Growth of New Madrid: Street & Place Names

Part Two
The first number of this article traced the development of the City of New Madrid from the original Spanish settlement through the end of the Civil War focusing primarily on the names of streets and their extension back from the encroachment of the Mississippi River. In the 1860s the last sections of the originally platted settlement fell into the river.

In the town's first 70 years the Mississippi had moved north about one-half mile, or 600 yards. Residents had grown accustomed to the rate that the river was moving, about eight to 10 yards per year. For example, in 1852 New Madrid resident James H. Howard wrote that he was moving his home back 500 yards. At the time he wrote the back yard of his home place was falling into the river. Howard estimated, erroneously, that he would not have to move his home again during his lifetime. By the time Howard died in 1903 the river had moved nearly twice that distance. In 1864 he purchased a home along the south side of Waters Street, which at that time would have been about 800 yards north of the river bank. At his death the river was again in the back yard of that home.

Prior to 1867, when John E. Powell platted his Second Addition, there were only a few homes located north of Waters Street, now the entire town, except for the Museum and a few homes, is located above that point.

The movement of buildings by the town's residents back from the caving river banks is often difficult to trace. A resident might own a lot for several years back from the river before actually moving their home or business. Deed records do not recite information about the structures located on the real property they describe. Buildings were constructed of wood to facilitate their being moved. This construction practice proved disastrous when the town's business district burned to the ground in 1897.

Another factor influencing the pushing of the towns boundaries north was its population. From its founding the town appears to have grown in numbers very slowly. This pattern would dramatically change around the end of the 19th century and the town would experience a boom in the number of additions platted.

In 1873, Napoleon "Nap" B. Byrne platted Byrnes Addition. This addition is bounded east by Church Street, west by Kingshighway, south by Mill Street and North by Riley Street (the railroad). Significantly New Madrid County immediately purchased several lots from Byrne on the southwest corner of Riley and Powell and moved the Courthouse to this location from its original location just north of Limit Street, indicating that the river was about to swallow up the wooden structure. After the Courthouse burned in 1905, a two story brick jail was built on the new site. The jail is gone and Candlewood apartments now stands on the location.

In 1859, Byrne moved his family from New Madrid to the area of present day Oakland, Calif., overland via the California Trail. In 1865 his bachelor brother, Luke Byrne, died leaving a sizable estate which was divided among his three surviving siblings. "Nap" Byrne received the section of the divided land just north of New Madrid and in 1873 platted a portion of it for the expansion of the town. He also donated several lots to the Catholic Church where it now stands.

Scott Street
The streets in his new addition were named by him as follows: 
Scott Street was named for John T. Scott who was then serving as the county's prosecuting attorney. He had served as the Circuit Court Clerk from 1853 to 1862 and was elected to the State Legislature in 1866. However he never served in the legislature. When he went to the state capital to be sworn in, the Secretary of State refused to administer him the oath of office because of his southern sympathies and the belief that former Confederate soldiers voted in his election.

Riley Street
Riley Street was named for New Madrid attorney Henry Clay Riley, Sr. He had just graduated from law school at St. Louis University and returned to New Madrid to practice law. He was related to Byrne by marriage. He later served as Circuit Judge for 18 years. He may have bartered his legal services to Byrne in exchange for several lots on which he built his home in about 1875. The home burned in 1951, on the location that is now the home of Mrs. Nancy Riley.

Davis Street
Davis Street was named for New Madrid attorney Samuel T. Davis. Davis was then serving as the County's Public Administrator.

Howard Street
Howard Street was named for James H. Howard, the same person who guessed wrong about the river. Howard was a brother-in-law of Byrne. Howard's wife had received one-third of the Luke Byrne estate. Howard was then serving as New Madrid County Treasurer and later was Presiding Judge of the County Court.

Although present day Kingshighway was the west boundary of the addition, Bryne named it for New Madrid attorney and then U.S. Congressman, Robert A. Hatcher. The history of the name of that lane was covered in part one of this article.

Waters Avenue 
The addition also named the extension of Church Street as Waters Avenue but this new name was never used, probably because there was already a Waters Street just south of the addition.

The additions that were added to the city later were not due entirely to the movement of the river. As previously stated the river bank was finally stabilized in the late 1880s and early 1890s along the present day bank line just south of "Waters Street." These new additions represented the need to serve the growing population of New Madrid.

From 1896 to 1906, there were five additions, several with new street names, added to the town. There were: Powell's third in 1896, Latham's in 1897, Diggs and Granflo's in 1901, Powell's fourth in 1903 and the Hunter-Phillips-Tanner-McCoy in 1906.

Hunter and Russell Streets
Two new street names appeared in the Diggs and Granflo Addition. Hunter Street was named in honor of Missouri State Senator William Hunter of Scott County, and Russell Street in honor of Missouri Congressman Joseph J. Russell of Mississippi County. What benefits these honors did the Democrat platters is lost to history.

Phillips Street
Powell's Fourth contained Vandenbenden Street now misnamed Vandenventer Street and the Hunter-Phillips-Tanner-McCoy addition attempted to rename Mott Street west of Kingshighway as Phillips Street. This never caught on.

Capitol Boulevard
Their new addition did bring the city the name of Capitol Boulevard. The origin of this name is not known for sure, but here is a plausible explanation. The Courthouse burned in 1905, and thereafter arose a heated debate in the county of where to build the new one, each town had its reason and a local landowner or developer willing to donate land for the site. One such location, rejected by the voters in a hot county-wide election, is the Courthouse Square Park in Lilbourn.

Likewise, the developers of the Hunter-Phillips-Tanner-McCoy addition might have had the idea of donating a location along their new "Capitol Boulevard" to increase the value of their land. The only remnant of this scheme is the street name.

Mitchell Street
At what point Mitchell Street came into existence as a name is not yet resolved by my research. It appears to have been named for Charles L. Mitchell. Born in Mississippi in 1858, his mother, Carrie LaVallee Mitchell, moved her family back to New Madrid after her husband died in 1860. He served as a deputy clerk for his step-father, F. W. Maulsby, the New Madrid County Clerk before being elected to that position in 1882 and serving three successive terms. He died unexpectedly from pneumonia in 1898.

Pinnell Lane
Finally, Pinnell Lane led from Kingshighway east to the stately resident of William W. Pinnell. The Pinnells had come from Virginia with the Hatchers in the 1840s. William W. Pinnell became very successful in developing railroads and banks in Southeast Missouri during the post Civil War era. He died unexpectedly at the turn of the century. The lane appears as a fence line on a Civil War period map and was probably in use before Pinnell built his home northwest of the corner of present day Pinnell and Maple Streets.

A  place name familiar to residents of New Madrid with a very interesting origin is Newtown or Nutown. As it turns out, this is the oldest traceable street or area name in the city still in use.

When the New Madrid County Court platted its addition north of Limit Street in 1823 the practice of designating lots as being in either the Old Town or the New Town began to appear in deed descriptions.

A "ot in the new town distinguished the area along St. Thomas Bayou from the old Spanish settlement. St. Thomas Bayou was located along the east side of the city and the present levee on that side of town runs parallel to the old bayou.

Through the years the east side of New Madrid has retained the designation of New Town which eventually shortened to Newtown or Nutown. Generally it now refers to the area of New Madrid east of Main Street and south of Route U or Dawson Road, but excluding the area west of Line Street. This section of New Madrid is predominately Black in population but the use of the name Newtown cuts across cultural and race lines. I hear and read the term almost daily in my duties as prosecuting attorney.

Question: "Where do you live?"
Witness: "I live over in Newtown."
Police report: "Complainant lives in Nutown..."

The origin of this place name, one of the few that has survived through the centuries, is clear. Current usage of the phrase retains some of its original meaning, but not entirely.

The universal usage of the phrase Newtown by the town residents has preserved a term that dates back to the very origins of the city and provides a link with the days when the Mississippi River seemed determined to erase the town from the maps.

In one final ironical twist, today New Town is really the oldest part of this very old City and can be defined in historical terms like no other part or section of New Madrid.

Article written by H. Riley Bock and taken from The Weekly Record newspaper, New Madrid, MO, Friday, November 1998.