|See? No name. Ugh.|
This uniquely-named thoroughfare is located near the center of Mill Creek Hundred, running from Limestone Road at the Mermaid Tavern, eastward down to Mill Creek Road. Or to put it in more modern terms, it's on the north side of Goldey-Beacom College. It's also known as Mermaid-Stoney Batter Road. I'm sure many of you are as familiar with this road as I am, and I'm equally as sure that you've wondered just were the heck the name came from. I wish I had a good, definitive answer for you, but as of now I don't. Maybe someone out there has information pertaining to the naming of the road, but I've looked around and I can't find it. What I do have are at least three separate, inconclusive theories.
The first theory is the one I've seen repeated the most (like here, for instance), and is the one that seems to make the most sense to most people. I'm not most people. This idea states that when the road was first paved in the early 20th Century, the concrete used on it had a large amount of pebbles in it. When it was poured onto the roadbed, it looked to those present like a "stoney batter". You know, like cake batter with stones in it. While I suppose it's possible that this explanation is historically accurate, it sounds more like a false (or folk) etymology to me. Like well after the fact, someone came up with a cute little story to explain the name.
What would really help here would be to find historical references to the road name. If, for example, an 1880 letter or deed mentioned the name Stoney Batter, then we could throw out the pavement mix theory. Unfortunately, though, I have not been able to find such a reference. If we did, however, it would necessitate an older origin for the moniker. I have two ideas as to how the name could have originated at a date earlier than the 20th Century.
One possibility is that it could have been named after a place that someone knew from somewhere else. There are several Stoney Batters in England and Ireland, and Stony Batter is the name of President James Buchanan's birthplace in south-central Pennsylvania. Perhaps one of the farmers in the area knew the name or was a big Buchanan fan (there must have been some, he did get elected). This also plays into one of the other things about the road I'm unsure about -- Is "Mermaid-Stoney Batter Road" a newer or older name?
I've always known it without the "Mermaid" part, and at first I assumed this was a new addition. But if it's not, by normal naming conventions, this would imply that the road ran from the Mermaid to Stoney Batter (like Newport-Gap Pike or Wilmington-Christiana Turnpike). This in turn would imply that Stoney Batter was the name of one of the farms at the base of the road. Frustratingly, I've had as little success in finding proof of that as I've had in finding any old reference to the road name.
The last theory I have to float out there took a little more research to come up with. OK, not so much "research" as much as "scrolling down a bit on Dictionary.com". One of the lesser-known definitions of the word batter comes from the realm of architecture, and is "the slope of the face of a wall that recedes gradually backwards and upwards". Bearing in mind that much of the road in question is a fairly steep hill climbing from Mill Creek to the high ground of Limestone Road, it got me to thinking of what might have been present at some point in the past. Perhaps one of the farms had a large wall with a batter, built into the hill. Or maybe the entire hill reminded someone of a batter. If the word was more common in the past, either is possible. A stretch, sure, but in my mind not much more than "Lumpy Cake Mix Road".
As I said earlier, what would be tremendously helpful would be to find mentions of the road name 75, 100, or 150 years ago. Or even to find evidence of the concrete story from close to when it was done. Or better yet, find an instance of the name "Stoney Batter" being used separate from the road name. I'll keep my eye out for this, and if anyone else has or sees anything useful, please pass it along to us. Until then, we'll just have to keep wondering about where this odd name came from.
Update: Here's a follow-up post with a little more information and another possible theory.