Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sewanee Street Bridge

Many of the streets in the city of West University Place (where the library is) are named after poets or colleges. In fact, the library is at the intersection of two streets named for poets -- Auden and Milton. The city is actually due west of Rice University, thus the name. Its founder was from Tennessee, one Ben W. Hooper, and he wanted the city to be associated with the prestigious (then named) Rice Institute. To learn more about the history of West University, read the book, Stepping Back in Time by June Begeman, available from HCPL.

One of the streets here is named Sewanee, and for some reason, I've often wondered where that word came from. A Google book search brought me to a book called Tennessee Place Names by Larry L. Miller. It could be a Shawnee word meaning "south" or "southern". Or it may be related to the Creek word, sawani, meaning "echo". In any case, Sewanee, the liberal arts college, used to be known as the University of the South, so most people seem to go along with the southern connection as the correct interpretation. Say the word Sewanee with the word Tennessee! Quite an ebullience of eeeeees!

Most of the streets in West U. change names once they cross over into the big city of Houston that surrounds it. But Sewanee Street keeps its name. There is a foot bridge crossing a narrow drainage bayou a few hundred feet south of where Sewanee Street leaves West U. It is such a hidden away little structure, I don't think too many people know about it. Now that I've been riding my bike to work more regularly, I have been crossing it often. It never fails to make me smile.

The Sewanee Street bridge is one you'd expect to see in a Three Billy Goat's Gruff story book. The wooden roadway is wide enough for two people to walk across. The boards rattle underneath my bicycle wheels, feeling a just a little loose, and the sound they make is pleasing. Also pleasing in our very flat city is the slight arch of the bridge -- giving bike riders a minor hill to ascend and descend.

Before writing this entry, I also researched the lore surrounding the word "Swanee", wondering if there was any connection to the word "Sewanee". There wasn't, so I am not going into it here, but I learned a lot about Stephen Foster and why he chose the Swanee River for his song "Old Folks at Home" ,which I used to love to sing in grade school. And so, those are the joys of having a wandering mind on the Internet. Serendipity at every turn... Now everyone gets to be a researcher. Librarians don't have it all to themselves anymore, and I think that's great.

photo: Sewanee Street Bridge by KAO

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