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Driving through history: What's behind street names?

Sunday - 7/24/2011, 12:27pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- Despite hearing them every day, not everyone knows what is behind the names of streets and bridges around town. WTOP has the answers.

The Whitney Young Memorial bridge carries you over the Anacostia River. But who is Whitney Young?

Whitney Young was a civil rights leader and an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr.'s words "I have a dream" were immortalized.

Young also spoke at the historic event, and eventually earned the Medal of Freedom, the nation's top civilian honor.

Born in Kentucky, he died at 49 when he drowned at an international conference in Nigeria.

You might recognize Henry Bacon Drive from WTOP traffic, but do you know who Henry Bacon is or what he did?

Henry Bacon was born a year after the Civil War. Influenced by his father, a civil engineer, Bacon became an architect with the firm McKim, Mead and White. He helped design the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

But his most famous work, the Lincoln Memorial, earned him the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects.

He also designed the fountain in Dupont Circle.

How did N.H. Burroughs Avenue get its name?

Nannie Helen Burroughs was an influential leader in the black community in D.C. in the early 1900s. She founded the Nannie Helen Burroughs School in 1909. It was a first-of-its-kind school for African-American girls and women that focussed on religion and higher education.

Burroughs was an active leader until her death in 1961, working very closely with the NAACP, commonly known as the NAACP. The road named after her takes you to the Anacostia Freeway in Northeast D.C.

Who is Francis Higbee? How did a bridge get to be named for him?

Francis Higbee Case was a newspaperman before he became a longtime politician. The Republican served in both Congress and in the Senate in South Dakota until his death in 1962. He was known as "Senator Comma" for his obsession with detail.

But why should you know his name? Case was a major architect in legislation that allowed D.C. residents to vote in presidential elections. About two years after Case's death, the bridge that carries Interstate 395 to the Washington Channel was re-named in his honor.

How did Mattawoman Beantown Road in Waldorf get its name?

It's actually a combination of names that make up Mattawoman Beantown Road, or simply Route 5.

The land of Waldorf used to be home to the Mattawoman Indian tribe. They were hunters and farmers who nearly disappeared due to battles fought against other tribes. The native name of Mattawoman means "a place to go pleasantly."

When the town of Waldorf was founded it was called Beantown after a local family. The general assembly of Maryland eventually changed the name to Waldorf in 1880 to honor William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American who became a British nobleman.

Ever wonder how Raoul Wallenberg Place got its name?

Its no coincidence the street outside the Holocaust Museum is named after this Swedish diplomat--- he saved over 100,000 Hungarian Jews from Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Known for handing out forged protection passes on trains headed for Aushwitz, Wallenberg led one of the most successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust.

He was a suspected American spy and in 1945 he was detained by Soviet forces in Budapest. He died mysteriously two years later in their custody. Nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, he has memorials in 11 different countries.

Who was Clara Barton?

Clara Barton was notable for being one of the first women to be employed by the federal government - as a record clerk at the U.S. Patent office. But the start of the civil war changed her path dramatically.

She began to supply and nurse soldiers, eventually moving to the front lines to care for wounded troops.

And she made her biggest mark of all after the war - founding the American Red Cross in 1881 at the age of 60.

Barton dies in 1912, at the age of 90, in her Glen Echo home, next to the parkway that now bears her name.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)