What's in a Name: 5th Street vs. 5th Avenue

Reported by Colin Hackman - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - When you walk down any of the east to west streets in downtown Wilmington, you may find one of the more subtle mysteries of the city - a street that isn't a street at all.

Every numbered street on the Wilmington map from 2nd to 54th is a street, so why is 5th the only avenue?

According to historical librarian Beverly Tetterton, city councilman David Chadwick lived on the first block of 5th Street at the time the name changed.

It's not obvious why the city council did it, but in 1915 Chadwick voted for a motion to change the name of the road from street to avenue.

The measure passed 3-0, as two council members abstained, one of which went on record saying he could see no need for the change.

What once was a controversy has now turned to confusion over the past 100 years.

"Everyone on the street has been complaining about it more lately," said Tetterton.

"If you go on Google Maps or Map Quest, even the Postal Service does not recognize 5th Avenue, only 5th Street," said 5th Avenue United Methodist Pastor Shawn Blackwelder.

Blackwelder said GPS confusions have caused people to miss weddings and services at the church.  He said it's important for Methodists to keep drawing in new people.

Those new people can still see the past, as the 19th Century cornerstone still reads 5th Street.

While the bad luck of not making church on time is only one concern, longtime residents Beverly and Glenn Tetterton say the confusion is not just about saving souls, but is also about saving lives.

"I called 911 because there was a wreck out front, I told dispatch there was a wreck at 5th Avenue and Nunn," said Beverly Tetterton.  "She told us there was no 5th Avenue, and I told her I'm standing here looking at the sign. She argued, so we asked her to send help to 5th Street."

"So we decided it's 5th Avenue and people said, 'You're just being snooty,'" said Glenn Tetterton.  "We don't really care whether it's 5th Street or 5th Avenue, we just want it to be consistent. "

On most maps the area is listed as 5th Street, but on all street signs in downtown Wilmington it's 5th Avenue.

The city has issued a letter advising everyone to call it 5th Avenue in efforts to make the name more consistent.

The letter also informs people they are trying to change the name with entities like the US postal service and GPS mapping companies.

If you'd like to learn more about why a certain place is called what it is, email Colin at whatsinaname@wect.com.