21 June 2005

[geography] The Address Nerd Ruminates

I love addresses. Yes, I mean postal addresses.

When I was a kid, I lived on a rural route. Old fashioned Route and Box (you know, like Route 1 Box 118).

I terribly envied kid in town not because they lived in town but because they had real live addresses, house number and street. 525 South 2nd. 615 Oak Street.

The ones I really envied lived in bigger towns with sophisticated addresses. You know, the ones like we seem to have all over the place these days, with compass directions-NE, SE, NW, SW. Those sounded good.

When I finally left the small town to move into Salem, we managed to say south of the State Street baseline. Salem's addresses carry the directional as a suffix (19th St SE, Market St NE) and due to the way Salem grew and the way the river runs, there is offically no SW. This was a disappointment, as SW is my very favorite directional.

Not officially, anyway. The Salem address grid extends throughout Marion and Polk counties from a notional origin point which is essentially where State Street and the Willamette River intersect. The NE, N, S, and SE suffixes effect throughout Marion County, but the NW directional, on the Polk county side, seems to give up approximtely at the Independence junction-where State Hwys 51 and 22 come together. The last so-suffixed road seems to be Oak Grove Road NW, which is just west of the highest-numbered street I can find on that side of the River...55th Ave NW.

In case anyone's curious, the highest numbered street on the east side of the Salem grid is in deep-eastside Marion County, some distance east of Stayton. 170th Ave SE. Going east from Salem's eastern boundary, addresses go 10 100-house number blocks to the mile...82nd Ave NE outside of Salem is about 10 miles out from the River, whilst in Portland, NE 82nd Ave is just over four miles east of the River.

Since the universal advent of 911 emergency systems, Rural Route addressing has slowly gone away. I doubt it exists anywhere anymore, at least anywhere of which I'm aware. Emergency services need to find locations quickly, and that just doesn't happen with Rural Routes. There are many ways to do it too. A future rumination on the subject will go on and on drearily about how many ways there are. Not just now tho'.

What got me going about this was thinking about Spokane. I've had a certain fascination with Spokane ever since I was a neat thing and heard they were having a World's Fair in 1974 there (Expo '74, which has left its mark on downtown Spokane in the form of a tram over the Falls and, from what I've been told, a lovely downtown park). I noticed, a long time back, that they had a different take on where the directional goes-as a suffix before the entire address, something I've not seen before and not since.

Now, the Spokane grid is a simple one, cleft in four quarters by the east-west Sprague Avenue and the north-south, aptly named Division Street. Streets and Avenues are either simply N or S or E or W depending. But, as in another town, where a notional address of 3550 on the E half of Sprague Avenue would be written:

3550 E Sprague Ave

In Spokane this would have been written

E 3550 Sprague Ave.

I thought that was so cool.

Alas, that era seems to be over. Some old-timers may still do things in that way, but most publications now use the former, "ordinary" format. Nowadays, everything interesting seems to be being conformed into sameness.

Address Nerd, out for now.


stan said...

I'm becoming increasingly nerdy about addresses as of late, as my current job primarily involves USPS address standardization for a huge number of vendors. One of the easiest, most fun jobs I've ever had!

While it's sort of cold and lifeless, I've always found the addressing scheme in much of Utah fascinating. Addresses like 3025 E 3300 S just get straight to the point, don't they?

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Quite right. The street and address nomenclature of SLC and more than a few other jurisdicitions in the Intermountain West are fond of that sort of style.

I'm glad nothing I know of in Oregon looks like that-it's a rather dull and dreary way of coming up with addresses, stripped down to actual essentials-but I have to admit that they look interesting, and get straight to the point.

Since I heard of that system I've learnt that more than Utahns have that sort of system-many counties in Indiana do it that way as well as a few in Illinois, I think, as well as southern Idaho.

Anonymous said...

Ok - pop quiz
if an address in Portland starts with a zero, what does it mean?

as in: 0234 SW Bancroft St.

Do you know why it starts with a zero?

tkaye said...

Mason County, Washington also used the directionals as a prefix before the entire address, just like Spokane. Several years ago, I recall the county announcing that they would no longer be using that address format because it was not consistent with USPS standards.

I knew someone in Madison County, Florida that used a rural route address up until 2001 or so. When they actually got a street address, it was on a numbered highway... and using an entirely different city. I always wondered how rural routes worked and if there was a way to find some sort of map or key for them. I'll see RR address cited in old directories from the '60s, for example, and would love to know exactly where the place was.

As for the Portland question, the addresses with a zero in front of them lie east of First Avenue, along the Willamette River, correct?

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...


Thanks for the comment! I've not written on this in a while, and it's still a subject that's near and dear to my heart, despite its current absence on this blog.

Your first point is very telling. I was somewhat aware the USPS demands (and has the standing to demand) that addresses fall into a certain format. that may well be why we don't see the (directional)(house number)(street name) format in Spokane anymore. Sad, this. I particularly enjoy the exceptions to the rule especially when they're interesting like that, and I think the USPS ought to be able to design a system to allow historical exceptions like that.

I vaguely understand how rural routes work. It's a simple loop system, really: loops emanate from a local PO, and the carrier goes out and then back in order, like city bus route hits stops. My childhood home, Route 1 Box 165, Silverton Or, 97381, was the 165th box on Silverton's rural route 1. I have an old map of Salem that has some of the rural routes marked on an inset map, and now I just might post a scan of that.

There were also what they called "Star" routes, which were so-called because the carrier delivered them in the later afternoons - when one might see the stars start to come out as you move toward evenings.

I don't know if any such maps exist anymore; if they do, they must be wicked hard to find.

And to your query of the zeroes in Portland, you have the basic idea, though the zero base was/is Front Avenue/Naito Parkway, and is best approximated by the line formed by Naito Parkway, Condor Avenue, and View Point Terrace.

Cool! Thanks for the comment!