By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As typos go, forgetting the silent “e” on the end of Steele Lane isn’t the worst you can do. Most journalists would have to admit to worse.
Still, it’s probably not something you want to flaunt in front of thousands of drivers every day.
But that’s the state of affairs on southbound Highway 101 in Santa Rosa, where the exit sign hanging from the Bicentennial Way overpass suggests a road named for an iron alloy rather than one honoring a historic Santa Rosa family.
“Unbelievable,” said lawyer Jonathan Steele, great-grandson of the road’s namesake. “Frank Steele would not have been a happy camper to see that.”
His ancestor, Frank, came to Santa Rosa in the late 1860s, setting up a ranch near present-day Steele Lane Elementary School, he said.
Quoting “reliable hearsay,” Steele said the road bearing the family name was formed by the repetition of trampling hooves. His great-grandfather would herd cattle from his ranch to train cars on Mendocino Avenue, where they would be shipped to market.
“In time, the dirt path became a lane,” Steele said. “The rest is history.”
It’s not clear when the recent signage mistake was made, if it will be corrected and how much that would cost. Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said Wednesday morning he was trying to find out the particulars, but did not respond to inquiries later in the day.
Caltrans recently completed a $120 million expansion of the stretch of Highway 101 running from Santa Rosa to Windsor, including the area with the incorrect sign.
For his part, Steele has long accepted that many people will stunt the family name unless he makes a point of saying there’s an additional “e.”
“If you’re a Steele, so to speak, you get used to that,” he said.
But he sounded mildly exasperated to hear the mistake was inscribed on a major construction project. An exit sign for Steele Lane has been hanging off Bicentennial Way since the overpass’ existence, he said.
“Geez guys, doesn’t anyone proofread?” he said.
Still, the error slipped the notice of him and his kin until a reporter asked about it Wednesday. Steele said he takes back roads to avoid traffic when he drives into Santa Rosa from his Larkfield home.
At least no one appears to have misspelled the other road signs of the family tree. His grandfather, Ben Steele Sr., married Irma Slusser, who came from a family of hops farmers, a major crop in Sonoma County until the market evaporated in the 1950s.
After the end of the hops business, Steele’s father, Ben Jr., became part of the county’s expanding vineyard production.
To the best of Steele’s knowledge, all signs for Slusser Road, which runs between Mark West Station and River roads, have been spelled correctly, he said.