In 1903, hardware merchant Horace Nicholson posted some of the city’s first street signs near this corner store in Medford.

Streets didn't always have signs

Walking the streets of Medford in the early 1900s could make a visitor feel like a rat in a maze. The streets had names, but no names were posted on any street-corner signs.

Making things worse, no house or business had an address. If you got mail, it was waiting for you in the post office.

In 1903, Medford hardware merchant Horace "Nick" Nicholson, tired of waiting for the city to act, put up signs marking the cross streets near his corner business.

"I am not trying to put on city airs," Nick said, "but I have so many inquiries as to the name and numbers of streets that I thought I would fix it so people wouldn't have to ask about these two streets at this particular corner.

"Seriously, though," he said, "the marking of the names of the streets at each corner is something that should be done. If you tell a stranger you live so far beyond the big yellow house with green trimmings, on the street that runs by the water tank, you are liable to confuse him."

Nick ran his hardware store from the building we now know as Lawrence's Jewelers, on the corner of Bartlett and Main streets, but that's not what Nick's street signs said.

When Medford was created on a plat map in 1883, east-west streets were numbered and north-south streets took on letters. Bartlett was B Street and Main was Seventh Street.

In 1907, even the City Council had finally agreed that the town was no longer a village and, hoping for free door-to-door mail delivery, directed the city engineer to begin numbering lots throughout the city. Property owners were required to place that number on their buildings or "be asked by the sheriff to go before a judge."

With enforcement delayed for more than a year, George Putnam, editor of the Medford Daily Tribune, pushed for action.

"It has been 500 days," Putnam said, "since the City Council ordered the city attorney to draw up an ordinance providing for the numbering of the houses of the city and providing for placing street signs upon street intersections. Nothing has been done yet. Why?"

Suddenly came action.

The council asked women from the Greater Medford Club to come up with names for the town's lettered streets. They decided that each street would be named for a fruit tree, and if they couldn't think of a fruity name, the street was named for any type of tree.

By spring 1909, most street signs were up and the houses numbered.

Mail carriers started walking routes; and now that clueless visitor who stepped off a train no longer had to look for a street with no name.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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