Though southern Brooklyn’s streets are dominated by numbered and lettered streets, over the past two centuries, things have shaken out to be rather interesting, nomenclature-wise. As always, the exceptions prove more interesting than the rule.
Take the example of Quentin Road, which runs in a couple of pieces in Midwood and Marine Park between Stillwell and Flatbush Avenues.
The Town of Flatbush street naming system as devised in 1874 by the Town Survey Commissioners of Kings County was fairly straightforward: east-west lettered avenues, and north-south numbered streets named East or West depending on their position east or west of Gravesend (now McDonald) Avenue. But from the beginning, developers mucked it up and blurred the lines. The developers of areas like Prospect Park South wanted elegant, British-sounding names and so Avenue A became Albemarle, B became Beverl(e)y and so forth. Avenue E became Foster Avenue, in honor of an early area resident. South of Avenue H, things settled down, and the lettered avenues proceed without incident all the way to Z. With one exception.
The story goes that Avenue Q was renamed Quentin Road after President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Quentin, was shot down in France in a World War I incident in 1918. However, that story has been shown as being, shall we say, apocryphal. The real story is that it was changed because on handwritten envelopes, Avenue Q was getting mixed up with Avenue O — and one of them had to be changed!
As it turns out, in 1910 John B. Brown, secretary of the Flatbush Board of Trade, proposed that Avenues H through Z should also be given names instead of plain letter assignments. These names (I’ll get to the specifics a bit later) included Quentin for Q and Roosevelt for R, Teddy Roosevelt having left the White House on Inauguration Day 1909. It’s puzzling that his son Quentin was tabbed for Q, as Quentin was just 13 at the time. Further north, a small street in Kensington was renamed Kermit Place at about the same time; Kermit was another son of Teddy, and I wonder if all this is connected in some way.
The 1910 proposal went over with City Hall like a lead zeppelin, and Avenue Q remained lettered until 1922 when Brooklyn resident Francis P. O’Connor petitioned a local alderman (today’s city councilperson) to rename Avenue Q because on written correspondence, the Post Office was delivering mail late because Avenue Q resembled Avenue O. The alderman referred the matter to the then-Committee on Public Thoroughfares, who agreed with O’Connor and resolved that Avenue Q become “Quentine Avenue” complete with typo. it took a few more resolutions, but by later in 1922, the committee settled on “Quentin Road.”
Was the committee influenced by Quentin Roosevelt’s recent death in 1918? It’s quite possible. This 1922 Hagstrom still shows it as Avenue Q, probably the last edition with it. Part of Avenue R was renamed Highlawn Avenue pretty early on; here’s why.
As mentioned, early on, real estate developers in places like Prospect Park South, Ditmas Park and Fiske Terrace had succeeded in getting Avenues A through G renamed to sound British, with some exceptions; Avenue E was named, apparently, for a local landholder and became Foster, while Avenue F became Farragut in honor of David Farragut, the great Civil War admiral. However, this was a patchwork affair. Parts of Avenues A and B survive in far-eastern Remsen Village just north of Canarsie. There’s a piece of Avenue C, miles away in Kensington, where you’ll also find the remaining piece of Avenue F. Avenue D rumbles across East Flatbush into northern Canarsie. All these exceptions make interesting research for map and history buffs.
What would Avenues H through Z be called? A Brooklyn Eagle article about the Flatbush Board of Trade’s proposal has the answers. They would have been Hiawatha, Ivanhoe, Jarvis, Kenwood, Lancaster or Leicester (pronounced “Lester’), McKinley (probably for the recently assassinated president), Nottingham (a small piece of East Flatbush retains that name), Oglethorpe (for the founder of the state of Georgia?), Peary (for the Arctic explorer), Quentin, Roosevelt, Stanwood or Springfield, Tippecanoe (a name associated with President William Henry Harrison), Underwood,Victoria, Wilhelmina, Xerxes (the ancient Persian emperor), Yarmouth and Zundel (John Zundel was the longtime organist at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights).
Since no one can spell these days, it’s just as well the city stuck with plain H through Z.
Thanks Edward Fitzgerald for the Eagle piece.