October 5, 2018

A peculiar sight greets travelers moving up or down I-75 on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Not the Ellenton Premium Outlets mall, with its parking lots full of Canadian license plates over a thousand miles from the nearest northern border. Not the multiple indoor ice rinks in a state that almost never sees the stuff naturally.

I’m talking about Toledo Blade Boulevard, an 8.4-mile thoroughfare in North Port, Florida, named after a newspaper some 1,200 miles away.

Just as retirees and sun-seekers from New England often follow I-95 to Florida’s east coast, I-75 tends to siphon folks from the Great Lakes region to the western side of the Sunshine State. But for someone to enshrine the name of a newspaper as a road, especially when the news media isn’t exactly the country’s most popular thing? That seems a little more notable.

It all started with a reporter.

Thomas A. Ferris worked at the Toledo Blade in the 1930s — an archived December 19, 2010 article from the actual Toledo Blade reports — but by the 1950s was working for a developer called Mackle Co. in Florida.

How he got the gig is lost to history. Some reports suggest that Ferris enjoyed a successful career at the Blade before “finding himself” in the developer’s employ. An Associated Press report from 1959, curated by former reporter and blogger Ron Haines, offers a less rosy picture.

Ferris started his career as a hand on seagoing freighters and then moved on to the Newark Ledger, Toledo Blade and the Associated Press, before hooking up with a publicity firm in Miami Beach. He soon opened his own firm, made enough to retire, lost his money in lousy investments, bounced back, then fell again, ended up jobless in Pompano Beach, Florida, drove a cement truck for a while and then landed a job at a small development company called Mackle Brothers in Miami.

However he got there, Ferris’ duties soon included selling lots in new communities built on a 14-mile stretch along Florida’s Tamiami Trail. The company bought 70,000 acres of land from a rancher for $2.3 million and began parceling it out, building two-bedroom homes and selling them for as little as $10 down and $10 a month, columnist Lindsey Williams reported for the North Port Sun in 1993. To attract retirees to its new communities, the company bombarded northern newspapers — including the Toledo Blade, Ferris’ former employer — with sun-soaked advertisements.

Development exploded. Before long, Mackle had sold 125,000 lots. Williams reported that surveyors worked from dawn to dusk to lay out the many new streets necessary for the communities.

As executive vice president, part of Ferris’ job was to draft names for the new streets that Mackle was developing. Early names included Elkcam Boulevard (Mackle spelled backward) and Easy Street (who wouldn’t be tempted to move there?). The company built so many homes that employees’ imaginations were drained, Williams reported.

Developers soon ran out of relatives and friends to honor with a street name. Flowers, trees, fruits, exotic plants, states, cities, seas, birds, animals — and foreign variations thereof — were soon exhausted. Numbered streets are efficient but lack sales appeal.

Ferris remembered the Blade once more, possibly because of his connection but also possibly to reward the newspaper for helping Mackle sell so many homes.

And thus, Toledo Blade Boulevard came to be. Sixty years later, anyone who takes exit 179 off of I-75 drives down a tangible piece of Tom Ferris’ resume.

The actual Toledo Blade, itself a nod to Toledo, Ohio’s sister town in Spain once known for sword and knife manufacturing, has a framed photograph of the highway sign hanging in its newsroom.

Courtesy Dave Murray/Toledo Blade

Toledo Blade Boulevard isn’t the only media-related road name in the area. Ferris named a street in nearby Port Charlotte after a friend at the Blade, George Jenks. And relatively nearby Radio Road is named in honor of WNOG, which had a transmission tower on the road for nearly 30 years.

And who knows? Perhaps a midlife career shift from yours truly will bring the world a Buffalo News Boulevard or a Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Lane.

Special thanks to David Shedden, special collections librarian at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, for his help in researching this article.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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