What’s In A Name part III
In 1785 the founding fathers of the small hamlet of Plattsburgh gathered to create a government and lay out the main roads of the village. By 1798 Plattsburgh’s population was around 250 people. There were four main thoroughfares that led from the surrounding countryside to the mills along the river in the hamlet. They consisted of Cumberland Head Road, another connected to Beekman’s Patent (Beekmantown), South Street that led past the blacksmith shop to the west and southwest area of the township, and the last was the Peru Road.
As the village of Plattsburgh grew so did the number of roads. Not having GPS or Google maps to aid in giving directions, the founding fathers used the houses of prominent citizens or local landmarks to identify and name those roads. Thus we find a significant number of our city streets today are named for early settlers, local and national heroes and what was on or near the road.
So, examining the names of many of Plattsburgh’s streets has become quite a history lesson! Let’s continue…
Plattsburgh’s Illustrious Leaders
South Platt Street
While it was Zephaniah Platt who secured title to 33,000 acres along Lake Champlain, it was his brother Charles who was the first to actually build a home on that land in 1785. Even though there were 32 other individuals who invested in the land venture, it was the Platt family who organized and led the venture. Thus, the new community was called Plattsburgh. The members of the family were respected leaders and businessmen, so they were also honored with a street named after the family. Earlier I told you that Platt Street in the French Quarter was renamed in 1909 to Montcalm Avenue, but there was another road in the southern area designated as S. Platt Street. So the family didn’t lose out on having their name on a street too.
This Platt family tree shows the descendants of Zephaniah Platt. Hand-drawn by Charles Platt in 1761. Located in the Plattsburgh Public Library.
William Bailey was a prominent businessman, landowner, judge, and civic leader in the early 1800s. He was a partner with Henry Delord in the Red Store. Bailey owned a large tract of land in the north end of the village. His son John named a street after him as neighborhoods began to develop in that area. The Bailey home still sits on a portion of that land off Cornelia Street today.
The original 1795 Bailey house burned down in 1822, but was rebuilt in 1825 into the current stone house.
Captain Joseph Boynton built and sailed vessels on Lake Champlain as early as 1805. During the War of 1812 hostilities, two of his boats were seized (and then purchased) by the American government and added to Macdonough’s fleet.
William Beekman of New York City held the patent (ownership) on what is now Beekmantown. The street now named for him was originally a road that ran more or less directly into the settlement of Beekmantown.
This street was named for Judge John Palmer, one of the first trustees when the Village was incorporated in 1815. He was also on the first Board of Trustees of Plattsburgh Academy and served as the village District Attorney in 1818. He married Peter Sailly’s daughter, Charlotte and was the father of Peter Sailly Palmer, an historian and author of comprehensive histories of Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain (from which I got some of this information!)
Dr. John Miller came to Plattsburgh in 1795. He was considered a “pioneer physician,” making his calls on horseback with his saddlebags as his medical bag. He was one of the founding members of Plattsburgh’s first medical society in 1807. By then the number of doctors in Plattsburgh had risen to four!
Once called Mill Alley, the road from Broad to Bridge Streets was renamed to honor Sheldon Durkee. This road was the first street formally laid out in the settlement. The Durkee family house was located at the south end of the street. Durkee was considered one of the heroes of the Battle of Plattsburgh as he, with two other Americans, were shooting at the advancing enemy when they suddenly surprised three British soldiers. As one of the Americans was wounded and the other went for help, Durkee marched the prisoners by himself into camp. Asked how he managed to bring them in, Durkee is said to have replied, “I surrounded them.”
Abraham Brinkerhoff owned a large tract of land in the center of the settlement. In 1811, a committee established to build a school purchased land from Brinkerhoff for $100. It was on the corner of Oak Street and, at that time, a “contemplated” street that became Brinkerhoff Street. Abraham gave much of the land around the street to his daughter, who then donated some of it for the building of the First Presbyterian Church. Hiram Walworth, a reporter for the Plattsburgh Republican, wrote that the street was named in honor of Abraham’s wife, Mary Platt Brinkerhoff, daughter of Zephaniah Platt.
The original First Presbyterian Church was under construction when the Battle of Plattsburgh was fought. British used the church as a cavalry barracks. American forces fired on the Church during the battle. Construction was completed in 1816. However, during the fire of 1867, the church along with 70 other buildings in the city were destroyed.
Green street connects Bridge Street to the Saranac River. The inn on the corner, built on the foundation of the first building in a prior settlement, was owned by Isaac Green and his wife. For a long time this place was the community center of Plattsburgh. A victory celebration for Thomas Macdonough was held there and in 1817 President James Monroe was entertained there by the village’s citizenry. Formal dance parties were held there regularly and civic group held meetings in the upstairs rooms of the tavern.
1852 Map of Plattsburgh. Located in the Plattsburgh Public Library
Count Charles de Fredenburg, a Captain in the British Army received a English land grant to settle the area along Lake Champlain in 1767. A small community had started when the Revolution forced the families back to safety in Canada. De Fredenburg returned to find everything in the settlement burned to the ground. He stayed for a while, but eventually it is said that he became mentally unbalanced and was never seen again. When his heirs tried to claim the land, their title proved worthless.
Smith Mead Weed, a graduate of Harvard Law School, was an influential businessman and politician. During the second half of the 19th century, Weed served multiple terms representing Clinton County in the NY Assembly and was a delegate to the 1876 and 1884 Democratic Nation Conventions. Through his political influence, the Delaware and Hudson Railroad extended their tracks all the way from New York City through Plattsburgh to Montreal.
Weed also developed a park with a fountain and gazebo on the banks of the Saranac River across from his home on Cumberland Avenue.
Named for Samuel Couch, a fervent Republican who was usually found on “Rattlesnake Corner”. (I’ll tell you about this in the next episode!) He was the city coroner during the first part of the 1800s. Anne Gilliland, early City Historian, related an amusing story: “A letter was once addressed to some person on Sofa Street, which of course, puzzled the post office personnel, until a quick-witted young lady solved the problem and the letter reached its destination.”
The City Fathers had seen fit through the years to also honor military heroes, Macdonough and Macomb, Civil War Generals Sheridan and Sherman with street names, as well as numerous U.S. Presidents, Grant, Lincoln, Monroe, Roosevelt, Truman, and McKinley. In fact, Hotel Champlain on Bluff Point served as the summer White House in both 1897 and 1899 for President McKinley and staff. The McKinleys believed that the hotel’s water had beneficial effects on their health. Subsequent historians question the wisdom of this decision. A document provided to the Assembly of New York later attributed a typhoid outbreak amongst hotel staff to the unsanitary properties of the water.
President McKinley and staff at Champlain Hotel.
I know I haven’t described all the streets named after important and not-so-important citizens and others, but I have given you the highlights…
However, there is one more episode in this series to come! Stay tuned!!
Plattsburgh, New York – A City’s First Century, Richard Frost, 2002.