avenues, and Ways.

But these are all examples of delusional sentimentality. Indeed, there are far more sinister rules in the NC street name game than can be ascribed to freakish developer penchants. These have to do with the unique character of the Piedmont and the area's history.

In an effort to preserve the past or perplex the present, roads that once joined areas (such as Chapel Hill—Hillsborough) but have been supplanted by newer routes have kept their former titles while accruing only the word "Old" as a kind of prefix to denote its former glory. New streets took the name of the old, so much so that now we are faced with a confusing array of "Old" streets with their newer counterparts.

So now not only do we have Hillsborough Avenue, Hillsborough Road, and Hillsborough Street, we also get to enjoy Old Hillsboro Road and Old Hillsborough Road. Woe to the newcomer looking for a party "over on Hillsborough." Hope they've got a phone number.

Chapel Hill Boulevard, Chapel Hill Road, Chapel Hill Street, and Old Chapel Hill Road may be easier to figure out, but I bet Lystra Lane and Old Lystra Road will get the best of those unfamiliar transplants.

Or just send them down Fayetteville. Is that Road or Street? Is it Old? How about Old Mount Moriah Road? Or was it Mt. Moriah Road? Or maybe New Mount Mariah? Are Mount Moriah and Mount Mariah the same Mount?

Ah, the hell with this. Just take me back home to North Greensboro. That's Street, not Road, and it isn't Old.

  Matt Robinson sits on the Transportation Advisory Council of Carrboro, and has had no luck with tomatoes but good luck with melons this year.  

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