— Where should you go when you’ve lost your way?
Try Lake Jackson, Texas. One peek at the local map and you'll know you've found your way — and many more.
“We have This Way, That Way, Any Way, Circle Way, Parking Way, Winding Way and we have His Way, which runs behind a church,” says longtime city manager Bill Yenne.
About 50 miles south of Houston, Lake Jackson, with about 27,000 residents, offers lots of opportunities to give directions that sound less than helpful to a visitor.
“It’s not uncommon to give people directions that include some variation of, ‘Take This Way three blocks and make a left on That Way until you get to Any Way,’ which invariably provokes the confused response, ‘Which way?’ ” Yenne says. “That’s when you have to correct them and say, 'No, that would be the wrong way.’” (Abbott and Costello applied similar confusion to baseball with their hilarious sketch, “Who's on First?”)
Blame the never-ending confusion on town planner Alden B. Dow, a visionary who once dreamed of insulating homes with hair. Dow, who died in 1983, was the son of Dow Chemical founder Herbert Henry Dow.
As the senior Dow’s business was rapidly evolving into a multinational behemoth, the founder knew he would need a company town where his employees could work and thrive. He asked his son, by then an accomplished architect who’d apprenticed with iconic designer Frank Lloyd Wright, to do the job back in 1941.
Like his mentor, the younger Dow enjoyed including grand curves in his designs, says Ande Larsen, an assistant at the Lake Jackson Museum on Circle Way.
“In Lake Jackson, he did so to preserve all the stately, Spanish moss-draped trees already on the site and because he believed it encouraged motorists to always look forward to what was up around the next bend,” Larsen says.
But Dow was stumped about how to name the streets and resisted common names found in conformity-bound grid cities. In Lake Jackson, there are no Main, First or Second streets. According to Larsen, Dow asked his secretary, E.D. Collerain, her thoughts on naming the winding roads radiating from the town's center.
“The story is she said, ‘Don’t ask me. You’ve got all these streets going this way and that way. I don’t know what you’re going to call them,’ ” said Larsen. “He said, ‘Perfect! This’ll be That Way and that will be This Way!’ ”
No way out
Bob Sipple remembers getting hopelessly lost when, as an executive with Wholesale Electric in 1981, he first visited Lake Jackson.
“I drove around and around and kept seeing those same crazy signs and didn’t think I’d ever find my way out,” he says. “I completely lost my sense of direction. I said to my wife Lori, ‘Honey, you better get used to this place. I don’t think we’re ever getting out of here.”
Thirty years later and the one way Sipple never found in Lake Jackson was a way out. The Sipples never left and he’s been mayor since 2006.
The confusion, he says, is an accepted way of life in Lake Jackson.
“I’ve never heard a single complaint about it,” Sipple says. “People think it’s quaint and have really come to identify with it. It’s really become an essential part of Lake Jackson’s charm.”
It’s not too confusing for a man who at his very core is a staunch proponent of fiscal clarity. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul calls Lake Jackson home. It’s where he practiced obstetrics/gynecology before turning to politics.
His congressional office is on West Way, which used to be Which Way, until the mid-1980s when bankers interested in locating a branch there persuaded officials that a financial institution on a street named Which Way might raise concerns with customers seeking stability.
Every which way
City manager Yenne laments some of those charms have fallen by the, well, wayside.
The street where the town’s little regional landing strip used to be is now Abner Jackson Parkway in honor of the town’s namesake.
Yenne says he preferred it when the old airport road was Run Way; another casualty to business considerations. Still, he says opportunities abound.
He dreams of a day when he can ceremonially cut ribbons on splendid tree-shaded thoroughfares with names like My Way, Your Way, Our Way, Yonder Way, High Way, Park Way, Right Way, Out Of The Way and By The Way.
Clearly, he’d find a kindred spirit in a long ago motorist whose creativity nearly earned him liberation from a driving citation.
“The guy was caught going the wrong way up a one-way street and said he thought the signs were just typical of Lake Jackson,” Yenne says. “There are parts of that defense I can’t help but admire.”