Street signs for our town

By Gerre Joiner | Published Wednesday, January 20, 2016

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For more than two years, I’ve been procrastinating.

Bobby Wilson and I talked long ago about details regarding the installation of street signs in our fair city. If I remember correctly, the catalyst for the street sign conversation was when I told Bobby (mayor for 18 years), “Tell me about those narrow little streets in the old part of town. The ones that look more like alleys than streets.”

I think that was when Bobby started relating details about the first street signs to appear in Decatur, Texas, in the late ’60s. He then referred me to former city manager, Sam Renshaw, who was one of the key leaders in the street sign install.

I noticed Sam and Sis (Everyone calls this pretty lady “Sis”) Renshaw in Whataburger one day last week as they were on their way out of the restaurant. I stopped them and invited them to spend a minute with me. Then I asked Bobby to sit down with the three of us, so I could ask Sam some questions about the street signs.

First of all, reader, please remember that Sam’s only 92 years old. He still plays golf almost every day. He served as city manager for 32 years, and he was an award-winning quarterback on an award-winning Decatur team his senior year, 1939.

Sam coached in Bridgeport for a while after college graduation, then served Decatur as director of the Chamber of Commerce for a few years before his run as city manager.

During his tenure, Decatur’s population was 2,000.

Now, regarding the street signs:

  • The signs were ordered/installed in the early ’60s.
  • Sam did the “smart” work. He created the order for the signs, including street names and house numbers.
  • All the house numbers started with “one” at the courthouse and became larger from there.
  • He paid for the signs with city money.
  • He made arrangements for the Jaycees, the most active service organization of the day, to put the signs up in the appropriate places.
  • After the street signs arrived, the Jaycees went to work with a deadline in mind. Mayor-at-the-time W.B. Woodruff presented the idea that if the signs were installed by a certain date, homes within the city would be eligible for home-delivered mail service. (City mail deliveries prior to this time were made only to post office boxes.)
  • The Jaycees worked for two weeks, sometimes until midnight, digging the holes and placing the signs.
  • There were a few disputes regarding the numbering of the houses. Until this event, folks kind of guessed what number should be on their house. In the formative days of the project, several folks contested the number assigned to their house.

Think of it:

After the signs were erected, the postman either walked from door-to-door, dropping mail in the newly-installed mailboxes near the front door of Decatur homes or got out of a vehicle and walked to the door to deliver mail.

The arrangement moving forward was that if the property ever changed hands, the new owner would be required to install a mailbox at the street, doing away with the “walk-to-the-door” deal.

Bobby Wilson’s never moved. He’s still getting his mail delivered to the door – same house, same mailbox from the ’60s.

Now an observation or two:

  • We live in a city rich in “good” history – good leaders, good service club members and visionary infrastructure put in place more than 40 years ago.
  • I still don’t know the story about those “alley streets.”

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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