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Editorial: History Lessons; Today’s Topic: Tannery Road

Twenty-five years from now, we’d like to believe, a child is going to run inside her family’s apartment at the Rivermere housing complex in Lebanon and ask a question that any inquisitive youngster would need to have answered.

“Mom, Dad ... why is the street we live on named Tannery Road? There’s no tannery around here.”

One of her parents will seize what is clearly a teachable moment.

“Well, sweetheart, just about the time that Rivermere was built, the people whose job it is to keep everyone safe decided that some street names in the city had to be changed. Back before you were born, it wasn’t unusual for streets to have similar names, and that created confusion when firefighters or the police got sent to a place and needed to get there in a hurry. Actually, it wasn’t clear how many times those people did get confused, but you don’t want to take chances when dealing with emergencies. So, the city had to come up with a new name for our road, because back then it was called Dulac Street Extension and there was also a Dulac Street.”

“How can you confuse ‘Dulac Street Extension’ with ‘Dulac Street,’ Mom? ‘Extension’ makes it clear, doesn’t it?”

“Never mind. Now ... ”

“Isn’t it confusing for everybody else to take a name that’s been used for years and suddenly change it?”

“Perhaps, but never mind. Those people created a bunch of rules for coming up with new names. For example, they didn’t want the new names to be based on people’s names ...”

“Like ‘Washington’?”

“Yes, that would have been frowned upon. So that didn’t leave a lot of good choices. And some people in the city thought that a new street name might provide a wonderful opportunity to teach a little local history.”

“Aren’t the original names a good way to teach history, Mom? For example, when I hear the name ‘Storrs Hill,’ I want to find out who that guy Storrs was.”

“Maybe, but in any case, they named it ‘Tannery Lane’ — as a way to remind people of the E. Cummings Leather tannery that used to operate in the city.”

“Because people had fond memories of it?”

“Not necessarily. It was pretty smelly, and tanneries weren’t the best places to work.”

“But it was an important part of the past?”

“That’s right, dear.”

“And it was on this street.”

“Actually, no. The people who wanted to use the naming of the street as a way of teaching history didn’t really know Lebanon history. The tannery was actually on the other side of the river, closer to downtown.”

“Why didn’t they ask somebody who was familiar with Lebanon’s history?”

“That’s an excellent question, dear.”

“So, nobody learned any history?”

“Actually, the city historian was very upset and raised a stink about it and, in the process, even some people who grew up around here ended up being reminded of recent history that was already fading from memory.”

“Let me get this straight, Mom. As a result of having to rename streets, which, when you think about it, involves destroying history, the city decided to teach some local history, but actually got the history wrong and somehow ended up teaching the right history because somebody cared enough to get the facts straight?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Wow. So what’s up with that school they closed many years ago called School Street School? Which came first, the street or the school?”

“Go outside and play, dear.”