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How some streets got their names

This week’s Echo is not a well-researched exploration of a topic but rather an idea that hit upon me while doing such research. I will apologize in advance because two of the topics touched in this article are not particularly pleasant. The discussion of a somewhat light topic will include brushes with racism and prostitution. Writing history includes writing about the past “warts and all” and while those two topics aren’t central to this discussion they will be mentioned. Nothing I write is intended to be offensive, and I hope this article offends no one.

A few years ago I asked for some input on stories about how the “Dirty Six” section of Minden got its name. For those not familiar with that term, it refers to the area of Minden just west of the railroad tracks. Growing up in a family descended from L & A Railroad workers, I always heard the term, but no one ever explained the “why.” It was clear, however, that the term was usually used in a negative way and as euphemism for something negative. When I finally heard an explanation it was suggested that the term referred to six families that lived in that area, most associated with the railroad. That these families were the “dirty six.” As the years went by, I began to see some problems with that idea. The majority of the railroad families moved to Minden in 1923, when the L & A Railroad shops came to Minden. However, I began to find local references to the term “Dirty Six” many years before 1923. Eventually I found the earliest reference I could locate in a newspaper article from 1903 that stated a new butcher had opened a meat market in “Dirty Six.” That seemed to make the story about the railroad families not as plausible. Further confusing the matter was the fact that the phrase “dirty six” became used locally to apply to other groups of people, so the name had different meanings to different generations.

In the aftermath of my column I was given another explanation from a member of a railroad family that makes sense and agrees with pieces of other stories I’ve heard over the years. So, while I can’t say it is absolutely true, for me it makes an excellent explanation of how the name “Dirty Six” entered local parlance. According to this story the event that indirectly led to the name was not the arrival of the L & A shops, but rather the arrival of the Minden Lumber Mill of the Bodcau Lumber Company in 1901. The Bodcau Company was owned by the Buchanan family that also owned the L & A, and Minden became a stop on the L & A tracks at that time. Along the west side of the railroad tracks some existing homes were converted to hotels or boarding houses along with a few newly constructed buildings. Most of the construction workers and the early mill workers were single men. The presence of large numbers of single men has always generated a demand for prostitutes. So, the demand results in the emergence of a supply. Eventually six “well-known” prostitutes set up shop in some of the hotels along the tracks. Locally they became known as the “Dirty Six” and the name was eventually attached to the whole area west of the tracks. Since I’ve broached the topic of local prostitution, I guess I might add that another well-known local street name, that has now vanished, also originated from prostitution. The old street “Maiden Lane” has now been renamed Martin Luther King Drive; however, the previous name came from the fact that in the years after the Civil War, black prostitutes that were frequented by men of both races lived along that road. In fact, there had been an earlier street called “Maiden Lane” in Minden for the same reason. That earlier street had been located in the area just behind today’s Civic Center in what eventually became the Miller Quarters. By 1900 the first Maiden Lane had vanished from the local map, replaced by the later street today known as MLK Drive.

In my efforts to research the origin of Dirty Six I came across some other names for local neighborhoods and streets from the early twentieth century and the rest of today’s article will talk about a few of those. Beginning with the 1910 United States Census, street or at least neighborhood names were added to the schedules inside towns. So, looking at the 1910 and 1920 Censuses gave some unique local names I’d like to discuss.

One name that is familiar to many Minden residents is Warsaw. Warsaw, in fact, might be thought of as the first “suburb” of Minden. It was a community just southeast of the original settlement of Minden that was annexed into Minden in 1854. Today the old area of Warsaw runs along East Union Street from Fincher Road west to roughly Abney Street. The origin of that name has always been difficult to explain. While many residents of Minden in the 1840s and 1850s had roots in Eastern Europe, the name Warsaw precedes the arrival of any but Anglo-Saxons and their African slaves. The most logical explanation is that Warsaw is the corruption of an Indian name, perhaps related to the Wausau name of Wisconsin.

Warsaw was perhaps the first bi-racial neighborhood in Minden in the years after emancipation. I was reminded again of the transitional nature of that area in the aftermath of the tragic fire that destroyed the Mount Zion CME Church building a few years ago. Members of the church told the history that this was the third edifice the congregation had occupied on that property since their founding in 1870. It would seem that the founding of that church might have been a major element in the emergence of a mixed race population in the Warsaw area. The CME (originally Colored Methodist Episcopal but today Christian Methodist Episcopal) denomination was organized by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1870 to serve as a home for the freed slaves who had previously attended the Methodist church with their masters. In the years after the Civil War, slaves were gradually eased out of the churches they had attended before emancipation as segregation came into the Christian church in the Southern United States for the first time. The former slaves members of the Minden Baptist Church had been organized into the St. Rest’s Baptist Church in 1867 and Mt. Zion followed three years later. By building the church in what was then the fairly prosperous largely white Warsaw neighborhood, the presence of Mt. Zion led to a mixed race population living in that area from the start of the post Civil War era.

Another section mentioned by name on both the 1910 and 1920 censuses was Shiney. That exact origin of that name has also been the source of much discussion over the years. Unlike Warsaw, from its first mention in local records, Shiney was an all-black section of Minden, centered on Maiden Lane. Traditional accounts have always placed a racial origin on that name, with two theories predominating. The first, is an offensive notion, but nevertheless is perhaps the best explanation. And it is simply that the white residents of Minden attached the name to the area because it was populated by people of black, or “shiny” skin. The main problem with that is the traditional spelling adds the “e” to the word. The other prevailing explanation explains that additional letter but is otherwise less plausible.

The second explanation is that small black children who served a shoe shine boys in downtown usually lived in that section of Minden. So after a while the name Shiney Town became associated with that area, because of the connection.

While doing this research, I came up with another possible explanation. In the 1910 Census, there is a white minister named Jack Shine living in the area that today is called Shiney. Perhaps that also fits into the story.

I must add that the 1920 Census does not include the name Shiney, but rather the name China for that section.

However, that is one of the smaller problems with the 1920 Census for Minden. Out of respect for any descendants that might be living in this area, still, I won’t mention the name of the census taker for Minden that year. But, it ranks with any Census I’ve ever seen for misinformation. Large sections of Minden were counted twice. West Union and North Broadway appear on three different occasions. In more recent years, when revenue sharing was based on population, it might be suggested that the number were padded on purpose, as our population for that year was probably overstated by about 20%; however, I think it was simply a case of sloppy enumeration combined with a lack of knowledge about Minden, as in the name Shiney. (The census taker was not a native of the area.)

Another racially based designation that emerges in these early twentieth century censuses is the use of the term “quarters” for largely black neighborhoods. The “quarters” included in those two population counts included Murrell Quarters, Harrell Quarters, and Miller Quarters. Two other well-known local areas, Thompson Quarters and Killen Quarters are not mentioned. I was not aware, however, that locally the term “Bottoms” was ever used in Minden. Most long-time residents of Northwest Louisiana have heard of St. Paul Bottoms in Shreveport, but here in Minden in 1910 we listed McDonald Bottoms and Pennsylvania Bottoms – both black neighborhoods bordering on the east side of downtown Minden.

Another unique listing in the 1920 Census is a few sections of town where “tent cities” had been built to house the large influx of oil field workers living here temporarily during the oil boom. Tent communities are listed at the Fair Grounds, on Pine Street and in Dirty Six. Reading the names of those living in the communities, I realized that some later became permanent citizens of Minden. The tents at the Fair Grounds and on Pine Street were for white workers, while the Dirty Six tents housed blacks.

Examining these neighborhoods revealed a few other unique facts. Elm Street was named at some point between the 1910 and the 1920 Census. In 1910, Germantown Road began at today’s intersection of East and West, Elm, Broadway and the Homer Road. However, by 1920 today’s Elm Street label has been given to the street. In that same area, Minden had an Olive Street that intersected Center Street in the newly developed Goode Annex. That census is also the first to include Justice Heights; the area developed by Judge Lynn Watkins and his brother Congressman John Watkins that included streets such as Justice, Police, Constable, Marshall and Clerk.

I saved perhaps the “best” name for last. Toward the end of that 1920 Census there is a single page that lists the neighborhood as being “Hell’s Half Acre.” I had never heard that description used locally and since the person who applied that label is the same one who double and tripled counted parts of town and renamed Shiney, China, I wasn’t sure I wanted to rely on that name. I published the information in one of my columns and probably my best source for local history, the late Frank Griffith, came through for me. Frank remembered his father telling him all about “Hell’s Half Acre.” B. F. Griffith, Frank’s father, had been Sheriff of Webster Parish from 1900 to 1908 and lived for many years in the old Drury Murrell home that became known to Minden residents of my generation and earlier as the Green-Kleinneger Funeral Home. According to Mr. Griffith, Hell’s Half Acre was a small area that was roughly located in the area of today’s Fuller Street – perhaps visible from the Griffith home on Murrell Street. As Sheriff, Griffith explained, he had to deal with many incidents in that neighborhood that explained the name.

So there’s the story of a few of the unique neighborhood and street names in Minden.

Minden Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald.Special to the Press-Herald.