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.
Who 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.