Let’s take a trip down Obscure Lane.
Denverite reader AP asked us about Severn Place, an east-west street that rears its head every once in awhile between Seventh and Eighth avenues, especially in Montclair and Hale.
At first AP thought “Severn” might be a typo because it always shows up parallel to Seventh. While we don’t know everything about this street’s history, we know it’s not a typo, but it is meant to sound like “Seven” for a reason.
“Basically what you have with half-streets like this is, ideally, they should have the name comparable to the number of the avenue nearby,” said Phil Goodstein, author of “Denver Streets: Names, Numbers, Locations, Logic.”
Severn Place is a “place” because that’s a name used for streets that don’t fully pierce through the grid. They run parallel to better connected streets, and at some point, they run out of runway when they hit perpendicular roads like Federal Boulevard in the west and Quebec Street in the east.
Goodstein says Howard C. Maloney, who overhauled how Denver city’s streets are named and organized, probably named the street Severn to abide by the new system, which took hold between 1897 and 1906. The name could be a nod to the longest river in Great Britain, the River Severn, or Maryland’s Severn River, which was a major transportation route.
Tom Noel, a historian with the University of Colorado Denver, said the name might involve Baron Walter von Richthofen. Richthofen — uncle to the German World War I pilot known as the Red Baron — co-founded the town of Montclair, which is now a Denver neighborhood.
“He named many of the streets and stretches of two of the avenues for resorts which he hoped Montclair would become,” Noel told Denverite. The historian did not link the street to a specific resort.
OK, the Prussian-American baron’s naming scheme makes sense when you think about Newport Street and Monaco Parkway. But Severn? There is a 150-year-old resort in Ontario, Canada’s Port Severn that seems to fit the bill.
So which one is it? Maloney’s logical name that fits with the street grid’s convention, or Richthofen’s name that nods at a grand resort?
It could be one or the other or both. We can only speculate.
No map of Montclair exists from Richthofen’s lifetime, at least as far as Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection is concerned. Severn Place does not appear on a map of Montclair until 1905, seven years after Richthofen died. A 1903 map does not include Severn, but that’s not totally damning, because it omits other minor streets as well.
One thing does seem to give the Maloney theory an edge, though. If Severn Place existed before 1905, no one lived on it, according to the 1900 census from the town of Montclair.