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Niskayuna man charts graphical history of town housing

Niskayuna man charts graphical history of town housing

Niskayuna man charts graphical history of town housing
Guy Spiers points to one of the maps in his graphic-based history of housing in the town of Niskayuna.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

Guy Spiers has always been diligent about data.

A few years ago, he was working at a chemical plant in Richmond, Virginia, and noticed maps charting the 400-acre facility were out of date. He decided to update them.

"Those maps are still being used today," Spiers said. "That got me interested in putting things down on a map."

Spiers, who has lived in Niskayuna since 2011, began researching the town's housing around 2013. Utilizing data available online from the town assessor's office, Spiers created maps, bar charts, line graphs and tables that show the town's growth since the first house was built, in 1650. The study ends in 2009.

Spiers, who also used assessor's data to research homes in his Chesterfield County, Virginia, neighborhood, began the Niskayuna project because he wanted to know about housing prices around Ruffner Road. The study expanded.

"I enjoy maps -- always have," Spiers said. "I thought, Wouldn't it be interesting to see the oldest house on each street? So I made a list."

He actually made two lists of the oldest existing house on each street. One is sorted by year built. The other is sorted by street name.

Spiers' housing report also includes:

  • Maps that show housing built each decade. The maps include the location of each house added -- Spiers used red dots for these designations. Blue dots mark houses that were already in place at the time.
  • Streets new to the database.
  • An assortment of line graphs and bar charts.

The 188-page graphical history is available on Niskayuna's website, niskayuna.org.

Spiers was surprised to learn the oldest house on Ruffner Road was built in 1929.

"I thought the whole neighborhood was a 1950s development," he said.

While there are no photos in the big document, facts about 7,426 Niskayuna homes (as of 2009) are part of the report. People who check out Spiers' work will lean things about their neighborhoods and their town.

"They'll learn the oldest house on their street," he said. "They can see how Niskayuna was built up, get an idea which neighborhoods were built first."

Van Antwerp road has the oldest house in town, built in 1650. Rosendale Road got the second house, 50 years later in 1700. Grandview Avenue's oldest home has been around since 1900. Antonia Drive got its first residents in 1950.

Checking out other charts reveals that 1880 was a big year for construction. During most of the 1860s and 1870s, only one or two new homes were built each year. In 1880, 14 houses were built -- with Central Avenue, East Street, Fairfax Avenue, Oregon Avenue, State Street, Union Street and William Street all getting their first homes.

People will be able to find their "dots" on the maps.

"I don't have the addresses," Spiers said, "but if they want to look real close, they know what year their house was built, they can see it and see what other houses were built at the same time in their neighborhoods."

Spiers learned some things himself, including how slowly Niskayuna has grown. Home construction began to boom during the late 1800s, after the General Electric Co. began operations in Schenectady.

Spiers said he spent hundreds of hours on the project. There are dots for each of the town's 7,426 houses, but Spiers said there are hundreds of thousands of dots in the report.

He admits he was obsessed with the study, which he completed around 2016.

"I'd wake up at 3 a.m. and say, 'Oh, I'm not going to get a good night's sleep. I'll get on the computer for three hours and work on this.'"

Spiers believes such studies are rare for municipalities.

"This is probably the only one in the world," he said, laughing.

Contact Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

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