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Think Denver has weird street names? Here's the guy you should blame

A bookkeeper at the Denver Union Water Company took it upon himself to fix Denver’s confusing and rapidly changing street system in 1896.
Credit: Courtesy Jan McConnell

DENVER — From Acoma to Zuni -- and all the other complicated street names in between --, have you ever wondered who the mastermind behind them was?

His name was Howard C. Maloney, a former Indian agent turned bookkeeper for the Denver Union Water Company. Before arriving in Colorado, historians say Maloney spent years in the Dakotas, acting as a bridge between Native American tribes and the U.S. government. 

In 1896, he came to Denver, taking a job as a clerk with the privately-owned Denver Union Water Company. Soon after, he became the main bookkeeper, and was flooded with complaints from customers about billing and servicing problems. It didn’t take him long to realize the water department didn’t know where their customers were located, and the confusing street system was to blame.

“Not only did the water department not know where its customers were, neither did the police department, the fire department, people are constantly getting lost," said Denver Historian Phil Goodstein. "At this time, every subdivision, every developer had the right to go and name his streets as he wished. In consequence, street names would change rapidly, every few blocks different communities would have their own names.”

The city of Denver decided they needed to take action so they began working with Jefferson County to try and put together a basic grid system of streets based on alphabetical numbering themes.

That’s where Maloney came in. 

“He more or less took it on himself in his spare time to come up with the proposed street names.” Goodstein said. 

Given his background working with Native Americans, it’s no surprise he decided to name streets west of Broadway after native tribes from A to Z. Streets in this sequence include Acoma, Elati, Galapago, Navajo, and Zuni.

Maloney continued an alphabetical sequence for streets west of Zuni, naming them after famous authors around the world, like Alcott, Bryant, Clay, and Decatur. 

For the streets east of Colorado Boulevard, Maloney went with a double alphabet, or two streets per letter. The first street was named after a location or a personal name, and the second street was named after a tree, plant or flower, ex. (Albion, Ash, Bellaire, Birch etc.). 

It's important to note Maloney did not provide any details about how they should be pronounced. 

“There have been numerous localisms,” Goodstein said. “It’s hard to say there is a correct pronunciation of any of them.”

Cue the renowned debate over whether Acoma Street should be pronounced {Ack-amah} like the native tribe says it, or {Uh-coma} like most people in Denver say it.

We’ve tackled many of these pronunciations in our “What do YOU Say?” segments on Next.

RELATED: This is how you pronounce confusing names of towns and streets in Colorado

We are always looking for more, so feel free to send us the names of streets, towns, rivers and mountains, you want us to look into. Email us at Next@9News.com or get our attention on Twitter with #HeyNext.