Fire departments took titles from tiny towns, family farms

If places like Carman, Verdoy, Thomas Corners and Stanford Heights mean something to you, you’re eit

If places like Carman, Verdoy, Thomas Corners and Stanford Heights mean something to you, you’re either an expert in antiquated local geography or a volunteer firefighter with a keen interest in history.

They are the names of local volunteer fire departments, and throughout the Capital Region there are dozens of them with obscure titles taken from little-known hamlets or long-forgotten family farms. Some, like Carman Volunteer Fire Department, one of seven districts in the Town of Rotterdam, is named after the general area it calls home. In Carman’s case, that’s a section of Hamburg Street in the eastern edge of the town.

“It’s just a name for an area, like Mont Pleasant or Goose Hill in Schenectady,” said Gary Bonk, a fire commissioner for Rotterdam and a volunteer with the Carman VFD for more than 40 years.

“It’s not an official name. But William Carman ran a grocery store down by the crossing in the early 1900s, where the bridge is now, and it was originally called Carman’s whistle-stop. There was a hook there for the train to drop the mail. Eventually it just got shortened to Carman.”

Railroad Junction

The area now known as Carman was originally referred to as Athens Junction because of its connection to the railroad. That name, however, became outdated at the end of the 19th century and was replaced with Carman. The Carman VFD was created in 1933, and currently covers an area of 4.5 square miles.

“Nobody lives more than two miles away, and many of us live closer,” said Bonk. “We had a lot of grass fires when I first started back in 1964, but not so many any more. We don’t have that many open fields these days.”

Carman’s district is bordered on the east by that of the Stanford Heights VFD, which fights fires in both the towns of Niskayuna and Colonie. That name stems from the Stanford family and their large home (the Ingersoll Residence) on the corner of State Street and Balltown Road near Mohawk Commons. A member of that family, Leland Stanford, went to California in the 19th century, made a fortune in railroads, and created Stanford University.

Another area that had a name change around the turn of the 19th century was Verdoy, a small hamlet in the Town of Colonie that covers the area along Route 7 as you leave the Town of Niskayuna heading east.

Whence verdoy?

“That area is called Watervliet Center on one old map, and then later it was named Morrisville,” said Town of Colonie historian Kevin Franklin. “At the turn of the century there was a postmaster named Burton Warner, and because there was another Morrisville out west of here, they wanted to change the name. I guess he just pulled Verdoy out of his hat. That’s another mystery to solve.”

The Verdoy VFD was formed in February of 1944, the first firehouse being built in 1948 at Stop 29 of the Troy-Schenectady Turnpike. The current station, built in 2001, is at 988 Troy-Schenectady Road, or Route 7.

In the Town of Glenville, among the volunteer fire departments with unique names are Beukendaal, Rector’s and Thomas Corners. Beukendaal, a Dutch word meaning beechdale, is the area just north of the village of Scotia where the “Beukendaal Massacre,” a brief battle between the locals and the French and Indians, took place in 1748.

Rector’s, meanwhile, located on Route 5 west of Scotia heading toward Amsterdam, is drawn from the name of a family that grew broom corn on the banks of the Mohawk River back in the 19th century.

Thomas Corners, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year, is located on Route 50 in Glenville adjacent to the Schenectady County Airport. The area was originally referred to as Thomas’s Corners, but not too long after the death of Tunis Thomas in 1947, the name was simplified to Thomas Corners.

“His family came from Rensselaer way back in the 19th century,” said Glenville town historian Joan Szablewski. “They farmed that area right there around the airport, where Freeman’s Bridge Road comes in and forms the triangle with Route 50. The name is on the 1866 map, so the family was there for quite a while.”

Nonexistent fort

Back in 1950, a garage fire on Carman Road in the Town of Guilderland convinced residents in that area that a volunteer fire department was necessary, and as a result the Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Department was formed.

While the station is on Route 146 or Carman Road in Guilderland, the area referred to as Fort Hunter also extends into the town of Rotterdam by Curry Road. There was never a fort in that area, however, so how it began to be called Fort Hunter is something of a mystery. Town of Guilderland historian Alice Begley thinks it has something to do with the hamlet of Fort Hunter in Montgomery County where there actually was a fort during Colonial days.

“I really think it might have been because that was where the road started to get to the Fort Hunter up by Schoharie Crossing,” said Begley. “The area called Fort Hunter in the Town of Guilderland was never officially a legal hamlet. It’s just a name that’s always been associated with the area, and nailing down exactly why it has that name is difficult.“

Boght Corners, a small hamlet in northern Albany County and the Town of Colonie, has the Boght Community VFD — the name a Dutch word meaning “bay” or “bend” — while others with distinctive names include the Schonowe Volunteer Fire Company (Rotterdam); the Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Company (Guilderland); the F.B. Peck Hose Company and the Kavanaugh Hook and Ladder Company (both in Waterford); and the Harmony Corners Fire Department (Ballston Spa).

“There are some pretty unique names associated with volunteer fire departments,” said Bonk, who is still treasurer for the Carman VFD but retired from active fire fighting duty.

“If you live around Rotterdam, you probably know where the name Carman comes from, at least us older ones do. I can remember growing up in the ’30s in Schenectady and calling that area Carman.”

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