Your Village: How did B’jaysville Lane get its name? (Updated)

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

B’jaysville Lane. What? Why? How did that become a street name? — Becca, Iowa City, via Facebook

Update: As I wrote in the original version of this story, the possible explanation offered below was pure speculation. It’s also wrong, as it turns out.

Almost as soon as the story was posted to Facebook on late Thursday afternoon, someone commented on that post saying he knew the real story: the street was named Bluejaysville by the late Iowa City house-mover and real estate developer, Max Yocum. The commentator said he used to work for Yocum, so he knew this version of events was right. It’s not.

Because a little later on Thursday night, Little Village was contacted by a member of the Alberhasky family, who told us the street was actually named for his deceased great-grandfather, Bernard Joseph Alberhasky. The annoyed great-grandson pointed out that members of the Alberhasky family still own some property on B’jaysville Lane, which the records of the Iowa City Assessor’s Office confirm.

So, the B.J. in question isn’t a blue jay or a Billie Jean, it’s Bernard Joseph.

To be perfectly honest, I was going to shrug off this question as unnecessary, after last week’s downtown street name story, and unanswerable, based on the lack of information in publicly available sources, but while looking for the answer, I came across the story of the Jacobsons who once lived at the property bordered by the lane. I was so impressed by Herman Jacobson’s service in WWII and how Sylvella Jacobson responded to her husband’s death, I wanted to share their stories. So, when I discovered their daughter’s name was Billie Jean, I was willing to speculate and offer a possible explanation that might well be wrong in order to write about the Jacobsons. (Making sure, of course, to clearly inform readers I was speculating.)

And get it wrong I did, but at least my wrongness annoyed the right person, who shared the real answer with us.

Original story: In hindsight, it was inevitable someone would ask this after the previous Your Village on downtown street names was published. Actually, a lot of someones asked. How B’jaysville Lane became the name of a private street off N Dubuque Street near I-80 has apparently been a topic of discussion in Iowa City for decades.

City records are no help. The earliest reference in the online database of city government documents is a Jan. 16, 1973 resolution approving construction of a sewer running underneath “a roadway commonly known as Bjaysville Lane [sic].” The street had already been around for decades at that point, and nobody at that city council meeting bothered to explain how the roadway came to be commonly known by that name.

The origins of the name even eluded Iowa City’s most enthusiastic and dedicated local historian, the late Irving B. Weber. Weber’s only published reference to the street was in a March 15, 1988 article in the Press-Citizen. “The origin of the intriguing name Bjaysville [sic] seems to be long since forgotten,” Weber wrote.

But information elsewhere in that article does suggest a possible origin for the name.

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The article was focused on the impressive Jacobson house, built on a rise overlooking N Dubuque Street in 1929 for Dr. Herman Jacobson and his wife Sylvella (“known to her close friends as ‘Babe,’” according to Weber). It was a large, impressive house built at what was then the lightly populated edge of town, and B’jaysville Lane, as Weber noted, “runs along the north side of the [Jacobson] property.”

What follows is speculation.

It’s not unusual for a private street at the edge of a city to be named for the most prominent nearby property, or by the owners of that property. Weber mentioned the Jacobson’s had a daughter, but didn’t give her name. A check of genealogical records showed that their daughter would have been three years old when the Jacobsons moved into their home at 1818 N Dubuque St. Her name was Billie Jean.

Was B’jaysville Lane named by doting parents for their daughter whose initials were B.J.? That makes at least as much sense as it being named by some unknown blue jay enthusiast (and more sense than some of the prurient suggestions of how the lane got its name).

It’s no longer possible to ask any of the Jacobsons about the street’s name. In 1942, Dr. Jacobson, a 48-year-old veteran of World War I, volunteered to serve in World War II. He was eventually sent to the South Pacific, and while stationed in New Guinea, Jacobson contracted a disease that couldn’t be treated there. He was transferred to California for treatment, but never recovered and died there in 1945.

Following her husband’s death, Sylvella Jacobson went back to college, earned a master’s degree and went on to teach in both Iowa City and Cedar Rapids in order to support herself and her daughter. “In later years, while living alone the house, she rented out the second floor as an apartment, and the basement rooms as an apartment,” Weber wrote.

Billie Jean died in 1977. Her mother died six years later, at the age of 84.

Regardless of how B’jaysville Lane got its name, that name may soon be nothing but a memory. The area around B’jaysville Lane has been rezoned for high-density residential uses with some commercial properties as well. Real estate developers plan to use B’jaysville Lane to extend Foster Road to Prairie du Chien Road. Plans call for the entire extended street to be called Foster Road.