Michigan State University

Why are there more 2nd Streets than 1st Streets in Michigan?

Kathleen Weessies

Numbered streets in Traverse City, Michigan

Why are there more 2nd Streets than 1st Streets in Michigan?

OK Geo Nerds --- After analyzing the Michigan Department of Transportation's computer files of the entire road network of Michigan, we compiled a list of the most common road names.  They go: 

  1. Main St.
  2. 2nd St.
  3. 1st St.
  4. Maple St.
  5. 3rd St.
  6. Elm St.
  7. 4th St.
  8. Pine St.
  9. Oak St.
  10. 5th St.

These findings prompted astute tweeters @PWolfson6 and @matheduactor to ask, "How could 2nd Street be more common than 1st Street?"  We scratched our heads and assumed that in many towns the location of 1st Street was taken over by Main Street.  But then we decided to actually look around and see what we could find.  We quickly saw that reality is more complicated than this simple guess.  In fact so far we haven't found a single instance of 2nd Street being parallel to and one block off of Main Street. Here are some examples arranged from fairly normal to fairly abnormal: 

Situation #1: The main road through town is called something other than Main Street:

  • Fowlerville:  The main drag through town is good ol' Grand River Avenue, which ultimately stretches all the way from Grand Rapids to Detroit and serves as the main street for quite a lot of Michigan towns.  In Fowlerville, Grand Avenue intersects Grand River Avenue to form the central four corners.  2nd street runs parallel to Grand Avenue, and there aren't any other numbered streets beyond that.
  • Royal Oak: The main drag through Royal Oak is Eleven Mile. The numbered streets are parallel off of it.
  • Marquette: The numbered streets are twice removed from the shoreline of Lake Superior.  On the oldest maps of town, Lake Street runs right along the shore, then parallel to it is Front Street.   The numbered streets pick up with 3rd through 7th streets.  A little bit of 2nd Street only runs for a few blocks about a half mile north of downtown.
  • Temple (honorary mention): The main drag is called S. Cook Avenue and the only solitary numbered street, 2nd Street, is parallel to it.  However outside the Temple settlement (it is neither a city nor a village) S. Cook does change its name to 1st Street. 

Situation #2: The numbered streets are part of a neighborhood formed after the original town

  • Traverse City: The numbered streets aren't right downtown, they are off to the west side of town.  The place for 1st Street is taken by Randolph St (or Grandview Parkway, take your pick). We suspect the fault lies with lumber barons Perry Hannah and A. Tracy Lay who registered the plat for that part of town.
  • Mackinac Island: Here the numbered streets aren't anywhere near the main drag down by the waterfront.  They rather are in a block of streets devoted to residential housing.  The location where 1st Street would be is taken by Annex Road/Huron Road.  Reason? Unknown.

Situation #3: 1st Street disappeared:

  • In Ferrysburg the numbered streets are parallel to the Grand River, but the location where 1st Street would be is empty  -- there is no street at all.  Historical maps reveal that a 1st Street once existed, however the space was later taken over by industry.  Today Google Earth shows the spot occupied by piles of gravel or some such material.

Situation #4: Anomalies near three lakes:

  • Chippewa Lake has a 2nd, 3rd and 4th streets but no street at all in the location where 1st Street would be, and it doesn't look like there ever was one.
  • Big Evans Lake has a 2nd Street but no other numbered streets and no street at all where 1st Street would be.
  • Half Moon Lake in Casnovia Township has a 2nd Avenue named for no earthly reason.

The Other Side of the Coin

In our investigations we found two places that have a 1st Street but no other numbered streets: 

Well, there we are. The folks who had the privilege of naming streets did so immersed in their own time & situation and were motivated by a variety of factors.  The world is complicated.


PS: The map at the top is an excerpt from the map of Traverse City, Michigan published by AAA in 1972.

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