Like so many people in our town, and towns across the country, the pandemic upended nearly all my travel plans and I found myself increasingly taking a break from household isolation by walking the streets of my neighborhood.
During one such outing, I found myself strolling up Empire Drive and around a turn to come down Gala Place. The street names reminded me that this development of homes had once been part of an apple orchard, and stimulated thoughts about the history linked to the names of Niskayuna’s roadways.
Since I became town historian, several residents have asked me about the origins of their own street names. More often than not I’ve been unable to provide an answer. However, that does not mean that street names in Niskayuna are simply mundane conveniences and devoid of reason, substance, or history.
In fact, as former town supervisor and devoted local historian Edwin Reilly wrote several years ago, the intersection at the heart of modern Niskayuna may be one of a kind in the United States.
Balltown Road and Nott Street are each named for a 19th-century Protestant minister with the first name of Eliphalet. What are the chances that another such intersection exists?
Many street names acknowledge Niskayuna’s agrarian past and recall the roadways that led to the farms and homesteads of that era, including Consaul Road, Greens Farm Road, Pearse Road, Rosa Road, Stanford Avenue, Van Antwerp Road, Vrooman Avenue, Winne Road and others. More recently, prominent residents have been recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the town through the naming of roads. These include Blatnick Way, Alice Wagner Way, Preisman Drive, Rowe Road and Reilly Way.
Some of the most traveled roads simply tell us where we are going or where we have been, perhaps most obviously Troy-Schenectady Road and Lock 7 Road. But others are less obviously geographic if only because of demographic change, such as Niskayuna Road or Rosendale Road or Aqueduct Road, each of which direct traffic to the three hamlets that made up the 19th-century town of Niskayuna.
As Niskayuna developed from an agricultural to a residential municipality in the 20th century, street names were increasingly provided by the residential developers themselves. These names may seemingly have little connection to town history, but that doesn’t mean that they did not have a story to tell.
For instance, sections of the town recall international attachments, such as to England (Buckingham, Westminster, Hereford and Oxford); to Ireland (Shannon, County Clare, Galway, Killarney and Killkenny); and to Spain (Almeria, Barcelona, and Valencia). Surely there were reasons for these choices.
With more than 350 named streets and roads in the town, the single-largest collection of names are personal names (Alexis, Benedict, Bobby, Deborah, Jason, Rosemary, Timothy and the like). Likely these are family, friends or simply favorites of developers meant to honor or remember someone special in their lives.
Finding the connection between the developer and such a personal choice for a street name is without a doubt a difficult task, but not impossible. I happen to live on one of the streets in this collection of names, Barton Place, and in researching the development known as Warner Estates, may have stumbled on the reason for the street’s name.
Beginning in the 1930s, William M. Warner transformed his 15-acre Warner Garden Farm, off Lisha Kill Road and Troy Road, into Warner Estates, with more than 20 lots for homes. Warner Road curves through the former farmland beginning and ending at Lisha Kill Road; Barton Place links the two wings of Warner Road. The first house on Warner was built in 1930, and the first house on Barton was built in 1935. Intriguingly, William Warner’s great grandson, Barton, was born in June of 1934.
While I cannot know for certain that the child’s name and the street’s name are linked, it seems a reasonable conclusion. As William Faulkner wrote, “the past is never dead; it isn’t even past.”
We travel with the past and our history every day, even when we simply walk the streets of Niskayuna. What about the street where you live? If you know or think you know the history of its name, please contact me.
Denis Brennan is the Niskayuna town historian. Historical questions, tips or resources can be emailed to [email protected].