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What's In a Name?: When the Roads Really Do Tell a Story

 

Our tagline on the Gribblenation blog is "because every road tells a story". Some roads tell different stories than others. Along our travels, we may see historic markers that tell us a little story about the roads we travel or the places we pass by. Some historic markers are more general, as to telling us who lived where or what old trail traversed between two towns. During my travels across New York State and other states or provinces, I pass by many historic markers, some with interesting or amusing references to roads. I wanted to highlight a few of the markers I've seen along my travels around the Empire State and help tell their stories. Those stories may be as specific as explaining the tales of a tree that was used to help measure a distance of eight miles from Bath to Avoca in Steuben County, as referenced on the Eight Mile Tree historical marker above. They may also help point the way along historical roads first used centuries ago, or may help tell a local legend. Local history is finding more voices, with groups like the William G. Pomeroy Foundation funding grants for communities to put up historic markers. With that being said, here's a few historic markers I've found around New York State that relate to the roads we travel.

The King's Highway is a Dutch colonial road between what was then known as Beverwyck (now Albany) and Schenectady. King's Highway started as a woodland trail and trading route in 1663 through the Albany Pine Bush, then evolved into a wagon road between the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers over time. The King's Highway was most likely the route taken by Symon Schermerhorn on a bitterly cold night in 1690 when he rode to warn Albany of the bloody French and Indian attack that is now called the Schenectady Massacre. During the latter half of the 18th Century, In the mid-1750s, the King's Highway was a haven for thieves and so dangerous that militiamen would have to escort travelers along the road for safety precautions. During the American Revolution, the King's Highway was a hiding place for Loyalists of the British Crown.

After the Revolutionary War ended, a stagecoach line was established to carry passengers for three cents a mile with a one way trip being about 16 miles. By the early 19th Century, travel on the King's Highway declined with the construction of a new, straighter turnpike between Albany and Schenectady (now known as Central Avenue, or NY 5) as a replacement for the King's Highway, which led to the old road through the Pine Barrens becoming largely abandoned. Today, parts of it can still be traced as part of the trail system in the Pine Bush Preserve and other parts of the King's Highway can be followed under the name of Kings Road, which goes from NY 155 to the City of Schenectady.

On NY 11B in Nicholville, far up in New York's North Country, lies the junction of two historical roads. The Port Kent and Hopkinton Turnpike was established between 1829 and 1832, running about 75 miles from Hopkinton in St. Lawrence County to Port Kent along the shores of Lake Champlain in Essex County. The Port Kent and Hopkinton Turnpike connected the agricultural markets of northern New York State, across the northern Adirondacks and to the manufacturing and port areas along Lake Champlain, fostering development of interior sections of northern New York State in the process.

The Old Military Turnpike connected Plattsburgh with Hopkinton (and perhaps, beyond), going through Ellenburg, Chateaugay and Malone in the process. Construction for the Old Military Turnpike began in 1817 upon an order by President James Monroe, with military troops clearing a path for the road until 1822. You can follow the Old Military Road by using modern day NY 190, US 11 and NY 11B.

Some historical markers signify a specific event or person. In Otsego County, just north of the hamlet of Fly Creek, you can find an old dirt road called Honey Joe Road, honoring a man who made honey wine during the era of Prohibition. A teetotaler he was not. The William G. Pomeroy Foundation and New York Folklore have a Legends & Lore program for historical markers. I find there's a lot to learn from the Legends & Lore historical markers.

Probably my favorite historical marker anywhere. I highly doubt that the husband was allowed to have access to cats or ladders after orchestrating this fiasco. Catttown Road is found off of NY 28 in Oaksville, west of Cooperstown.

One final entrant in the Legends & Lore series of historical signs is of the Thirteen Curves near Syracuse. Every city, county or region seems to have their own story about a ghostly woman. My native Long Island boasts the story of Mary's Grave, for instance. On Cedarvale Road in the Town of Onondaga, the story goes that a bride is searching for her groom after a horrific car crash on their wedding night over a century ago. The accident is said to have taken place on a curvy stretch of Cedarvale Road that follows a creek through a narrow hollow. Since that fateful day, travelers have reported to have seen the ghostly image of a bride with glowing eyes, who is sometimes covered in blood, and sometimes carrying a glowing orange lantern, wandering the curves of the road looking for her lost groom.

Along Cedarvale Road near Syracuse, where the legend of the Thirteen Curves is said to have happened.


Sources and Links:
Weird U.S. - The Bloody Bride of 13 Curves Road
William G. Pomeroy Foundation - Historic Signage Grant Programs
William G. Pomeroy Foundation - Legends & Lore
New York Folklore - About New York Folklore
Adventure with Courtney - The Old Military Turnpike
Peru Gazette - Roadside Marker Commemorating the Port Kent-Hopkinton Turnpike Unveiling is Today
Historic Saranac Lake Wiki - Port Kent and Hopkinton Turnpike
Albany County History Collaborative - The Watervliet Turnpike, or: "The McAdam Road"
New York State Museum - The King's Highway
Albany History - The King's Highway
The Evening Tribune (Hornell, NY) - Eight Mile Legend Preserved

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