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January 04, 2011

WTF UPDATE: How did Burlington's Iranistan Road Get Its Name?

In late 2010, while my fellow Seven Days staff writers were busily poring over their stories from earlier in the year in search of possible updates for our annual year-end wrap-up, I was digging into Burlington's more remote past — the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to be exact. My mission: to ferret out the origins of an unusual street name in Burlington's Hill Section, Iranistan Road. My quest led me to such random historic figures as P.T. Barnum, the "Lion of Kashmir," and the inventors of Kool-Aid and Conan the Barbarian. Wtf_10

Alas, despite such promising leads, I never arrived at a definitive explanation for the name.

Thankfully, Vermont is rife with writers and journalists whose institutional memories are much deeper than my own. Specifically, Bill Mares, an author, beekeeper and frequent contributor to Vermont Public Radio, called to tell me that he'd heard of another, more likely theory to the road's origins.

Back in the late ’70s, Mares explains, he was working on a story for the Burlington Free Press about a series of artifacts given to the Fleming Museum by Col. Le Grand B. Cannon (1815-1906), a 19th-century businessman and railroad tycoon. According to a November 4, 1906 New York Times obituary, Cannon was a Civil War veteran, then later a prominent banker, capitalist and railroad and steamboat tycoon who once served as vice president of the Hudson & Delaware Canal Company. In 1864, Cannon became president of what was then called the Champlain Transportation Company.

According to the Times obit, Cannon was also a noted philanthropist, having purchased the ruins of Fort St. Frederick on Lake Champlain, which he restored and improved. He also gifted $10,000 to create a pension fund for retired Episcopalian pastors in Vermont.

Notably, Mares says, Cannon also owned a sizable tract of land in Burlington's Hill Section bordered by what's now Prospect Street, Ledge Road and Cliff Street. According to Mares, Cannon was once a prolific traveler throughout central and south Asia and named many of the carriage roads on his land after places he'd visited. Iranistan Road is the only such extant road.

“I don’t know if it’s true," Mares adds, "but it sounds plausible to me.” 

Got another theory about Iranistan Road? I'd love to hear it.

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