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Chappaqua Doesn’t Exist! The Importance of Place

Chappaqua doesn’t exist. So says Ken Jackson of Columbia University, a longtime advocate calling for New York State to promote New York history. This might seem strange to the many people who have heard of Chappaqua, and those who know someone who lives there. It might also seem strange because Jackson himself lives in Chappaqua.

Well, not exactly. Chappaqua is not a municipality. There are no Chappaqua mayor, police, court or any of the other government services we normally associate with a municipality in New York State. Chappaqua doesn’t have a municipal historian because it is not a municipality; it’s a hamlet, located in the Town of New Castle.

Chappaqua_Farm_West_Chester_County_New_YorkWho has every heard of New Castle? Excluding government employees, who identifies as being from New Castle? The historical society is called the New Castle Historical Society and it is located in the former home of Horace Greeley. The library however, is called the Chappaqua Public Library, located on South Greeley Avenue. There is a Chappaqua Central School District with a Horace Greeley High School and people commuting to New York by train use the Chappaqua station. But the governing entity is the Town of New Castle. Confused? Welcome to Westchester, the county of numerous entities (and high taxes).


So if Chappaqua really does exist but not as a municipality, what about Algoe? This hamlet in the Catskills began to appear on maps nearly a century ago. What is known about this hamlet of indeterminate population? According to Town of Rockland Historian Joyce Conroy, which includes the hamlet of Roscoe in Sullivan County, Agloe can be pronounced as a-GLOE or AG-loe. It’s location appears to be across the county line in the Town of Colchester in Delaware County. It exists on various gas company maps and did until recently on Google Maps as well. The only problem is that Agloe isn’t and never was real.

As reported in the New York Times, a team of local experts from the towns of Colchester and Rockland (mistakenly identified as the Town of Roscoe in the article, it can be confusing) attribute the origin of the nonexistent hamlet to some mapmakers in the 1920s who had the combined initials of OGLEA. This was transformed into Agloe. The name was created so trout anglers would always know where they were by having the place where they fished named. This faux place took on a life of its own even though it never existed beyond the minds of its creators.


By contrast Allerton really does exist, but can’t get any respect. This north Bronx community centered on Allerton Avenue is called Laconia and Bronxdale by the New York City Department of City Planning and Bronxwood on Google Maps. The Hagstrom Map Company does recognize Allerton. As reported in the New York Times, Bronx Borough historian Lloyd Ultan explained that Bronxdale had been a village south of Allerton in the 19th century while Laconia derives from a nearby former estate. City neighborhoods unlike municipal borders or even hamlets can be very fluid due to demographic changes and urbanization of former farms and/or estates. But apparently in this instance the voice of the community has been heard and the name Allerton will be officially recognized by both the city and Google.


Sometimes places did really exist and then they don’t. For example the hamlet of Doodletown in Rockland County was founded in 1762. Then around its bicentennial, the residents were forced to sell to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission for a proposed ski resort. As reported in the Journal News, the resort was never built and it became part of the Bear Mountain State Park. During the annual fall Hudson River Valley Ramble, one of the perennial activities is a hike in the park to the former Doodletown. Led by Mark Jelley, the tour includes cemeteries, iron mines and waterfalls besides the sidewalks, walls and foundations of the now abandoned hamlet which lives on in the memories of the families who once lived there.


Across the river in Westchester County, the village of Kensico also lives on. And when the water is clear behind the Kensico Dam, it is possible to see the buildings of the flooded village of 200 people. in the Kensico Reservoir that supplies New York City with water and is patrolled by New York City police. This village is hardly the only one which has disappeared in the effort to quench the thirst of the City. Think how different New York State history would be if the Hudson River really was a river and not an estuary. Then New York could draw fresh water from the river which flowed right by it rather than having to consume more and more of upstate water.

Upstate / Downstate

Speaking of upstate, exactly where is it anyway? A reader submitted that question to the New York Times. The reader also asked about “the North Country and the Southern Tier.” The answer focused on the Regional Economic Development Council division of the state. This may have due to the old adage of “follow the money.” Who cares how APHYNYS, NYSOPRHP, and ILoveNY among others divide the state when it’s the REDCs that divvies up the money?

The definition of the northern and southern regions are more interesting. According to the article, Albany’s working definition of upstate is based on the areas not directly served by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commuter rail system. Therefore downstate includes Long Island, the five boroughs, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, and Dutchess counties.

The answer concludes by raising some questions which perhaps could be addressed by some high-ranking authorities:

1. Should the Catskills be considered entirely upstate?
2. Should the Southern Tier extend further west along the Pennsylvania border and why is Delaware part of it (or is it part of the Catskills, too)?
3. Is Rochester part of the Finger Lakes or western New York?
4. Should Albany, which is dominated by downstate, really be considered part of upstate?

5. Is the Champlain valley separate from the North Country?
6. Shouldn’t the officially recognized neighborhoods in the five boroughs have municipal historians? Does it really make sense for a borough of over 1 or 2 million people to have one historian while many counties with 50,000 to 100,000 have dozens?

These questions go to the significance of a sense of place, a common buzzword/jargon term in education today. How does one develop a sense of place given the multiplicity of official and unofficial names which may identify a single location?

How does one develop a sense of place when a village may be located in two towns and there is a separate school district for one part of the village?

How does one develop a sense of place in a city of neighborhoods with no legal identity?

Assuming teachers really had the opportunity and obligation to teach local history, what locality would they teach and would there be a municipal historian and historical society based on that locality?

So while Ken Jackson jests about Chappaqua not really existing, he implicitly raises many serious questions involving our taxes, education, and sense of place and identity.

Illustrations: Above, Chappaqua Fire Department’s Engine 243, a 1937 Mack Pumper (Wikimedia Photo); and below, Chappaqua Farm, West Chester County, N.Y., The Residence of Hon. Horace Greeley, (Currier & Ives, c. 1870)., now home of the New Castle Historical Society.

This piece was edited after publication to correct the spelling of Agloe – ed.

13 thoughts on “Chappaqua Doesn’t Exist! The Importance of Place

  1. Thanks for the intriguing article. I know Chappaqua exists because the old Log Cabin bar and grill created many of my memories of a newly licensed driver when in high school! As to towns long gone, check out Wesley and Barbara Gottlock, Lost Towns of the Hudson Valley. Also, drive along Route 28 (upstate?) where signs indicate “Site of…” Catskill villages drowned by the Ashokan Reservoir. As to Doodletown, it also marks a point where the attacking British split their army to attack the Forts of Clinton and Montgomery. Today, one can still follow much of the invasion route from the Stony Point area.

  2. Wow Peter, you raise so many great questions. A newly formed nearby hamlet here on Long Island, The Village of Mastic Beach, does not appear to be interested in “hiring” a historian. Although the village contains the estate of Gen. William Floyd, a Signer, and the grave of Gen. Nathanial Woodhull, history seems to take a backseat to everything else on their agenda. I sent them a résumé and offered to assume that position for $1.00 per year. Perhaps I priced myself out of the market. Please keep up your fantastic articles.

  3. Years ago, at the Jarvits Center in NYC, a persistent seller kept asking where I was from…I kept saying “Upstate New York.” Finally I mentioned Albany. He said, “Oh, that’s just above Yonkers – right ?” I told him that he was correct.

  4. There is a fascinating collection of essays on place in a recent book entitled, Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America (New Atlantis Books) by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister. I would recommend it.

    Ps. Not that it in anyway impacts the points you make, but it is Agloe as opposed to Algoe. Still non-existent by any name.

    1. You raise an interesting theological issue: can you misspell the name of a non-existent place. When I wrote about the possible pronunciations I wrote about a-gloe versus ag-loe but when I wrote the name I wrote Algoe. Strange.

      1. Ah, but the markings on a map are part of the relationship between the map-maker and his/her readers. Agloe/Algoe represents a real place — a favorite fishing spot per Mr. Feinman’s very interesting article — albeit unrecognized as a place of human habitation or the merest municipal identity. We recognize other uninhabited places like mountaintops, rivers, etc. The creators of Algoe simply failed to provide additional information to differentiate their fishing spot from that of a community center. If this were a common occurrence, I’d suggest a new map symbol for fishing spots, like those we have for schools and churches. On second thought, maybe there already is one — maps of lakes often use different colored fish silhouettes for different species of fish known to inhabit a certain area of the lake. Perhaps that would have been more universally accepted than ALGOE!

        Thank you Peter Feinman for your always interesting and thought-provoking blog posts.

  5. Hi Peter,

    That was a fun read. I live in Salt Point. It is a hamlet established in 1749. Officially we live in Clinton Corners, but we pay school taxes to Hyde Park. Downtown Salt Point has a post office (12578), a fire station, a convenience store, a BBQ restaurant and Matt’s Autobody (a thriving business). We also understand there was, once upon a time, a bordello. Legend has it that the town (if I may call it a town – maybe I can’t) got its name because cattle driven from the east to Poughkeepsie (to slaughter or transport downriver) would be stopped at Salt Point to lick salt, thus retaining water, their body weight (and their value by the pound) on the trip to their ultimate destination.

    Thank you for doing what you do.

  6. We have a similar dilemma: living in a New York hamlet in the town of Callicoon, which our mortgage company continues to address as the hamlet of Callicoon, which is in the town of Delaware since 1868. But try to explain this to someone in India, answering the phone for a global bank’s mortgage servicing company. The same argument has been raised with Google’s mapping technologists, who continue to place us in a hamlet that is in a township north of us, though we have our own post office and no rural delivery to even suggest a different address might suffice.

  7. It is a challenge to explain why some old names stick around, despite the odds, while others disappear. Often it is economic as in the case of my village, Lynbrook, where the name was changed — as the real estate interests claimed in 1894 — to acquire “a more euphonious cognomen.” (The underlying reason was to make land more salable than when it was named Pearsall’s Corners.)

    Here is anther “economic/euphonius” example from Long Isand: The hamlet of Lakeview had a name-change from Skunks Hollow in the 1930s. Some nice houses were built that today sell in the mid-$300,000 range. But there is also Skunks Misery Road in Locust Valley, where the name has remained the same since forever. Houses there sell for close to $1,000,000. Go figure.

  8. Oy, this is where geographers are needed to supplement historians. Contrast the situations described here to the system in New England where for the most part, states are divided into non-overlapping townships which are the basis for most local government functions. Connecticut property taxes (%) are much lower than elsewhere in suburban Greater NYC. In NY and NJ there are overlapping political units as well as School districts, Fire districts, Water districts, Police districts etc. which often do not conform to any of the basic political boundaries. Then the Post Office has its own rules which conform to zip codes. And to top it off, particularly in the posh counties of Westchester and Nassau (NY) and Bergen and Morris (NJ), realtors make up their own names and neighborhood “boundaries” which affect snobbery and hence property values and hence property taxes. Gross property taxes (%) in these counties are the highest in the USA; in part they go to support all the separate bureaucracies and the complex zoning laws that help maintain various kinds of segregation.

  9. As someone who grew up in Rochester but now works in Buffalo, I can tell you that Rochester is definitely part of the Finger Lakes region and is not considered part of western New York.

    We define Western New York as the 8 counties that were part of the Holland Land Purchase of 1798, namely Erie, Niagara Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Wyoming, Orleans, Allegany, Genesee. Rochester was part of a different land purchase, the Phelps-Gorham.

    Nowadays, the regional distinction is better expressed by the fact that Rochester and Buffalo are the centers of two different media markets and SMSAs.

  10. I live in the Hamlet of DIx Hills in the Town of Huntington. The US Postal Service in its infinte wisdom has placed ourr zip code under Huntington Station which as far as I can tell is also a hamlet. To make things even more confusing DIx Hills is actually DIx Hills Farms, which you will not find even if you Google it-plus no one uses the true name. Depending on the GPS you have, you may find my house, or not, or be directed to a completly different street because mine which starts with “Dix” is confused with many other streets that start with “DIx”.

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