Larrabee memory deserves more than misspelled street sign, resident says

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A man with as many vowels and consonants in his own name as Michael Van Rensselaer has a right to perhaps be just a little sensitive to misspelled names.

So when he continually observed the misspelled nature of William C. Larrabee's name on a City of Greencastle sign for "Larabee Street," Van Rensselaer set out to right a wrong.

And Tuesday night that spelled a visit to the February Greencastle City Council meeting.

Current city street sign shows Larrabee name misspelled where it intersects with South Jackson Street.

A retired Greencastle Middle School teacher of 36 years and a local musician as well, Van Rensselaer began his little ditty by explaining just who William C. Larrabee was.

Larrabee, he noted, taught mathematics and science and served as acting president of DePauw University, then known as Indiana Asbury, from 1848 to 1849, immediately following the legendary Matthew Simpson.

After 10 years on the local faculty, Larrabee left Asbury College to become Indiana's first superintendent of public instruction.

"So it's quite fitting," Van Rensselaer told the Council, that the City of Greencastle honor Larrabee by naming a campus area street after him.

"It would be even more fitting," he continued, if Larrabee's name were spelled correctly on the street sign.

Michael Van Rennselaer

"It's a mistake," the Greencastle resident more familiarly known as "Mr. Van" by his former students said later, "but for Greencastle and DePauw and the Larrabee family, don't you want to get it right?"

Local historian and DPU emeritus professor John Baughman first advised him of the misspelling, Van Rensselaer told the Banner Graphic.

"That led me to read about Larrabee," he added, "and read his 'Rosabower: A Collection of Essays and Miscellanies.' The image of him sitting outside his home, lamenting the loss of his daughter, Emma Rosabelle, writing poetry thick with the Romanticism of the era, struck me. If you read the first essay of that, 'The Bower,' you may get a pretty good idea of what the scene in the area now known as The Dells (a green space between South Locust Street and South College Avenue about a block north of Berry Street) looked and felt like back then.

"So the man and his story made an impression on me," Van Rensselaer simplified.

Add to that his years as a newspaper reporter (he's a former Banner Graphic sports editor) and teacher and it's easy to see "getting things right" matter to Van Rensselaer.

Old maps of Greencastle, including the famed bird's-eye view version from the early 20th century, show the street with the correct double-R spelling of Larrabee.

But somewhere along the line, one of those R's was inexplicably dropped -- oh, no, not another case of local signage being robbed of their R's! -- leaving the street sign to incorrectly read, "Larabee."

"I don't know if it was a budget crisis or what," Van Rensselaer joked in addressing the missing "R."

Larrabee is a rather short street, running east from South Jackson Street until it dead-ends at the quad that surrounds East College (where it once intersected with College Avenue before College was closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian walkway) in the center of DePauw's campus.

Van Rensselaer never lived on Larrabee/Larabee Street, but he did reside for 12 years on Hanna Court -- a quaint little eight-home cul-de-sac off Hanna Street between Indiana Street and College Avenue before it was demolished to make way for the Olin Sciences Building.

"So I crossed Larrabee Street, the first street to the north every time I walked to or from the junior high or town," he noted, "so a few thousand times."

The Larrabee/Larabee situation isn't the first time a city street sign has evolved into a misspelling. The latest miscue follows in the not-so-grand tradition of how Earp Street on the city's northwest side morphed into "Carp Street" sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. Only after members of the Putnam County Historical Society pointed out that mistake to city officials was it restored to its rightful Earp Street.

Greencastle Mayor Bill Dory promised to look into seeing that done for Larrabee.

He said city officials will confer with DePauw archivist Wes Wilson to document Van Rensselaer's findings before taking the proper corrective action.

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  • While we are on the subject. Can someone weigh in on why when you drive onto Ravenwood Dr. you exit from Ravenswood Dr.? or visa versa

    Being mayor is a tough job.

    -- Posted by DefiantToo on Fri, Feb 12, 2016, at 3:19 PM
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