Have you ever found yourself sitting at a red light and thought, "That's an interesting street name - I wonder where it came from?" In a busy world where we jaunt from place to place, making turns without a thought, this post is meant to give us pause - to consider the history behind the streets we drive on every single day. The fact that I'm a born storyteller, my love for history, or my off-the-charts curiosity, propels the never-ending questions. Thankfully, the powers that be appeased my curiosity and allowed me to explore the stories behind some of these streets. This is not an exhaustive list, but a few well-traveled roads and maybe some not-so-well-known in Huntsville.

Cecil Ashburn Drive

Let's start with the one I fell in love with when we first moved here: local folks say, "Over the mountain," referencing Cecil Ashburn, which takes you over a mountain. Within minutes of your ascent of Blevins Gap from South Huntsville, you'll observe a wall of rock on your left, and the view will be breathtaking - as it's dangerously beautiful. If you're mesmerized by mountaintop views, there is a lookout park where you can safely pull in and spend a moment watching the sunset or the moonlit valley below. It's one of my family's favorite spots.

So, what's the story behind the name of Cecil Ashburn Road?

Mr. Cecil Ashburn cut his teeth in the road business; his father was one of Huntsville's early road commissioners. He served in World War I with the Army Corp of Engineers; after the war, he followed his father's footsteps, landing in the road construction business. He and his uncle formed a partnership called Ashburn & Gray in 1946: between 1950 and 1970, the firm oversaw the construction of many well-traveled roads today; Memorial Parkway, a portion of 1-565, most of University Drive, and Governors Drive, which covers rocky terrain over Monte Sano. The road we call Cecil Ashburn Drive was initially conceptualized as an extension of Four Mile Post Road; upon completion, the road extended over the mountain, and the city of Huntsville named it in honor of Cecil Ashburn for his contributions to the City of Huntsville.

Owens Crossroads

When you follow Cecil Ashburn over the mountain into the valley below, you come to Owens Crossroads.

So, what's the story behind that name?

The name suggests an important intersection. Pioneers have been active there since the early 1800s, and the intersecting roads housed a few local businesses, a post office, a general store, and a blacksmith shop. Thomas J. Owens relocated from Virginia and was the first to settle at the intersection, building the Owens family home at the crossroads. The small settlement saw slow but steady growth until after the Civil War, when a growing economy led to more travel. Owens Crossroads became part of a favored scene route between Huntsville and Guntersville. Incorporated as a city in 1967, Owens Crossroads is an established North Alabama corridor featuring many award-winning businesses.

Buttermilk Alley

Would you have guessed this endearing story might have something to do with Buttermilk?

So, what's the deal with Buttermilk Alley?

Mrs. Annie Mae Humphrey Drake often recited a narrative about her mother, Mrs. William Benford Humphrey. Mrs. Humphrey would pass out Buttermilk and bread to people experiencing homelessness during the Great Depression. Stretching from Front Street to Arnett Street, the narrow one-block lane is directly across the railroad tracks where the original station once stood. In 1986, the City of Madison placed an official street sign, naming the street Buttermilk Ally to honor Mrs. Humphrey.

Former City Clerk-Treasurer Betty Lou Taylor Benson says that throughout the 1950s, Buttermilk Ally was a sweet spot for courting teenagers to walk while hand-holding. Area local Mrs. Katie would sit on her porch and keep an eye on the children. Everyone knew their kids were okay walking down Buttermilk Alley with their sweetie because of Mrs. Katie's watchful eye. It remains a tranquil stroll at twilight to this day.

Church Street

City Planning historically set aside property for churches in early settlements.

So, what's the story behind the name Church Street?

As was common, one of the earliest streets in Huntsville had significant property set aside for churches. Some of Huntsville's largest churches had already been established elsewhere, but Cumberland Presbyterian was established in 1874 and sits across the street from St. Johns African Methodist Episcopal Church, constructed in 1900. Lastly, the corner building once housed First Baptist but is now the Church Street Church. Early accounts from local businesses state Church Street served as the epicenter of the black community throughout the 1960s and an important focal point of the civil rights era; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there several times during organized protests and sit-ins.

Carl T. Jones Drive

If you live in Jones Valley, you know Carl T. Jones Drive. You've passed the iconic farm across from Target in the Jones Valley Shopping Center. Carl T. Jones Drive connects Airport Road with Bailey Cove Road and crosses over Jones Valley.

So, who was Carl T. Jones?

George Washington Jones, a major in the Confederate army, had a son shortly after the war; they named him George Walter Jones. Going by "G.W.," he founded a civil engineering firm in 1889. Two of his five sons purchased the 2500-acre Garth Farm, now known as Jones Valley. The farm was known for its cattle and seed production. Carl, one of the farm's owners, was a partner in GW Jones and Sons and a leader in the community, responsible for bringing both industry and betterment to Huntsville. During his time at G.W. Jones and Sons, Carl T. Jones was commended for his intricate and complex design of the Airport field, named in his honor, Carl T. Jones Field.

Bailey Cove

As a homeowner with a Bailey Cove address, I've wondered about this.

What's the story behind Bailey Cove Road?

Joseph Franklin Bailey was born in Mississippi in 1816 and married in 1841. Madison County records show he and his family living here by 1850. Their union produced eight sons, one of whom, born in 1845, was Lewis Winston Bailey. Lewis married in 1868, and in 1879, the couple purchased 287 acres to the east of the original Four Mile Post Road

All images by: Cyle Augusta Lewis