A little slice of history: Roads

{child_byline}By Rick Just

History contributor{/child_byline}

Over the years I’ve written a few hundred radio scripts, blog posts, and columns about Idaho history. One thing that never fails to interest people is how places got their names. Having said that, you’ll be bored to tears by this column. I’ll plunge into the rules and lore of area street and road names. Yes, we’ll get to Chicken Dinner Road.

First, you should know that you can’t name a street just any old thing. You could, once, but we’re much more civilized now. In Ada and Canyon counties if you want to call a street an “avenue,” it must run north-south, generally in a straight line.

Streets to be called, um, “streets,” must run east-west. A “court” is an east-west cul-de-sac. I live on a court, so there’s one hint if you’re an identity thief. A north-south cul-de-sac is a “place.” A “drive” is a meandering street running generally east-west. If the strip of asphalt in front of your house meanders north-south, it’s a “way.” If that thoroughfare runs through both urban and rural areas, we call those “roads” in the wild West. A “lane” is a private street.

Ada and Canyon counties part ways (not the north-south meandering street kind) a bit when it comes to “boulevards.” Canyon County says they have to be at least 80 feet wide with a raised, usually landscaped median. Ada County requires a boulevard to be a major roadway that may meander in any direction, but don’t even think about calling something a boulevard unless you call the director of Ada County Highway District and get their sign-off.

Oh, and you can’t have a street name that includes a compass point, i.e., north, south, east, or west, because all streets have to include a directional clue such as N., S., E., or W. in the first place. So, no W. Westworld for you, Mr. Developer.

My favorite street name stories include Boise’s Protest Avenue. One would think it would be named after some anti-war demonstration or human rights march.

Nope. It’s called Protest Avenue because there was a kerfuffle about exactly where the street would be placed. It involved distance from fire stations and other such momentous points of contention.

Lake Hazel Road, properly named, runs through both rural and urban areas in Ada and Canyon counties. It never at any point runs near Lake Hazel, mostly because that lake doesn’t exist. It was the name they were going to give a lake that would be created by a planned irrigation project back in the early 1900s. That project didn’t get off the ground, but the name hung around like a mirage.

And, finally, there’s Chicken Dinner Road. There is much controversy about the niggling details of this story among people who “know.” I don’t know anything, except what I read. Back in 1992, David Wilkins of the then Idaho Press Tribune wrote what seemed to be a well-researched article about it.

Morris and Laura Lamb were friends of Governor C. Ben Ross and his wife Edna.

They had eaten dinner together many times at the Lamb home.

One day, in the 1930s, Mrs. Lamb, who was noted for her chicken, rolls, and apple pie meals, was in Boise. She invited the governor to come to dinner. During the same conversation, she complained to Ross about the pitiful condition of the road in front of their place, which was dirt pocked with potholes. Ross was purported to say something like, “Laura, if you get that road graded and graveled, I’ll see to it it’s oiled.”

Mrs. Lamb approached the Canyon County Commissioners who saw that opportunity as a fine one. They graded and graveled the road. As soon as that was done, she was on the phone to the governor reminding him of his promise. The next day — this part seems unlikely, but it’s Mrs. Lamb’s story — the next day the road was oiled.

The story got around and local hooligans thought it would be droll to put up a big hand-scrawled sign in front of the Lamb house in the dark of night. It read: “Lamb’s Chicken Dinner Avenue.” Mrs. Lamb was not amused. Possibly because she knew the rules. It was clearly a road then, as it is today. Chicken Dinner Road.

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Rick Just has been writing about Idaho history since 1989 when he wrote and recorded scripts for the Idaho Centennial Commission’s daily radio program, “Idaho Snapshots.” He has a blog, “Speaking of Idaho,” and his latest book on Idaho history is “Images of America, Idaho State Parks.”

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