4

In the streets is still used universally.

As is out in the street.

The casual fan of Sir Arthur's writings will recall, of course, that Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson lived in Baker Street:

...while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street...

Flashback:

Here's a passage from a turn-of-the-20th-century American author, O.Henry:

They were seated where they had a habit of meeting—in the little, Creole-haunted café of Madame Tibault, in Dumaine Street.

Back to the story:

When, walking north on Sullivan, you reach the corner, you don't turn into Bleeker; you turn onto it. And the pub you've been looking for is on Bleecker, not in Bleecker Street.

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When did this happen? When did people start staying "on Bleecker Street"?

P.S. I hear that in the U.K. both prepositions are used. Really?

UPDATE:

With @JDM's help, we've narrowed it down to sometime between O.Henry's career and the 1960's. I hope that eventually we'll be able to:

a) narrow it down further
b) figure out what caused the change

From Jack London's Martin Eden:

“Say, Joe,” was his greeting to his old-time working-mate next morning, “there’s a Frenchman out on Twenty-eighth Street. He’s made a pot of money, and he’s going back to France. It’s a dandy, well-appointed, small steam laundry. There’s a start for you if you want to settle down.

But, from the same book:

Few like me, I imagine, in the university pond. Sometimes I am fairly sure I am out of water, and that I should belong in Paris, in Grub Street, in a hermit’s cave, or in some sadly wild Bohemian crowd, drinking claret,—dago-red they call it in San Francisco,—dining in cheap restaurants in the Latin Quarter, and expressing vociferously radical views upon all creation.

Yes, I know that "in Grub Street" is a metaphor.

  • Mark Twain to the rescue! From Puddin'head Wilson:

Well, las' Monday I 'uz pass'n by one o' dem places in fourth street whah deh sticks up runaway nigger bills, en he'ps to ketch 'em, en I seed my marster!

UPDATE (10:52 p.m) January 21 2016:

Getting closer. Theodore Dreiser, writing in 1925:

From The American Tragedy:

Finally, after a second hymn and an address by Mrs. Griffiths, during which she took occasion to refer to the mission work jointly conducted by them in a near-by street, and their services to the cause of Christ in general, a third hymn was indulged in, and then some tracts describing the mission rescue work being distributed, such voluntary gifts as were forthcoming were taken up by Asa--the father.

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    @JEL: Mine's got a picture. – Ricky Jan 18 '16 at 8:51
  • Yes, I prefer your question, but you haven't got the answers...yet. The notion of 'duplicate' at EL&U is at odds with precise or even approximate use of 'duplicate'. I'm not surprised. It's only one of the many travesties. – JEL Jan 18 '16 at 9:14
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    Actually, I'm a bit confused here. Are you saying that a building used to be "... in XYZ Street" but nowadays people say "... on XYZ St."? But if Americans say "On the streets of San Francisco", why do you consider it odd that a building is said to be "on" a street? P.S. There's a word missing in "...*you don't into Bleeker .." – Mari-Lou A Jan 18 '16 at 11:11
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    @DavidGarner, if it's any help: Like Mari-Lou A, I've only ever heard the preposition "on" for this context. If I said I live "in" Main Street, it would mean I'm blocking traffic or in the sewers under the surface. ;) This is my experience as a U.S. resident born in 1965. So that at least helps narrow the transition point to some time between the O. Henry citation and the late 1960s. – user36001 Jan 21 '16 at 3:24
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At the very last we know that people were saying "on Bleecker Street" in 1964 because that's the year that Simon & Garfunkel released their song "Bleecker Street," which contains these relevant lyrics:

Voices leaking from a sad café/Smiling faces try to understand/I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand/On Bleecker Street

A poet reads his crooked rhyme/Holy, holy is his sacrament/Thirty dollars pays your rent/On Bleecker Street

I heard a church bell softly chime/In a melody sustainin'/It's a long way to Canaan/On Bleecker Street


Early Google Books matches for 'on Bleecker Street'

The first occurrences of "on Bleecker Street" in Google Books search results are considerably older than Simon and Garfunkel. From Supreme Court [of New York], The East New York & Jamaica Railroad Company against James H. Elmore (1874):

The following is a description of the mortgaged premises, herein-before mentioned: all that certain lot, piece or parcel of land, with the buildings thereon, situate, lying and being in the Ninth Ward of the City of New York, and bounded as follows, to wit: northerly in front, by Bank street, easterly, by Bleecker Street; westerly, by Hudson street; and southerly, in the rear, by the thereinafter described premises, containing in breadth in front, on Bank street aforesaid, eighty-seven feet ten inches, and in depth on Bleecker street, thirty-nine feet, on Hudson street, thirty-nine feet five inches, and about one hundred feet more or less in the rear.

And again in evidence entered into the record by the defendant's attorney, Frank Johnson, in Supreme Court [of New York], Aubelio Quarto against William Newman and John Newman (1905):

I know the Mills Hotel down on Bleecker Street. I know there is a high building there. I remember there being an organ grinder on the street there about the time of this accident, but he was far down, not the place where I was.He was not on the same side of the street that I was on. ... I was on the opposite side of the street from the side that the hotel is on. I went across the street to buy a package of tobacco. I was on the sidewalk at Sullivan Street and I was crossing the street in order to go to the other sidewalk where the hotel is—buy this tobacco. I was going to buy the tobacco near the hotrl in a tobacco shop there on Bleecker Street.

And again—finally in a piece of literature—from The Bradys' Bleecker Street Mystery; Or, The House with a Hundred Doors (1907), "by a New York detective":

Both man and child looked so out of place here on Bleecker street that the attention of the detectives was attracted at once.

"Governor, that's a singular outfit," remarked Young King Brady. "Can that be a kidnapped child?"


Early Google Books matches for 'in Bleecker Street'

Examples of "in Bleecker Street," however, are even older. The earliest Google Books match is from "State of Religion in New York," in The Missionary Herald (May 1825):

...a peculiar blessing has been granted to the Orange-street church, which is about to change its location and occupy a new edifice for worship in Canal-street. The Spring street church, who are soon to enter into their new place of worship in Laight-street, has also partaken in the blessing. The colored Presbyterian Church is in an interesting state in respect to its spiritual interests; and a large blessing has been poured forth upon the Centre Presbyterian Church in Broome-street, and the Church in Brookline. A new Church has been formed in Bleecker-street under interesting auspices.

And from Margaret Askew, "The Conspiracy Acknowledged and Defended: In a Letter to the Rev. William W. Phillips, D.D." (1832):

He wished that I would not mention to any of the others, that I had seen him. I went to Bernard's house, but found his wife only within. In returning to my own house, I met Bernard and Margaret, and in a house in Bleecker-street, they signed the paper, and I administered the oath to them. ...

There are in this extract, two or three little points, in addition to those for which I made it—why did you appoint to meet my husband in the front of your house?—why did you slink around the corner with us, into Green-street, and why did you go into "a house" in Bleecker-street, to obtain the signatures, and administer the oaths?—why were not all these transactions conducted in your house?

And much later, from Junius Browne, The Great Metropolis: A Mirror of New York (1869):

"I lodge in Bleecker street" is a biography in brief. If he who says it be poor, the reason is apparent. If he be prosperous, his morality is questioned at once. And yet Bleecker street is respectable enough, if one have no insight into character and conditions.


Conclusions

All told, Google Books finds at least two dozen unique matches for "in Bleecker Street" from the period 1825–1873—before it turns up its earliest match for "on Bleecker Street." Eventually, however, "on Bleecker Street" takes over. An Ngram chart measuring the frequency of occurrence of "in Bleecker Street" (red line) versus the frequency of occurrence of "on Bleecker Street" (blue line) shows a general trend downward for "in Bleecker Street" since about 1920, and a general trend upward for "on Bleecker Street" since about 1908:

The two frequency lines cross a few times between 1919 and 1947, but today the runaway winner is "on Bleecker Street." If I had to provide an approximate date in response to the question "At what point did more people say (or rather write) "on Bleecker Street" than "in Bleecker Street," I would say sometime in the late 1930s—but it seems quite likely that the change in written usage had to catch up with a somewhat earlier change in spoken usage.

1

It appears that "on" has been predominant in the US since about 1910 (a bit fuzzy prior to that), and, up until about 1980, "in" has been predominant in the UK.

US Ngram

(Note that I changed from using "Main Street", as shown in a comment above, to using "Oak Street", since "Main Street" is both the name of a novel and a generic name for "small town America".)

UK Ngram

Note that the UK numbers got a bit weird around 1980 -- something changed (though perhaps this anomaly is due to the name "Bank Street").

(Update: Turns out that "Bank Street" was the name of a line of PC applications, beginning about 1980. That probably explains the anomaly.)

  • Query: Apart from Main Street, what is the most common name of an American street not found in New York? I changed "Bank Street" to "in Bleecker Street" and Ngram threw a bunch of books at me with "in Bleecker Street," some of them published as late as 1938. I actually looked at the books themselves, and the sentence structure, it's all legit. – Ricky Jan 22 '16 at 4:01
  • @Ricky - I figured Bleecker Street was a bad bet due to being a highly advertised street both in the US and UK. "Bank Street" was kind of picked at random from a "Streets of London" list. "Main Street" is quite popular in the US but has too many other meanings. "Oak Street" is common and less likely to have other meanings. Other than Broadway, Main, Center, and the numbered streets, tree and flower names are likely to be most common. (There is, unfortunately, a lot of "contamination" in the British English books from US sources and vice-versa.) – Hot Licks Jan 22 '16 at 4:15
  • @Ricky - There's this list and some others if you Google "most common street name in usa". – Hot Licks Jan 22 '16 at 4:20
  • Thanks for the list. Okay, I doubt the Brits had a street named after Washington up until whenever, so I stuck it in Ngram: "in Washington Street." When the graph came up, I went down the page and pressed 1970-2000. Plenty of books. Wow. But. All of them are historical. The plot thickens. – Ricky Jan 22 '16 at 4:28
  • @Ricky - Remember, most writers of historical fiction have no better idea than you do what the lingo was 100-200 years ago, so they will often default to using British terminology. – Hot Licks Jan 22 '16 at 13:27

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