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Naming the streets of Cordova, a page out of Greek mythology

July 7, 2018

CORDOVA, Neb. (AP) — The county road turns into Socrates Street when you reach the city limits of Cordova, 46 miles south and west of Lincoln.

Exit the philosopher’s thoroughfare and you’ll bump into a giant windmill on Helen Street, just a few blocks from the intersection of Paris and Achilles and St. John’s Lutheran Church.

This Seward County village of 150 is a tidy town with a brick bank and a gun store, a park with basketball courts nearby and a Hector Street tavern called Huggy’s Place that bills itself as “the best bar in Cordova.”

It also appears to be about the only bar in Cordova, where all the streets are named for the hard-to-pronounce ancients — Andromache and Aeneas and Priam — much to the consternation of directions-seeking delivery drivers and frustrated locals.

“Occasionally, we’ll have someone asking why can’t we change them to something easier,” said lifelong resident Lance Larsen.

But it seems the gods are in this prairie town to stay.

And they ended up here courtesy of the Pioneer Townsite Co. and the railroad.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that you can find the plat maps in alphabetical files on the second floor of History Nebraska, the state archive on Lincoln’s R Street.

The old maps aren’t used much anymore thanks to GPS, but their penciled lines tell the story of the early days of Nebraska’s townships.

“The majority of towns out there were created because of the railroad, said Patrick Haynes, the history agency’s survey coordinator. “Most of the railroads would have a land company associated with them — this side business so they could make a lot of money.”

And the land companies often were charged with naming streets.

The standard stuff, Haynes said.

Numerical streets. First and Second and Third. Streets named for trees. Oak and Ash and Maple. Streets named in honor of presidents. Washington and Jefferson and Garfield.

“Or things that were part of people’s mindset at the time.”

In Ashland, for instance, after Main Street flooded and had to be relocated, it was renamed Silver Street.

“Because of all the people who were making their money in the silver mines in Colorado,” Haynes said.

Some street names had railroad specific ties, such as Touzalin — used in many Nebraska towns and believed to be named after a passenger agent for the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad in the 1870s.

“The railroad had to name so many towns, they had to get quite creative,” said Jim McKee, Nebraska historian.

Every 7 to 10 miles, another town to establish and plat and puzzle over. If there’s no historical record, today’s historians are left to wonder why Madrid named its streets Whittier, Longfellow, Lowell, Aldrich. (Or why the land company named the southwest Nebraska town after the capital of Spain.)

Or how Luzerne Street ended up in Table Rock.

But it’s fun to guess.

“I really love it when they pick a theme and stick with it,” said Jill Dolberg, historic preservation officer at History Nebraska. “Sometimes, they got really creative.”

Cambridge, for example, went with alliteration for its east-west routes: Neosha, Nelson, Nasby, Niobrara, Nevada, Nemaha, Neville.

And then the Furnas County town skipped ahead to the Ps for north-south streets: Parker, Penn, Paxton, Payne, Potter.

“It looks like Brainard tried to be all presidents but outgrew it,” Dolberg said. “Kimball has all men’s names and then Nadine.”

Cairo — named for the Egyptian city but pronounced like the syrup — followed the theme into its thoroughfares: Suez, Alexandria, Medina, Nike. Thebes.

As for Cordova, the town came to be during a period of American interest in the Middle East and archaeology, Haynes said.

“So you get streets and towns harkening back to ancient times.”

In case you need a refresher course on Greek mythology and Homer, Menelaus was the king of Sparta, husband of Helen; Priam the king of Troy.

Aeneas (A-knee-us) was Rome’s first hero and son of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

It’s also a gravel road on the south edge of Cordova.

There’s no written history to explain the naming of the town’s streets by the Pioneer Townsite Co., at least as far as Larsen knows.

But he likes the unusual names.

“They’re hard to spell but it’s kind of fun. The pronunciations are all over the board.”

The third-generation auctioneer works part time at the bank.

He’s married and the kids are grown.

He’s philosophical about his town.

“We look out for each other,” says the man who lives on Socrates. “It’s just the right size.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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