25 June 2022

Rural addresses explained


I've driven rural roads in Minnesota for decades and have often wondered about road signs like the ones shown above.  You're out in the proverbial "middle of nowhere" on a dirt road and pass a sign for 380th Street.  An article this week in the "Curious Minnesota" section of the StarTribune explains why.
The condensed explanation is that counties created rural address systems starting in the 1980s — during the implementation of 911 — to help first responders locate people in remote areas. These rural addresses apply to unincorporated areas, and generally have no relation to streets in nearby cities. "Point zero" for these rural streets and avenues is typically a county border or central roadway... Without 911, residents called their local police or fire departments directly — assuming they knew the number — and explained their location... "It ended up with a lot of burnt foundations, let's put it that way..." 

Michael Mattson experienced the shortcomings of the old address system firsthand when he was 10 years old in 1990, living outside Roseau in northwestern Minnesota. One day during breakfast, his mother collapsed from heart failure and Mattson called for help as his father performed CPR.  Mattson told the emergency dispatcher his address: Rural Route 1, Box 10A. But they needed more information.  "So I'm describing, 'You head towards Warroad on the main highway. Then you go north at the cemetery. And then you go past the lagoon. … Turn right after the bridge.' That kind of thing," Mattson said.
I grew up in a home with mailing address "Route 5, Box 69W" and had to direct people by saying "after Highway 7 narrows from four lanes to two, turn right after the first pond..."  

Here's an example of the grid system for Waseca County in south-central Minnesota:


Residents are not always happy with the resulting addresses, but the system is effective.  Details at the link.   Top image cropped for size.

17 comments:

  1. In both my former and my new rural counties, the 0/0 crossroad is in the county seat (town) itself, and moves E/W/N/S from there. So addresses are a particular number based on the bordering roads both N/S and E/W of the property (county road is implied and not used as part of the postal address): thus, 45 S 300 E would be the entire street address, with the county seat named as the 'town' for postal purposes.

    If you've ever wondered why computer address forms have an option for the cardinal direction both after the first number and also at the end after the second number/name of street, which doesn't usually happen in urban areas, that's why.

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  2. I live in an area that was rural until the 1970's, so I have a address like 12 E 345 Maple St, even though I'm firmly in the suburbs today. Sometimes people substitute a three for the 'E' but the post office is used to it.

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  3. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has survived millennia with just street names.

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    1. ??? I don't understand what point you're trying to make.

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    2. Just name your streets. Anything. Numbering is such a lack of fantasy.

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  4. Imagine if they could use Google Plus in conjunction with phone technology to pinpoint where emergency responders need to go.

    A wintry view of the corner above: https://goo.gl/maps/fE3cTfQUysRp28Fj9

    Or use what3words: ///phenomenal.stones.defaults

    https://what3words.com/clip.apples.leap



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  5. Could you consider posting this? https://defector.com/why-is-this-tiny-frog-so-awful-at-jumping/ Has nothing to do with rural addresses - didn't know how else to forward this to you.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe, but when I go to the page, the content is obliterated by a demand to sign up with my email. Nope.

      My contact info is in the right sidebar under "About Me"

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  6. We used to live north of The Twin Cities. Our address was Route 1 Box 449 (I forgot the Fire Department number.) Directions were "Just past the flashing yellow light turn right between the only two bars in town then go 2 1/2 miles and we are the only house on the left.

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    1. Only two bars in your town? Must have been very small... :-)

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  7. I lived in a rural area just as the transition from "RR1 Box 2" -style addresses occurred. The county didn't use the numerical grid system you illustrate, though, they actually named each and every little country lane that first responders might need to find. This was in central Virginia around 1995.

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  8. Growing up, I lived at "R.R. 2, closest big town in county, state". When they went to road names, we got to name our own roads!

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  9. This article doesn't explain anything. In the example, where does 200th Avenue and 440th Avenue derive from? Are there 240 avenues in between, or are the designations arbitrary?

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    1. Relevant info here -

      https://www.co.waseca.mn.us/249/9-1-1-Addressing

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  10. That would be great if your link to the Star Tribune could be read w/o having to give them an email address or to subscribe (even if free).

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    Replies
    1. Oops. Sorry. My minirant deleted and link inserted after previous comment.

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  11. Thanks for posting this. I've travelled to Roseau, MN a few times for business and I was curious about the road numbering in your state.

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