I enjoyed your columns about I and J streets in Washington. I am surprised there was no discussion of “Eye” Street, a name often written for I Street. I helped a delivery man understand why he could not find “Eye” Street on his D.C. map.
— Roland Brack, Rockville
As Answer Man recounted recently, just as there is no J Street because it looks too much like I Street, some D.C. developers feared I Street would be confused with 1 Street. Just stroll along the downtown stretch of I Street today. Answer Man has even seen old advertisements that employed a rebus-like eyeball to indicate the street.
Not everyone has found this amusing. In 1908, The Post published an article quoting residents who thought the practice was kind of cheesy. Not only were people using “Eye” Street, they were also referring to U Street as “You” Street. Wrote The Post: “The name of the optic and of the second person of the pronoun have almost superseded the use of the proper names of these streets. The custom, if it makes progress as to result in the use of words for the letters on street signs, will subject the Capital to the ridicule of visitors, say the opponents of the fad, for its provincialism.”
One of the District’s commissioners said that while I and U would remain the official spelling — and “Eye” and “You” would not appear on street signs — the city couldn’t compel citizens to follow suit.
Interestingly (or not, Answer Man supposes), there was an entity that approved of the alternate spellings: the Post Office. “[There] is hardly a letter in the alphabet which a careless writer is not able to make appear like some other letter, and he generally succeeds,” W.H. Haycock, superintendent of delivery, told The Post.
The phonetic spellings — including “Em” for M — made it easier to tell what address was actually intended. Said Haycock: “If everyone would take the slight trouble to do this, this department would be saved much time in the delivery of mail.”
I lived for a number of years on Kingman Place NW, a one-block street parallel to and one half-block east of 14th street and connecting P and Q streets. There is also a Kingman Island. Can you provide any information about the name and its relationship to our city?
— Linda Lawson, Washington
This is actually a tale of two Kingmen. According to Washington street name-whisperer Michael Harrison, Kingman Place near Logan Circle was named by, and after, Eliab Kingman. He was a House clerk who owned the land and subdivided it into lots in 1857, Michael said. Kingman died in 1883 and is buried in Congressional Cemetery.
Kingman Island in the Anacostia was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by dredging. It’s appropriately named after Gen. Dan Christie Kingman, a West Point graduate who was head of the Corps from 1913 to 1916. This Kingman oversaw the construction of all sorts of things, from improvements in the Mississippi River to roads and bridges in Yellowstone. Kingman Pass in Yellowstone is also named after him.
Kingman retired in 1916 and died the same year. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
While you’re on the topic of street names, could you find out anything about my street, Quackenbos? As far as I can tell it was named after an educator in New York.
— Frank Stearns, Washington
Northwest D.C.’s Quackenbos Street used to be known as Madison, but in 1905 the name was changed so the city could adhere to the new nomenclature mandating alphabetical streets of increasing syllables the further you moved from the center of town.
Q isn’t the easiest letter to find words for — that’s why it’s worth 10 points in Scrabble. It’s even harder when you need a three-syllable name. So someone hit upon “Quackenbos.” Michael Harrison said it’s possible the street is generically named after New York’s Quackenbos family, which included a Revolutionary War figure named John Quackenbos. More likely is that it’s named after George Payn Quackenbos, a teacher and author (primarily of language primers). George died in 1881.
Though it’s highly unlikely, Answer Man likes to think the street was named after George’s son, John Duncan Quackenbos. This particular Quackenbos was a Columbia University-trained physician who became a leading proponent of hypnotherapy, believing that it could curb criminal tendencies and addictions. He even claimed to have cured pneumonia with it. However, some patients resisted, especially boisterous young women. They seemed to actually enjoy drinking and smoking, he groused.
Said John in a 1916 interview: “The girl of today is a coarse, boisterous, immodestly attired bon vivant, controlled by unworthy impulses and wholly unfit to fulfill her function in the community as a character former, a wife and a mother. The national force that is wasting today, in America, is woman.”
Good thing he didn’t live to see Miley Cyrus.
Quit twerking! Send your D.C. area questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.