THE MAYOR’S REPORT: The evolution of addresses

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

So, do you remember when outside of town addresses had rural routes? When you shared your phone exchange with a neighbor known as a “party line?” More on those in just a minute. Meanwhile, Tina has hot water on the stove for tea and it’s c-c-cold outside, so get a refreshment and join me as we discuss how addresses came about.

First of all, my congratulations for the wonderful Friday and Saturday evening performances by the GAHS Drama Club’s “The Magical Lamp of Aladdin!” We really enjoyed Saturday night’s program with the grandchildren. Also, congratulations to the Indoor Guards and Percussions (high school and middle school) for five first-place finishes at the KIDA Championships at Chambersburg High School April 2 and 3. 

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

OK … growing up in the late ‘50s and ‘60s (20th century) we had a rural route address on Hykes Road then our home near Upton had a Route 2, Box 227, Mercersburg, PA address. U.S. Postal Service RFD (Rural Free Delivery) began around the turn of the 20th century (1890s to 1902). Back then rural America was 65% of the population. Farmers would not go to town for their mail for weeks at a time until getting supplies from the towns and villages where agriculture commerce was located … along with the post offices in every village. As a young lad, my daily trips with Dad would include visiting the State Line Post Office and retrieving the mail out of Box 172, then proceeding next door to Earl’s Market for some good stuff like that wheel cheese that’s still there.

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Towns, such as Greencastle, had physical addresses, however, the towns were much smaller and walkable. For instance, in 1868 Greencastle’s boundaries stopped at the following locations: North at Mifflin and Chambers Lanes; West at Finley Street (now Antrim Way); South to just beyond Dahlgren Street before Railroad Street; East to Allison Street. A large post office would ultimately be located in the “Brendle Building” in the first block of East Baltimore Street.

Building numbers were first introduced in the late 1700s to have a building inventory for tax collection. Otherwise, buildings were named or given an insignia. Just as a surveyor must have a control (starting) point so must towns and regional (county) systems for assigning building numbers (street addresses). Greencastle’s control point is where? You guessed it, Center Square, then Baltimore Street and Carlisle Street in both directions. Street names were selected considering several factors. Where does the street take you to? Baltimore, Washington, or Carlisle. It may have the name of a citizen or historic person. Dahlgren Street is an example. Something geographic or environmental such as Ridge Avenue or Ridge Road or the types of trees such as Elm Lane, Spruce Lane or Maple Avenue. The recent naming of alleys included names of citizens and families (past and present). Cities may use a directional grid system with numbers such as East First Street or West Fifth Avenue. 

Rural address history is a little more recent as the rural routes were replaced with actual road names and house numbers thanks to long-time Record Herald reporter Vaden Richards when he retired from the newspaper. Franklin County decided to undertake the awesome task of giving everyone a physical address to assist emergency services responses. When I first joined Rescue Hose Company we used a lot of rural landmarks to identify the exact location of the emergency. You knew farmers’ names so you went to their barn and turned left or right, then the fourth house on the left. This was a requirement with the transition from dialing a local emergency telephone number to the 911 system. I typically write from memory and research. Vaden began this chore, I believe around 1980 (plus or minus).

These signs at the intersection of Washington Street and Leitersburg streets in Greencastle are an example of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s State Route or ‘SR’ numbering system.

OK … how do you begin providing building numbers on a countywide scale? Remember, you must start with control points that are centralized. Where? Center Square in Chambersburg. Route 11 was given the name Molly Pitcher Highway while Route 30 was given the name Lincoln Way. From Chambersburg’s Center Square the number would proceed low to high in all four directions. Thus, you have Molly Pitcher Highway (north and south) and Lincoln Way (east and west). There would be so many numbers assigned per linear footage or linear mileage distance. A big challenge is all of the duplicate road and street names throughout Franklin County. In an emergency it’s important to know your physical address and the municipality you live in. Another challenge is all of the new housing developments that have been constructed since 1980. Many new addresses are assigned by Franklin County’s Planning Office that uses the appropriate “Franklin County control points.” They also make sure proposed street names are not duplicated somewhere in the county.

The Pa. Dept. of Transportation used to inventory their roads using a “legislative route” system known as “LR.” In Franklin County they always started with “28” as this is our designation in Harrisburg for so many things. A road like Leitersburg Pike would have been designated “28001.” The LR system was replaced years ago by a “State Route” four-digit system known as “SR.” Small white signs appear along PennDOT highways as “SR 2001” with segment numbers. Segment numbers are designated every one-half mile, then you must measure distances in between known as “offsets.” (see photo showing Washington Street and Leitersburg Street intersection). Segment numbers increase from south to north and from west to east just like the interstate system for mile posts. Their control points are the state lines from south to north and from west to east. I hope this article doesn’t have you as confused as I am. 

Oh well … time to get back to the Masters Golf Tournament. I wish you and your family a Happy Easter. Here in G-A, we are certainly blessed.