Sunday, March 25, 2012

Villages and Towns of the Mohawk Valley

I drove west into the Mohawk Valley again today. The names of the towns you pass through are indications of past and present inhabitants:

- Schenectady: Mohawk language for "beyond the pines"

- Scotia and Glenville: named for a Scotchman who was one of the early settlers of Schenectady, Sanders (Alexander) Glen

- Amsterdam: named of course after the capital of the Netherlands, this city has the nickname "the Carpet City," because of the many rug factories that functioned there in earlier times. Its second claim to fame is that it was the hometown of actor Kirk Douglas.

- Fonda: named after early Dutch settler Douw Fonda, an ancestor of Henry, Peter, and Jane Fonda.

- Fultonville: named after Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat.

- Palatine Bridge: named after early settlers from the Palatinate in Germany.

- Canajoharie: Mohawk for "the pot that washes itself," presumably so named because of the way the water swirls around a gorge in the Canajoharie Creek.

- Fort Plain: site of a Revolutionary War fort.

- Indian Castle: so named for the palisaded Mohawk village or "castle" that originally stood nearby.

- Herkimer: named after Revolutionary War General Nicholas Herkimer.

- Oriskany: named after the nearby Oneida village.

And so on, farther westward where an early New York State surveyor gave classical Greek and Roman names to a number of towns and cities, such as Utica, Rome, and Syracuse.

Many of these towns have either an "Erie Boulevard" or a "Canal Street," as the Erie Canal also ran near the route of the present day New York State Thruway. In fact, if you know where to look, you can still see remnants of the canal in a few places along the route, a remembrance of a lifestyle now long past.


  1. Did I ever show you my book about place name origins in New York State?

  2. No, I don't think you ever did. I'd like to borrow it sometime!