What is the name of this road?

Even official documents disagree on what to call historic road

(Sept. 14, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Le Fevre Drive? LeFever Avenue? Lafevre Street?

Every Cordovan knows the 1,400-foot road that winds gently around the western tip of Eyak Lake, connecting residential areas to the Copper River Highway. However, no one seems to agree on just what this road should be called.

The city’s utility database refers to the road as “LeFevre Street,” while its property tax database uses “LeFevre Avenue.” Even the signs standing at either end of the road disagree, calling it both “Le Fevre Street” and “Le Fevre Avenue.” Unofficial sources show little more consensus: a 2020 survey plan prepared for the Cordova Historic Preservation Commission refers to the road simply as “Lefever,” while other documents and directories run the gamut from “Lafevre Street” to “Le Fevre Drive.”

A widely cited video by journalist Phil Edwards asserts that, while a road is any path that connects two points, “street” and “avenue” refer only to roads with buildings on both sides. In theory, streets and avenues run perpendicular to one another, with streets running east to west and avenues running north to south. That Cordova’s road intersects Lake Avenue at a right angle indicates it may be a street. However, the fact that it runs roughly north to south is a point in favor of classifying it as an avenue.

Edwards defines a “drive” as a road often taking its contours from natural features like mountains or lakes, making it plausible that the innominate road could be a drive. However, the name “Le Fevre Drive” seemingly does not appear in any property databases, zoning maps or other sources requiring a high degree of official scrutiny.

So, what are we to call this road? Perhaps the most definitive answer comes from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management zoning map created in 1959, just five years after the road was laid down, referring to it as “Le Fevre Street.” Although this map is in some ways inconsistent with current accepted road naming — referring to Lake Avenue, for instance, as “Lake Street” — it offers the most strongly vetted available source for the road’s name.

Whether street, avenue or drive, where did the road get its name? Oft-repeated local folklore claims that “Le Fevre” was the name, or nickname, of a frontier-era brothel proprietress. However, the truth is more prosaic: the road was named after businessman John Stotera LeFevre, who would later become mayor of Cordova.

Street signs give conflicting names. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Born in Fresno, Calif., LeFevre traveled north in 1923 to work on the Alaska Railroad, according to contemporaneous news reports. After arriving in Cordova, LeFevre took many different jobs, first as a laborer and then as an auto hardware dealer, eventually opening a car dealership out of a First Street facility that was rechristened the John LeFevre Building.

Some time after LeFevre arrived in Cordova, he sent for a woman named Pearl, whom he married when she arrived in town, according to an account compiled by the Cordova Historical Society. By the end of LeFevre’s life, his family had grown to include six children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild, many of whom had moved from Cordova.

A look at LeFevre’s resume shows several decades of appropriately feverish activity: at various times, he served as president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, president of the local Pioneer Igloo, commander of the Cordova American Legion Post, governor of the local Moose Lodge, and a member of the local Elks Lodge and of various highway and public works boards. During the 1950s, LeFevre advocated before the U.S. Department of the Interior to expand local road infrastructure and connect Cordova to the highway system.

Having served 12 years on Cordova City Council, LeFevre was elected mayor in 1961, and later mounted a run for state Senate as a Republican.

Photographs of LeFevre from the period reveal a square-shouldered man with closely trimmed gray hair. A photograph used in an Alaska Senate campaign ad shows LeFevre wearing a dark trilby and a stern expression.

“VOTE — For JOHN LeFEVRE,” exhorted one campaign flyer. “JOHN KNOWS and UNDERSTANDS your SPECIFIC and URGENT needs! LeFEVRE is a very determined fellow. You can trust HIM to really WORK for your District.”

A stern-faced John LeFevre. Photo courtesy of the Cordova Historical Society/06-25-143

Official sources are fairly consistent in rendering the former mayor’s last name as “LeFevre,” though a few semi-official documents — including one of LeFevre’s own Alaska Senate campaign ads — use variants like “Le Fevre” and “LeFever.” His headstone in Cordova Cemetery delivers the final word: “LeFevre,” without an internal space.

LeFevre died of a heart attack on July 4, 1964 — mere minutes before the beginning of an Independence Day parade he had organized.

“It was said of him, that he had worked night and day on the celebration and it was just too much for him,” reported The Cordova Times.

The tone of news coverage and comment surrounding LeFevre’s unexpected death suggests he was genuinely valued by Cordovans for his willingness to work for the town on multiple fronts. The centerpiece of LeFevre’s funeral was a somewhat hagiographic speech delivered by Democratic state Sen. Harold Z. Hansen.

“There are few among us whose ledger of life contains such great balances of good deeds, self-sacrifice and dedication to worthy cause,” Hansen told those gathered. “The life story of John has the main theme of self-denial to the end that his community, his state and the people thereof might prosper and have a better life and a better place to live.”

Alaska Gov. William A. Egan also delivered remarks by telegram, praising LeFevre for his work and high integrity, which Hansen read aloud. Now, 57 years after his death, John LeFevre is memorialized for his service as Cordova’s mayor, and for his work expanding the town’s road system, by a road that — kind of — bears his name.