As Winston Smith once wondered: "I know how. I do not know why". Not that it's sinister, of course, but you just never satisfied until you know why. For instance, it's obvious, looking at the map of Salem, that State Street is the main divider on the east side of the Willamette halving the city in northerly and southerly sections. But why did they settle on State Street.
We'll never know that. Salem's online city information is silent on the matter. For that matter, few jurisdictions bother to mount documents detailing the why of their street naming/house numbering. Even where it's obvious, the true Address Nerd has the burning desire to find out why, and what the point of departure was, what drove the rationale.
We have found, through a happy accident, the section of Silverton's municipal code (provided through an online link from the City of Silverton's website to CodePublishing.com, a website obviously devoted to providing online versions of city municipal codes) that describes, with a sort of absolute precision, the rationale behind how addresses are determined in Oregon's Garden City and Gateway To Silver Falls State Park. It throughly defines the how, and while it doesn't define the why (except the observation that a systematic addressing rationale is a Good Thing™) the reading of it is a full meal for the Address Nerd.
To follow along you may find a map of Silverton, Oregon helpful. You can download a 1.1 MB PDF ODOT map via this link. Silverton's address schema is defined in Title 12 of the Silverton Municipal Code, Streets, Sidewalks, and Public Places. We will treat the only the relevant sections of this document, which are only a fraction of the full title.
12.04.020 Numbering system – Placement of numbers.
A. There shall be a uniform system of numbering all houses, stores and other buildings, except sheds and outbuildings, erected or to be erected within the city, by placing on the door or doorframe of the main entrance to such building, or as near thereto as may be practical, the number assigned thereto, as hereinafter provided, such number to be painted on the building or on metal or glass, or a metallic figure used, at the option of the owner, and so placed as to be readily seen from the street.
B. The figures designating the numbers, whether printed or otherwise, shall not be less than three inches in height. (Ord. 27A67 § 2, 1918)
This section defines the requirement for having a standard addressing system and some basic requirements, which are entirely reasonable; they have to be on the outside of the structure, near the main entry, and you can paint 'em on or nail 'em on, and you have to be able to easily see them. There is a minimum size requirement (three inches, or 219 points for you typographers in the audience).
Thus established that there will be an address numbering requirement, we get down to the actual definitions. Section 12.04.030A sets up the schema for streets running more or less north-south, establishes Main Street as the north-south divider, and governs numbering behavior north and south of that baseline:
12.04.030 Numbering system – Described.
A. The houses or buildings erected on lots which abut upon streets running northerly and southerly shall be numbered as follows:
1. That part of each of such streets lying south of Main Street shall be numbered southerly from the south side of Main Street, beginning with the number 100 and allowing 100 numbers to each block, both sides of the street to be considered a block; the even numbers to be used for numbering houses and buildings on the east side of such street, and the odd numbers to be used for such numbering on the west side of such street. The first tier of blocks south of Main Street shall be numbered southerly, beginning such numbering with the figure 100 and continuing with successive numbers thereafter to and inclusive of the figure 199.
In other words, what section A1 is saying is: if it's south of Main, the house numbers go up as you go south from Main. The first block of any street running south from Main will have house numbers in the 100s, odd numbers on the west side and odd numbers on the east.
2. The second tier of blocks shall be numbered beginning with the number 200 and continuing with successive numbers thereafter to and inclusive of the number 299, and continuing in like manner, the numbering of each successive tier of blocks, giving 100 numbers to each tier of blocks and ending such numbering at the southern boundary of the city.
Section A2 takes the rationale defined in A1 and uses it as the basis to build the rest of the system, block by block, until you hit the city limits; second block south of Main is the 200 block, third the 300 block, and so on.
3. All the portion of such street north of Main Street shall be numbered in the same manner, but northerly from Main Street, beginning with the number 100 and allowing 100 numbers to each tier of blocks northerly, and numbering in the same manner as hereinbefore provided for the numbering of buildings southerly of Main Street.
Section A3, then, uses the rationale defined in A1 and A2 to similarly define how addresses run north of Main Street; 100 numbers to the block, starting with the 100 block in the first block north of Main, 200 in the second block, and so on, til you hit the northern city limits.
Naturally, not nearly every street in Silverton (as a quick peruse of the map will tell you) intersects with Main Street. In these cases, the question arises as to where to commence numbering on those streets, and what the low number should be. Thus, we have section A4:
4. In case any streets in the city, running northerly and southerly, do not intersect with Main Street, the numbering thereof shall nevertheless commence and continue in the same manner as if such streets actually intersected Main Street; that is to say, if two tiers of blocks intervene between Main Street, the first numbers on such street shall be 300, and if one tier of blocks intervenes, then 200 shall be the first number for each intervening tier of blocks, and then proceeding from such commencing point in the manner hereinbefore specified.
In other words, if a street is about the equivalent of two blocks north of Main but does not actually connect with Main, the street will be in the 200 block, and numbers will increase north. A good example is one of the coolest streets on this or any other planet, Digerness Blvd (incorrectly labelled as Digerness St on the ODOT map). This is literally a one-lane unimproved road that's a dead-end street, running south from Oak Street on the side of East Hill. If you extended a line from Oak Street (the 200 north block from Main) east, the end of Digerness Blvd would be just about even with that line, therefore, we can predict that the addresses on Digerness (if there are any) would start in the 200s. If we then Google "Digerness Blvd" to see if any information pops up, we find that there is actually a commercial address on this road: Laughing Dragon Wood Carving, address: 233 Digerness Blvd.
We can further assume that the addresses on adjacent Mill Street also start with 200 at its junction with Oak.
So, section 12.04.030A tells us that Main Street divides Silverton into north and south halves, and that there are 100 numbers to the block; that they increase north and south from Main, and that streets that do not connect with Main are numbered as though they did connect with Main.
Section 12.04.030B deals with streets that run east and west.
B. The buildings or houses erected on lots abutting on streets running easterly and westerly shall be numbered as follows:
1. That part of each of such streets east of Silver Creek shall be numbered easterly therefrom, beginning with the number 100 and allowing 100 numbers to each block, both sides of the street being considered a block, the even numbers to be used for numbering houses and buildings on the north side of such streets, and the odd numbers for such numbering on the south sides of the streets.
Section B1 establishes Silver Creek as the eastside-westside division in the same manner that A1 establishes Main Street as the northside-southside division, by defining what east means in terms of the reference to the watercourse, and alloting 100 numbers to each block as you move east from Silver Creek. Odd numbers are on the south side of the street, Even on the north. Sections B2 and B3 clarify that behavior, in the same way this was developed in Sections A2 and A3.
2. The first tier of blocks east of Silver Creek shall be numbered easterly, beginning such numbering with the number 100 and continuing with successive numbers thereafter to and inclusive of the figure 199.
3. The second tier of blocks shall be numbered beginning with the number 200, and continuing with successive numbers thereafter to and inclusive of the number 299, and continuing in like manner the numbering of each successive tier of blocks, giving 100 numbers to each tier of blocks and ending such numbering at the eastern boundary of the city.
And section B4 uses the east side definition recursively to generate the west side definition:
4. All that part of the streets west of Silver Creek shall be numbered in the same manner, but westerly from Silver Creek, beginning with the number 100 and giving 100 numbers to each tier of blocks westerly, and numbering in the same manner as hereinbefore provided for the numbering of houses and buildings easterly from Silver Creek.
...and similar to Section A5, Section B5 defines address behavior on streets which do not cross over Silver Creek (there are actually very few streets that do, but that's for a later part):
5. In case any streets in the city, running easterly and westerly, do not intersect with Silver Creek, the numbering thereof shall, nevertheless, commence and continue in the same manner as if the streets actually intersected Silver Creek; that is to say, if two tiers of blocks intervene between Silver Creek and the nearest portion of the street to Silver Creek, the first number on the street shall be 300; and if one tier of blocks only so intervenes, then the first number shall be 200, and so on, allowing 100 numbers for each intervening tier of blocks, and then proceeding from such commencing point in the manner hereinbefore provided.
Section C provides further clarification on how to treat nonconforming streets that are short or 'irregular', and it's a simple extension of a grid; find the nearest street that seems to be running in near enough the same direction, and address it as though it were a parallel street (this would seem to be a recapitulation of Sections A5 and B5, though it's a more advanced way to do it – if the street is deemed 'irregular', there is no need to decide on how many intervening tiers of blocks obtain, just find the closest 'regular' street that seems to run the same direction and address in accordance with it:
C. All buildings and houses located upon lots abutting on short and irregular streets which are not covered by the foregoing provisions shall be numbered as nearly alike as possible to the nearest adjacent block of regular streets running in relatively the same direction.
The rest of the code is of procedural interest. Section 12.04.030D provides for a way of determining what the physical address position within a block should be by dividing the block length by 25 if within the fire district and 50 if without, the resulting number being the distance between any two numbers; Section 12.04.030E defines address block lengths of new streets by making them the same as neighboring streets that are already defined; 12.04.040 assigns the City Recorder the task of documenting extensions to the address grid; 12.04.050 gives the citizens 30 days to comply with the ordinance; 12.04.100 provides the requirement that all streets within the city should carry a name; 12.04.110 vests the power to approve street names with the City; and lastly, 12.04.120 requires that new street names should fit the existing pattern and not conflict with names already extant.
What The Code Says ... And What It Doesn't Say
The code is notable in that it defines the numbering system in relation to two bases; Silver Creek and Main Street, the two major geographical divisions of Silverton, and how many blocks away from each the given street may be.
What is even more remarkable is that this is a rather elegant example of recursion. The whole system is at first defined by the first block of a notional north-south street running south from and intersecting with Main Street; the south side address progression is built off of that; the north side progression is generated from the south side progression; the east side progression is built using the south side rationale as a template; the east side progression is built from that template; the west side is grown from the east side. Very nice, logical, and elegant. One wonders if a mathematician was involved in its creation.
The system has actually very little to say about street names except that they not be confusing – there is no requirement or rationale that a street be named anything in particular. We must infer, for instance, that First Street north of Main is called North First Street and that First south of Main is called South First Street (and as a matter of fact, this is indeed the case). West Main and East Main are inferred as being respectively the section of Main west of Silver Creek and the section east. There are very few streets which extend over Silver Creek; C Street locally is known as C Street east of the creek but we have seen documentation that calls the part of that street west of Silver Creek that eventually meets up with McClain Street at the Westfield Street intersection West C Street ... but that part of C Street is essentially a traffic throughway, having nothing addressed to it as far as we are aware.
The most notable exception to the rule is that area of northwestern Silverton that contains James Street. Silver Creek does divide James Street nominally and in terms of addresses, but since Silver Creek is now flowing nearly west to east, the two halves of James Street are North James Street and South James Street; James Street does in fact run north and south, so prefixing the halves as east and west would seem rather strange. We do not know for certain what the address pattern in that area is; we assume that it increases as one goes away from Silver Creek in each direction, and C Street is a residential no-mans land, so it does not conflict with the more regular areas from McClain Street south.
Also note that the system does not define hundred numbers to key off the numbered streets. Silverton does not exactly have a surfeit of these; the major numbered streets are First, Second, and Third which, with Water south of C Street form the geographical backbone of the Silverton street pattern; Fourth Street exists as a stub off the end of Drake Street, and Fifth Street exists on the side of East Hill and runs between Oak and Main (both those streets have no directional prefix as they do not have counterparts on the opposite side of Main). However, block numbers are defined as block tiers ranked away from Silver Creek; the space between the Creek and Water Street is the 100 block, between Water and First is the 200 Block, between First and Second is the 300 block, Second and Third the 400 block, and Third Street actually defines the 500 block.
I never knew My Little Town was such a complex place. My plan in this wise is to construct a City Map of Silverton using Adobe Illustrator, and I plan on fully annotating it with block numbers. Stay tuned for this.
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