Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Pittsfield streets have stories to tell

Street signs from around Pittsfield honor the city's history, the Revolutionary War and the offspring of some developers.

Since childhood, I have been interested in the names of streets in Pittsfield. The origin of some was obvious when named for prominent families, institutions and locations. The city's forefathers had no problem naming streets when there weren't many.

In the 1900s, as the population of Pittsfield and the size of its government grew, so did regulations for street planning. Developers of "subdivisions" had to submit their plans for new streets for review by the city government and include the proposed street name.

he city's Planning Department would have to give its approval after having other departments do reviews. For example, the Fire Department needs to approve a street name so it won't be confused with existing streets when first responders answer an emergency.

On occasion, the city leaders themselves would propose a name like Dan Fox Drive, for example, to recognize the "Father of Lexan." Names that were submitted by developers rarely got as far as the City Council for a final decision. One exception occurred in 1952, during the Cold War, when the council debated and eventually approved a contractor the right to rename Kremlin Street to Lillian Street.

He felt no one would buy a house on a street with seemingly Russian overtones. (Kremlin Street was actually named for a famous racehorse from the old Allen Farm.)

The Council did discuss, but did not change, Oswald Avenue after Lee Harvey Oswald was implicated in the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963. In 2011, a proposal was made to rename Columbus Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The council rejected this.

Pittsfield apparently was far too small to number its streets off East Street beyond Fourth Street. However, I recall that Sixth, Seventh and Eighth streets were located off Lakeway Drive, but I never found a Fifth Street!

The directions around Park Square were obvious for naming East, West, North and South streets. Less obvious is why Park Square is oval-shaped but called a square. In contrast, Circular Avenue is, in fact, somewhat circular. I also came to realize that Pittsfield is one of a few cities of its size without a Main Street.

Since I was a teen, I never saw a bank on Bank Row, nor were there active mills on Mill Street, churches on Church Street, depots on Depot Street or schools on School Street.

Pittsfield has its fair share of tree names: Oak, Elm, Elmview, Elmvale, Maple, Maplewood, Birch Gove, Pine, Pine Grove, Pinehurst, Walnut, Chestnut, Ash, Cherry, Tamarack, Willow and Dogwood.

Some bird names can be found as Jay, Wren, Swan, Lark and Eagle.

Many streets are named for early Pittsfield leaders and businesspeople, e.g., Crane, Wendell, Pomeroy, McKay, Allen, Williams, Plunkett, Burbank, Francis, Colt, Deming, Clapp and Appleton.

Famous writers such as Melville, Hawthorne, Longfellow and Holmes appear in street names, though the latter may have been named for Holmes' jurist father.

Streets known as the parkways, including Revere, Concord and Lexington, recognize the Revolutionary War. Then there are the streets named for states, e.g., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, California and New Jersey.

Local Native American names can be found throughout the city, such as Pontoosuc, Onota, Mohawk, Honasada, Mohegan, Osceola, Wahconah and Housatonic.

The shortest street in Pittsfield bears the nation's most common name, Smith.

In the 1950s post-World War II, Pittsfield experienced a housing boom to keep up with its population group and the baby boom phenomena. Hence, many interesting subdivisions and street names surfaced.

In 1956, the former Yankee Orchards off East Street gave rise to streets named for apple varieties: Wealthy, Imperial, Baldwin, Dutchess, Winesap and McIntosh. (The McIntosh variety was originally introduced to the state by the former orchard.)

In the early 1960s, the former Pittsfield Polo Club on Holmes Road became a subdivision with streets named for horses: Shetland, Palomino, Clydesdale and Pinto.

Many postwar developers named streets for family members, or even names beginning with the same initial. Grace, Ann, Ermino and Alfred were children of contractor Ermino Barbalunga, and Philomena was his wife. Dan Gall offered streets named Dan, Deborah, Donna, Darleen and Denise.

Over the years, streets have changed names, been replaced or been totally eliminated. Some readers will remember streets named Tower, Amity, Community, Deering and Beaver.

I always thought the origin of Pittsfield street names would be a great grade school research project, but book reports took precedence.

Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark, business or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at jesjmskali@aol.com.