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The colorful corners of Fulton County

December 9, 2012
By BILL ACKERBAUER , The Leader Herald

Google might be able to suggest the best route from Red Bunch to Keck's Center, but satisfying one's curiosity about the names of those places - among the dozens of obscure corners of Fulton County - requires a bit of digging.

The origins of the county's two cities' names are well known. Johnstown was christened by its founder, Sir William Johnson, in honor of his son, John, and Gloversville was named for the industry that made its tanneries and craftsmen famous.

But a glance at any decent map of the county reveals a plethora of colorful place-names. Some have remained familiar landmarks for centuries, while others have faded from memory.

Article Photos

This map of Fulton County was published in Strahan & Nichols’ 1868 “Atlas of Montgomery & Fulton Counties, N.Y.” The boundaries of the 10 towns have changed little since the publication of this map, though at that time they were relatively new, Fulton County having been created in 1838 with the breakup of what had been a much larger Montgomery County. (Image courtesy of the Kenneth R. Dorn Regional History Collection at FMCC’s Evans Library)

In many cases, it's easy to guess how a particular bush, corner, creek or burg got its name.

"Part of it was the 19th century quest for immortality," says Fulton County Historian Peter Betz, explaining why prominent landowners and entrepreneurs impressed their names upon the surrounding communities.

Names of many small localities changed in the decades after the Revolution, but by the mid-19th century, the names of most hamlets and geographical features in the county had been etched in stone. Betz said the expansion of the federal postal system contributed to the stabilization of place-names.

"People weren't quick to change the names of their post offices - that went all the way to Washington," he said, "though they were sometimes quick to change their postmasters."

The true origins of many place-names in the county many be impossible to trace, Betz said. For example, he and other local historians have been unable to pin down the genesis of Berkshire, an area just east of Gloversville in the town of Johnstown. It likely was named after a county by the same name in the south of England, but it's not known who brought that name across the pond and applied it locally.

What follows is just a sampling of some of the lore associated with various Fulton County place-names:

The town of Bleecker, founded in 1831, gets its name from one of its early landowners, though historical texts disagree on the man's first name.

Hamilton Child's "Gazetteer and Business Directory of Montgomery and Fulton Counties N.Y. for 1869-70" says the man so honored was Rutger Bleecker, a patentee of the town. But Washington Frothingham's 1892 "History of Fulton County" says the town was named for Barent Bleecker, one of three businessmen who jointly purchased a large tract of land there in 1793.

A Bleecker family tree on the website indicates Rutger and Barent Bleecker were among several children of a couple from Albany, so perhaps the Bros. Bleecker share the eponymous honor.

Other early settlers of the town are remembered in place-names such as Peters Corners, Lindsley Corner and Holmes Lake, to name a few.

During the Civil War, the name Bull Run was applied to a road and a settlement in the southeast corner of Bleecker.

"The Bull Run was the name of what would eventually become state Route 309, the main road going through Bleecker and today running from Eleventh Avenue in Gloversville to its conclusion where County Road 112 begins," said Eliza Darling, president of the Bleecker Historical Society. According to an early state engineering report, "Bull Run Road" was first paved with stone in 1907.

"It received its name in honor of two Irishmen who had a fight on the day of the memorable battle of Bull Run," according to Child's gazetteer, though it's not clear whether that date was in July 1861 or in August 1862, since two Civil War battles are known by that name. Presumably, the brawl in Bleecker saw fewer casualties than either of those in Virginia.

The towns of Broadalbin and Perth both were named by the area's early Scottish settlers. The former refers to Breadalbane, a region in the Scottish Highlands, and the latter echoes the name of a city in central Scotland.

"They were the Scottish who settled the area," said Broadalbin Town Historian Gordon Cornell. "I guess they carried a big enough club that they were able to get things named in honor of the place they came from."

Cornell said at one point in Broadalbin's history, a section of the town was named Rawsonville in honor of the community's first doctor.

"Dr. Edmond G. Rawson ... came to Broadalbin in 1805," according to an academic paper written in the 1950s by Iona Cloutier, a local teacher who lived on property that once belonged to the doctor - "the land on both sides of West Main Street, a distance of two blocks."

It seems the doctor's influence didn't last long, however. An 1842 "Gazetteer of the State of New York," published by J. Disturnell of Albany, says Rawsonville was "incorporated in 1815, although no attention is now paid to the act of incorporation."

Disturnell's text describes Rawsonville as having been "situated on Fonda's Bush Creek," referring to what now is known as Kennyetto Creek.

According to Cornell and several historical texts, the name Kennyetto is a Mohawk Indian word meaning "snake trying to swallow its tail." That was a fitting description of the creek until 1930, when the Sacandaga Valley was flooded to create the Great Sacandaga Lake reservoir. Before that event, the creek flowed down from the Lake Desolation area in Saratoga County and around Broadalbin so that its beginning and end were not far from each other. The flooding of the valley cut the "snake" short.

Another area in Broadalbin affected by the flooding was Benedict's Corners, a hamlet that was on the road along the Sacandaga River. The place isn't quite under water, but little remains to mark the schoolhouse, church and stores that once stood near the intersection of what are now county highways 110 and 138.

"If you say 'Benedict's' now, people don't know what you're talking about," Cornell said. "At one time, they did have quite a little hamlet up there."

What's the deal with Caroga and Garoga? The two spellings were long used interchangeably to denote both the lakes and the creek that flows through it and Ephratah. In 1907, William Martin Beauchamp of the state Education Department wrote that the name is Native American in origin and could mean either "on this side," "to make something of wood" or, simply, "creek."

In his book "Fulton County: A Pictorial History," former County Historian Lewis G. Decker said the controversy over the spellings was settled in part through the influence of Cyrus Durey, a lumber tycoon and congressman who was one of Caroga's leading citizens in the early 1900s. Decker cites a "little ditty" that captured the spirit of the disagreement: "Old Cyrus D. he says, says he/They're just plum crazy, those folks be/to spell Caroga with a G."

For the last century or so, the name Caroga has been applied to the town, the lake and the creek, while the hamlet in northeast Ephratah goes by the name Garoga.

The hamlet of Newkirk's Mills, founded by Garrett A. Newkirk, sprang up in the 1830s. "By 1846, it was the largest community in the town of Caroga, with over twenty buildings," according to Barbara McMartin's book "Caroga: An Adirondack Town Recalls its Past."

Just south of Newkirk's is Glasgow, named for Ralph Glasgow, who operated a mill there in the 1880s.

Wheelerville, site of the current Caroga Town Hall, was named for Johathan Wheeler of Massachusetts. He was co-owner of the Wheeler-Clafin Company, which in the late 1800s harvested 20,000 acres of hemlocks for their bark, used in the tanning of leather. (His partner, William Clafin, owned shoe factories in the Boston area.)

At the north end of the town, on either side of Route 10, are the Stoner Lakes. Named after Nicholas Stoner, the Revolutionary War veteran and woodsman, the lakes have at various times also been called Beaver Lakes and Vrooman Lake and Deline Lake. Stoner himself is supposed to have called them the "Stink Lakes," because upon his first visit he found hundreds of rotting fish that had been trapped behind a beaver dam.

The town of Ephratah was named by its founder, Anthony Beck, after a word in the Bible thought to mean "abundance-bearing fruit," according Frothingham's history of the county.

"Beck claimed the power of seeing into the future and of describing coming events," Frothingham writes. "He claimed to have seen, at mid-day, from 'Spook Hill' ... a large and wealthy city, full of business and active life, the scene of this vision being the site of the present village of Ephratah."

Present-day Town Historian Evelyn Frasier said she doesn't know how "Spook Hill" got its name - it's one of several place-names in the town whose origins are murky.

"Why Rockwood was called Rockwood I never really knew," Frasier said, noting at one time it was called Pleasant Valley.

Frasier said she had wondered for years about the origin of Green Street, a road that branches north from Route 29 near the hamlet of Lassellsville. It turned out that "Green" was not a surname.

"I was looking through some deeds, and I found out that one of the original founders on that street was 'Green Baker,'" she said. "I almost fell over in the county building when I found that."

Among the city of Johnstown's various neighborhoods, Frog Hollow jumps to mind as one with an unusual name. The name could simply refer to the frog pond at the bottom of the Montgomery Street hill, which can be seen from the F, J & G Rail Trail just south of West Main Street.

According to City Historian Noel Levee, Frog Hollow isn't only section of the city with a batrachian nickname. At one point, a section of East Main Street was known as Frog Alley, probably for politically incorrect reasons having to do with the fact that the proprietor of the Union Hall Inn was a Frenchman, Vaumane Jean Baptiste de Fon Claire.

The 19th century historians wrote especially glowing reviews of Keck's Center, in town of Johnstown about four miles west of the city on Route 67.

"Through the energy of Mr. Keck it will doubtless become quite a business place in time," Child predicts in his 1870 gazetteer.

Frothingham's 1892 text provides a detailed biography of Jeremiah Keck, a county judge at that time. Keck had distinguished himself during the Civil War, when he volunteered for military service at the age of 16. Later in life, he represented the area as a state senator.

The exact derivation of the name Meco is uncertain. On several 19th century maps, the hamlet just west of Gloversville is labeled McEwen's Corners - suggesting the present name might be an abbreviation of the previous one.

However, an 1899 item published in the Gloversville Daily Leader says a "Daniel Meeker" had sold about 120 acres to John McEwen for $1,000 in 1819. The anonymous writer scoffs at those in the community who thought the man's name was "Daniel Meco."

"A man of his wealth and ability could doubtless spell his name more correctly than can the gossips of the present generation," the item reads. " ... But 'Meco,' like the memory of its supposed namesake, is gradually passing to the realm of obscurity."

The town and village of Mayfield share one of the older names of European origin in the county. Letters between Sir William Johnson and his associates refer to "the May Fields."

"The area may have reminded Johnson of a place he remembered in Ireland," Betz suggests.

The hamlet of Vail Mills, also sometimes called Vail's Mills, was settled first in the 1790s and was called Lower Bush until William Vail arrived from Connecticut in 1804 and established a prosperous business there. Some of Mr. Vail's descendents lived in the area until at least the 1940s, Peter Betz said, and at least two of them met with serious accidents at the lumber mill: An 1872 newspaper account mentions Aaron Vail made a "narrow escape ... getting out of his father's planing machine with only a piece of his hand cut off." A 1903 obituary for his son William (who lived to a ripe age) mentions Aaron Vail Sr. had met with an untimely death around 1841, but it spared readers any gory details. Later, in 1924, a fire destroyed the mill and seriously injured its then-owner, Charles A. Vail, according to a newspaper report.

Mayfield is chock-full of hamlets with notable names, including: Red Bunch, so called because of a cluster of houses all painted the same color; Cranberry Creek, where the tart berries once were cultivated in the boggy vly; and Riceville, named not for a crop but for founder Oliver Rice, who established a homestead there that now serves as a museum run by the Mayfield Historical Society.

How Mayfield got the nickname Bannertown is uncertain, though a 1920 poem by Adeline E. Wilkins, published on a local history website (, suggests it was simply an expression of local pride and the community's fondness for parades.

Mayfield's Nine Mile Tree Road, said to be among the oldest roads in the county, got its name from a landmark now long gone - a tree at the nine-mile mark along a road stretching northwest from Johnson Hall to Fish House. The latter location got its name because it was the site of one of Sir William's summer retreats, "a place he would go fishing with his buddies," according to Northampton Town Historian Gail Cramer.

The village of Northville was not incorporated until 1873. It was first settled around 1800 and was called Sacandaga until the year 1827, when local shopkeeper and postmaster Joseph F. Spier suggested the name be changed.

"He thought it should be called Northville because it was the farthest village north that got the mail," Cramer said.

Oppenheim, in the county's southwest corner, bears the name of a small city in Germany.

"Since the majority of the first settlers in the western Mohawk Valley were of German origin, coming from the Palatinate region along the Rhine River, it is likely that someone from this group made the choice," Town Historian Hector Allen wrote in his book "Oppenheim Chronicles: A Narrative History, Vol. 1."

Several settlements sprang up in western Fulton County in the 1800s but failed to flourish for long. The Irish Settlement in Ephratah was one example. Another was in Oppenheim, just north of Route 29, where Cline Road branches off into Overswamp Road. Allen said the area called Overswamp was home to several families at one time.

"They used to call them 'swamp angels,'" Allen said.

"Middle Sprite was a successful community for a couple of generations," Allen said. It is named for one of the three Sprite Creeks in the town.

"Sprite is like a mist that comes up out of the creek when it's colder," Allen said. "Apparently, Big Sprite was noted for that."

The name Oppenheim is said to come from an old Dutch word meaning "open house," suggesting the founders had warmth and hospitality in mind.

"A nice thought," Allen writes in the book, "but since our township was created and named ... 200 years ago, it is doubtful we will ever know for sure who named it or why."

Editor's note: This article was made possible with the assistance of Fulton County Historian Peter Betz, the staff of the Evans Library at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and its Kenneth R. Dorn Regional History Collection, and many of Fulton County's municipal historians. Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at



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