Origins of Place Names
in Rensselaer County

This is a work in progress. If any of you can help fill in some of the blanks, you'd be welcome to!

Place NameOrigin
Alps The hamlet of ALPS in the town of Nassau takes its name from
the European mountain range the ALPS and was so-named because it
lies in a somewhat mountainous area of Nassau.
Averill Park Averill Park was named after James Knox AVERILL, who owned quite
a bit of land in the area as well as a famous horse named "Moscow",
about whom Sand Lake Town Historian Judy Rowe gives an interesting
account here. One source says that James Knox Averill died on
21 May 1881. Our cemeteries database has a James K. Averill
(1846-1900) who is buried at Sand Lake Union Cemetery in Sand Lake.
Berlin Lin Van Buren wrote: "I cannot find who decided to name this location "Berlin" or when. If it
was named for the city of BERLIN in Germany, the origin of the name is
disputed, but is probably of Wendish origin. It may come from brljina,
meaning "pool"; from berle, meaning "untilled land"; or from barlin,
meaning "sheltered place". There is also a centuries-old association with
bears. Residents of Berlin, Rensselaer Co. NY pronounce the town's name
as "BURR-lin", with the emphasis on the first syllable; it is not clear
how long ago this pronunciation began to be used, but it may date
from the time of the First World War, when the hamlet of South Berlin
in this town changed its name to Cherry Plain so as to end the name
association with Berlin in Germany, the capital of the country against
which the US was then at war. However, there is a place name in Wisconsin
also called Berlin, which reportedly was settled by pioneers from Berlin,
Rensselaer Co. NY in the 19th century - long before the First World
War - and the residents of Berlin, Wisconsin also call their place name
"BURR-lin", with emphasis on the first syllable."
Brainard The hamlet of BRAINARD in the town of Nassau takes its name
from BRAINARD'S BRIDGE, which was built by Joseph BRAINARD to span
Kinderhook Creek. There is also an association with an early
New England missionary named David BRAINERD who came into the area
and apparently had an encampment at or near what is now this hamlet
in the 18th century.
Brunswick Lin Van Buren wrote: "Again, I have not been able to determine who named this
location "Brunswick" or when. It is said that the first settlers
of what is now Brunswick were Germans, but I have not been able
to find any details about this. In any case, these German settlers
would have known that they were settling in British territory and
that the British monarchs of the day were of the House of Hanover,
a German dynasty. One of the titles of the Hanoverian kings of
Great Britain was "Duke of Brunswick", and it may simply be that
this location was named during colonial times for the reigning king
at the time and that later when the town itself was created, the name
was already established. Brunswick (Braunschweig in German) is
a very old city on the Oker River and was for centuries a duchy in
what is now the German state of Lower Saxony. The reigning family
of this duchy (the last Duke was deposed in 1918) produced, on its
cadet (younger) branch, Ernst Augustus (1629-1698), Duke of
Brunswick-Lüneburg. He married Princess Sophia of Bohemia (1630-1714),
daughter of Princess Elizabeth of England (1596-1662), who was the
daughter of King James I (1566-1625) of England, of the Scottish
dynasty of Stuart. Ernst Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, became
the first Elector of Hannover in 1692; therefore, his wife became
Electress Sophia of Hannover. (An "Elector" had the right of voting
to "elect" the Holy Roman Emperor.) In Britain, the Act of Settlement
of 1701 decreed that the succession to the British throne should pass
only to Protestants. This meant that on the death of the last Stuart
monarch, Queen Anne (1665-1714), whose many children had all died
in childhood, the succession would pass not to Queen Anne's Catholic
younger half-brother or any of his heirs, but instead to the Protestant
Electress Sophia of Hannover (who was also Duchess of Brunswick) and
her heirs. Both Queen Anne and Electress Sophia died in 1714, so the
succession passed to Electress Sophia's eldest son (1660-1727), who
ascended the British throne as King George I. Through his mother, he
became King George I of Great Britain; through his father, he became
Duke of BRUNSWICK. The title "Duke of Brunswick" remained with the
Kings of Great Britain until the House of Hanover became extinct in
the male line but not in the female line; this happened on the death
of King William IV in 1837, when the British throne descended to his
niece Queen Victoria, while the continental titles of Brunswick and
Hannover, governed by Salic Law, descended instead to the next male heir.
[NB: "Hanover" has one n in English but two inGerman.]
Castleton-on-Hudson The website of the Village of Castleton-on-Hudson in the
town of Schodack states, "When Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch,
arrived on the northern half of the river which now bears his name,
he found the Mohicans occupying both sides of the river. They welcomed
the explorers, and Hudson called them a 'very good people.' At an
Indian village, possibly located at Castleton, he met many people who
lived in a longhouse; they had large supplies of maize on hand.
Although afterward dominated by the Mohawks as a result of war and
the fur trade, the Mohicans nonetheless were important as owners of
the land and kept their villages near the Hudson. While some moved
east to the Housatonic valley in the 18th century, a few remained
along the Hudson River until the early 19th century. Indian burial
grounds were found around Castleton over the years. The old tradition
of a Mohican village or 'CASTLE' on the hill gave Castleton its name."
Dunham Hollow This hamlet in the town of Nassau was named for Isaac DUNHAM,
who settled at this site in about 1800.
East Greenbush To look at a modern map, you'd wonder why it isn't called
"South Greenbush". It's called "EAST Greenbush" because when
it was named this, in 1858, it lay to the east of "Greenbush"
[today the City of Rensselaer]. See also GREENBUSH.
East Nassau This newly created (in the 1990s) village lies in the EASTern
part of the town of NASSAU; see NASSAU below. A village named
East Nassau had existed in the 19th century but had later
relinquished its incorporated status.
Grafton Sylvester writes on page 548, "There is no record preserved
showing the reason for bestowing the name of Grafton upon the
new town, but it is evident that it was named for GRAFTON, Vt.,
from which place Nathaniel C. Dumbleton, the first supervisor,
had removed."
Greenbush "Greenbush" is an anglicization, and a partial corruption,
of the Dutch GROEN BOS, the word groen meaning
"green" and the word bos meaning not "bush" but "woods".
The earliest record in which this location was referred to as
t'groen bos was in 1655; prior to that, it had been
called "DeLaet's Burg". In 1897, the whole of what was left of
"Greenbush" was absorbed into the newly created City of Rensselaer.
As for the very earliest origins of Greenbush, Sylvester tells us
on page 333 that two Native American names for what became
Greenbush were Pe-tu qua-poem and Jus-cum-ca-tick.
Its first European name of De Laet's Burg was after "the historian
De Laet, who was one of the original co-directors of Rensselaerwyck".
Hoosick Hoosick evolves from two Mahican words: wudjoo, meaning
"mountain", and abic, meaning "rock". The town takes its name
from the river. Earlier spellings for both the river and the town
include Hoosic and Hoosac.
Hoosick Falls The village of Hoosick Falls in the town of Hoosick takes its
name from a waterFALL on the HOOSICK River (see HOOSICK above).
This waterfall is now the location of the Hoosick Falls
hydroelectric plant, as well as of a new launch site for
recreational boating. Canoeing the seven miles between this
launch site and the covered bridge at Buskirk is a popular pastime.
Hudson River One of a number of Native American names for this river was
Shattemuc, meaning "river that flows both ways". Shattemuc
is an Algonquian word, perhaps Mahican. Another name for the river
was Muhheakantuck, which apparently also alludes to the fact
that for the first 150 miles of this river, the water flows in both
directions because this portion of the river is an estuary, heavily
influenced by tidal flow coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. The earliest
Dutch settlers called it the Noordt Rivier, "North River", as
opposed to the "South River", now the Delaware River that flows along
the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. After 1664, when the colony of
New Netherlands passed from the Dutch to the British, the "North River"
was renamed "Hudson's River", after the English explorer Henry HUDSON
who, sailing for the Dutch government, had in 1609 become the first
European to ascend the river beyond its mouth. The Dutch briefly
regained control of the New York colony in 1673 and renamed the river
the "Orange River", but the British were soon back, and the river
reverted to the name "North River" until the early 1800s, when it
received its current name, Hudson River.
Johnsonville This hamlet, on the south bank of the Hoosick River in the northern
part of the town of Pittstown, is named for William JOHNSON.
Scott H. sends this explanation from the Johnsonville
history, published in 1976: "The village was known
as 'the Lick' when William Johnson arrived, about 160 years ago
[i. e., in about 1816]. At that time, the settlement consisted of
about five houses. Shortly after his arrival, he built houses [and]
established a factory and a grist mill. Later he purchased the tavern
and turned it into a store. Through his energy the village grew rapidly.
He disliked the name of 'the Lick' and one day caused to be painted
across the factory and grist mill the name 'Johnsonville'. It was not
until his death that the name was applied by the Troy and Boston railroad."
Thanks, Scott!
Lansingburgh Sylvester writes on page 293, "Abraham Jacob LANSING, in the year
1771, had a portion of his farm surveyed by Joseph Blanchard and laid
out into lots, with streets and alleys, and named the place 'the City of
Melrose Lin Van Buren wrote: "Although I have been unable to find anything about how this hamlet
in the town of Schaghticoke got its name, it shares its name with
the town of Melrose in Scotland. Melrose, Scotland lies in the
Scottish Lowlands, in the Borders region, and is less than 30 kilometres
(20 miles) from England. It is the site of the ancient Melrose Abbey.
Did people from Melrose, Scotland settle in Melrose, Rensselaer Co, NY?
Miller's Corners The hamlet of MILLER'S CORNERS in the town of Nassau was named
for George MILLER, who kept a store at this location in about 1840.
Nassau The Town of NASSAU, the village of NASSAU and the village
of East NASSAU all take their name from NASSAU, a former duchy in
what is now Germany, lying in parts of the present-day German states
of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate and covering the area around
the city of Wiesbaden. The ruling noble family that reigned over
this duchy from the 10th century until 1866 had two branches.
The elder branch remained with the duchy; the cadet (younger) branch,
also known as the Ottonian branch, produced the future William I (1533-1584)
"the Silent", Founding Father of the Dutch nation. William was born
in Dillenburg, in the duchy of Nassau, and was brought up as a
Lutheran Protestant until the age of 11. In 1544, when William
was 11 years old, he inherited on the death of his first cousin
René the throne of the principality of Orange, in what is now
the département of Vaucluse in southeastern France,
on the river Rhône. Orange had been a principality since the
12th century, and William thus became Prince William of Orange.
The Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1588), who ruled
as King Charles I of Spain in 1516-1556 and as Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V in 1519-1556, and who was regent for the under-aged Prince
William, insisted that the new young Prince of Orange convert to
Catholicism. In 1555, William's father died, and William inherited
the title Count of NASSAU, thus creating the amalgamated House
of Orange-NASSAU. At this time, the Netherlands was ruled by Spain.
In 1556, Emperor Charles V abdicated and retired to a monastery.
He left the Holy Roman Imperial crown to his brother Ferdinand and
left Spain, the Netherlands and Naples to his son, who became King
Phillip II of Spain (1527-1598, reigned 1556-1598). King Philip,
perhaps best known for sending the unsuccessful Spanish Armada against
England in 1588, created Prince William of Orange the first
stadholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1556.
There is no exact English equivalent translation for stadholder;
the word comes from stad, meaning "place", and houder,
meaning "holder", yielding stadhouder, literally "place-holder"
but now used to mean "deputy"; it is a direct translation of the
Latin locum tenens. What King Phillip II had not reckoned on
is that William relinquished the Catholic faith that had been imposed
on him at age 11 and reverted to the Protestant faith, becoming a
Calvinist. William led the largely Protestant people of the Netherlands
to independence from Spain. In 1815, after a period of Napoleonic
occupation, the Netherlands became a kingdom, and the last
stadholder became the first King of the Netherlands, as
King William I, of the House of Orange-NASSAU. The reigning
monarch of the Netherlands today, Queen Beatrix, is also of the
House of Orange-NASSAU. It is an expression of pride in their
Dutch roots that led the citizens of Nassau, Rensselaer County, NY
to choose the name NASSAU when the town received its charter on
12 March 1819.
North Greenbush The town of NORTH Greenbush was so named because when it was
formed in 1855, it lay to the north of "Greenbush", from which it
had been created. See also GREENBUSH.
Petersburgh Sylvester, page 509: "In the above year [1791], Petersburgh
assumed her name ... by the unanimous voice of the people, honoring
PETER Simmons with his Christian name, and the addition of -burgh
for the name of that town."
Pittstown Pittstown was named for the British statesman William Pitt
the Elder (1708-1778), first Earl of Chatham. He was "Secretary of
State" (in effect, Prime Minister) as head of coalition governments
in 1756-1761 and again in 1766-1768. He achieved popularity both in
Britain and in Britain's American colonies after 1763, when he brought
the Seven Years' War (known in North America as the "French and
Indian War") to an end.
Poestenkill Sylvester writes on page 557 that the town of Poestenkill "derives
its name from its principal stream, the Poestenkill, which signifies
in the Dutch language 'puffing' or 'foaming' creek."
Rensselaer Rensselaer County took its name from the Manor of RENSSELAERwyck
from which it was created in 1791; the 700,000-acre Manor had taken
its name from the family name of the Patroon who had first owned it,
Kiliaen Van RENSSELAER (1585-1642), a Dutch pearl merchant who never
went to America. Later, in 1897, the new City of Rensselaer was also
named for Kiliaen Van RENSSELAER.
Sand Lake The Town of Sand Lake and the hamlet of Sand Lake were named for
a lake called "SAND LAKE". Descriptions of this lake's location in
Sylvester (page 518) indicate that it was on the course of the
Wynantskill, the part of this stream after it flows out of
Glass Lake and before its confluence with waters coming in from
Burden Lake to the south. This puts the location of the lake called
"Sand Lake" right in the centre of the hamlet of Sand Lake.
Schaghticoke Schaghticoke town and Schaghticoke village take their name from
the "Schaghticoke tract", an area of land roughly corresponding
to the present-day town of Schaghticoke. The tract was deeded to
the county of Albany in 1707. This tract, by description, seems
to be the same as land which Sir Edmund Andross had set apart in
1670 as a reserve or reservation for the Schaghticoke Native
Americans, most of whom belonged to the Pequot tribe of New England.
The Pequot and virtually all other Native Americans had been driven out
of New England by Europeans in the 1660s. Several theories have been
put forward as to the origin of the Native American word "Schaghticoke"
or its equivalent. One theory (see the Mohican Press) is that the
Algonquian word SCHAGHTICOKE, or SCATICOOK, means "scattered";
this single word speaks volumes about the 17th-century history of several
peoples who called themselves by this name - several peoples who became
"scattered" by their expulsion from New England. For the most part,
the Schaghticoke people of what is now the town of Schaghticoke resided
in relative harmony with their Dutch and other European neighbours for
over 80 years, from about 1670 until 1754. The Schaghticoke tract became
a sort of general-purpose place of Native American refuge; Native Americans
from a large number of ethnic groups who needed refuge were taken in at
this "Geneva" of the Hudson Valley. By 1754, the Native Americans living
on the Schaghticoke tract came from a variety of tribes. In 1754, virtually
the whole of the Native American population of the Schaghticoke reserve
suddenly and peacefully abandoned it and moved to Saint Francis, Quebec,
where they themselves were "taken in" by Natives who already lived there,
in the villages of Missisquoi and Odanak. Ironically, a group residing
in western Connecticut who are also called the Schaghticoke are more
closely related to the earlier Mahican people who had resided in what
is now the town of Schodack, Rensselaer Co., NY than they are to the
Schaghticoke people who prior to 1754 had resided in what is now the
town of Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co., NY. But both groups have in common
this generic meaning of the word schaghticoke - both peoples
considered themselves to have been "scattered". Other theories about
the origin of the Native American word schaghticoke are summarized
for us by Richard Dorrough of Malta, Saratoga Co., NY. Richard points
out that the Schaghticoke Tract covered a larger area than the
present-day town of Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co., NY, and that it
had encompassed what is now Stillwater, Saratoga Co. Indicating
that the suffix -kook in Algonquian usually means "river",
Richard cites the Deerfield Museum* website's definition, "place where
the rivers meet", and an Algonquian Language website's definition,
"at the fork of the rivers". I've also found a Mechanicville website (this
small city in Saratoga Co. is just across the Hudson River from the
town of Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co.) that defines Schaghticoke
as "a corruption of the Indian word pisgachticok, meaning the
confluence of two streams". The Schaghticoke Tract of yore overlooked,
and the present-day town of Stillwater still overlooks today, the
confluence of the Mohawk River and the Hudson River. Richard also
mentions the French's Gazetteer (1860) definition of
skat-i-kook as "landslide".
* This hyperlink doesn't work as of 23 May 2004, but I'm
leaving the link in in case the problem is temporary.
Schodack The town of Schodack takes its name from the Mahican word
ESQUATAK, meaning literally "place of the fire" and meaning
figuratively the seat of government of the Mahican nation. Mahican
elders governed affairs while seated around this special "place of fire".
Studies of early records show that these "fire-places" tended to be
very close to river banks, and a study of the log kept by English
explorer Henry Hudson in 1609 as he sailed up the river that would
bear his name shows that at the place where the village of
Castleton-on-Hudson now stands, a large encampment upon the bluff
could be seen from the river. The Mahican language belongs to the
Algonquian family of languages. In early European records of this
location, the spelling was Schodac.
Stephentown Stephentown takes its name from the forename of STEPHEN
Van Rensselaer (1764-1839), the eighth patroon and sixth Lord
of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck. He was also known as "the
Good Patroon".
Troy The City of Troy, NY was named for the ancient city of TROY
in Asia Minor (in what is now Turkey). Prior to a town meeting
held on January 5, 1789, Troy had been known as "Vanderheyden's";
it is said that at this meeting the name "Troy" was unanimously
adopted after it had been proposed by Christopher Hutton, who with
his brother Timothy Hutton operated a shipping company for the
transport of grain and produce, located at 456 River Street.
Valley Falls The village of Valley Falls in the town of Pittstown is
situated in the VALLEY of the Hoosick River, at a place where
the Hoosick drops or FALLS on its way towards the Hudson River.
This descent of water constituted a source of water power for
industry, and the village grew up around the water mill.
Wynantskill The hamlet of Wynantskill, a part of the town of North Greenbush,
takes its name from the Wynantskill, a creek that runs through it.
The creek was named for Wynant Vanderpoel, whose land the creek traversed;
he had a sawmill on the creek. Thank you to Patrick Hogan for supplying
this information.

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Debby Masterson

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