The ins and outs of Franklin streets
BY GREG OLSON
Have you ever been lost in Franklin? Believe it or not, the little Morgan County village’s street system is enough to drive GPS-savvy motorists crazy.
Legend has it that Franklin was laid out at the intersection of a cow path, an Indian trail and the old road to Vandalia, which was the state capital when the town was founded in 1832. The three surveyors who laid out Franklin supposedly were feuding at the time and not on speaking terms with one another, according to a 1966 Chicago Tribune story about Franklin’s street layout.
That may explain why an unwary stranger may find himself or herself lost in a maze of winding, curving and slanting streets that always seem to bring the driver back to where he or she started.
Growing up in Franklin, Dr. John Ebrey received a rather rude introduction to geography.
“I didn’t know for almost my entire childhood where true east and west were,” Ebrey recalled. “In Franklin, east and west streets cross each other. Why? Just think about it. Why would the town’s surveyors do that? I love Franklin. It was the best place for a young boy to grow up, but still I’ve always wondered why Franklin’s streets were laid out the way they were.”
Ebrey said almost every straight street in the town has a bend in it, usually near the end of the street.
Over the years, many unsuspecting motorists on old U.S. Routes 36-54 have taken the Franklin-Alexander Road to get to Illinois Route 104, according to Ebrey.
“But when they arrive in Franklin they are surprised to run into a residential neighborhood, and then some of them get lost in town trying to find Route 104,” Ebrey said. “Years ago, many of those lost motorists were trying to find Neece Funeral Home in Franklin, which used to be at the end of a dead end street.”
A good number of those lost drivers used to stop at Ebrey’s late father, Pete Ebrey’s, gas station to ask for directions.
“I’ve never had any complaints about the directions I give visitors,” Pete Ebrey said to a Chicago Tribune writer in 1966. “But I suppose that’s because they can’t find the gas station again.”
Pete Ebrey told the writer about a motorist who was on his way to Waverly and got him out of bed one night to repair his vehicle. The gas station owner made the repairs, gave directions to Waverly and went home.
“He drove past my house three times before he managed to get out of town,” Pete Ebrey said. “And the last I saw of him he was headed north toward Alexander instead of southeast toward Waverly.”
Pete Ebrey even had a technique for dealing with strangers who argued over his directions.
“I just turn them loose and let them wander around awhile on their own,” he said. “If they ever get back, they’re usually apologetic and willing to listen, and sometimes they’re so grateful they may buy a dollar’s worth of gas.”