Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Relic of A Road

Its name...Road Street...has a rather redundant sound to it. Not that there's even a street sign identifying this little alley between the south side of Sheridan Avenue and the base of the steep hills beneath Elk Street.

And there's not much to identify. Until a few years ago, this narrow lane wasn't paved. Broken glass and trash litter the ground around the shady trees. Mosquitoes buzz in the shade. A small park is nestled just above a sharp bend in the road, but it's usually deserted. On a recent summer day, the park opposite an old livery stable was nearly empty. No children escaped the heat in the colorful and very inviting spray pool. The only signs of life in the park came from a pair of homeless men smoking in the shadows. At the other end of Road Street, there's just a parking lot and a steep flight of stairs connecting Sheridan Hollow with Elk Street above.

But this small unmarked street is actually a surviving remnant of Albany history, a road that predates the Revolutionary War.

This area, a steep ravine separating much of downtown Albany from Arbor Hill, was once the path of Fox Creek. This creek, which was once actually home to wild salmon and was also called the Vozenkill or "the third kil," was eventually part of a canal that has long since been "arched over" and incorporated into the sewer system.

The main road through the Hollow - or Gander Bay, as it was also known - was called Howe Street (after Lord George Howe, a British General killed at Fort Ticonderoga during the French & Indian War), then Fox Street and Canal Street, and was eventually renamed Sheridan Avenue in honor of Civil War General Philip Sheridan who was born in this area in 1831. The area itself was, historically, was one of the City's poorest and dirtiest regions.

The narrow lane that is now Road Street first appears on a British Army map from 1758 and probably follows a previous route that, like many such old roads, in turn followed a Native American path. Road Street would have allowed westbound travelers and animal-drawn vehicles to bypass the much steeper grade of the other east-west roads such as modern State Street (which, after several gradings, has a much gentler incline than in previous centuries) and easily connect to the Kings Highway beyond the western gate of the Albany stockade.

In 1762, Albany's Common Council resolved that a "Publick Street remain in the Foxes Creek, beginning at the East end of Messrs. John & Gerrit Rosebooms Lott and run up as farr as the Schyt Bergie till it is ordered otherwise..."

(The Schyt Bergie was the town's dung heap. The manure hill was located somewhere between the present Western and Central Avenues, well beyond the old stockade.)

Originally, this "Publick Street" began near Pearl Street and ran westward along Foxes Creek, makes a sharp bend near present South Swan Street, and continued west towards modern Lark Street.

Presently, all that remains of this old road is the wooded lane running west from the parking lots at South Swan Street and along the edge of the Sheridan Hollow Park (also known as Bayhill Park).

3 comments:

  1. Very cool. I've never been to that place.

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  2. I've known this little street for years, actually. When I was very young, I had a great-uncle who lived at the corner of Sheridan and S. Swan. The old lane ended practically in the back lot of his house and we used to use Road Street...still unpaved at the time...as a bit of a shortcut. It wasn't always easy getting through there with his big truck or his sister's 1966 Caprice. His house burned down about twenty years ago and I didn't even realize this back-way was still there until about a year ago.

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  3. Road Street used to continue down to a large industrial building called the Port that housed pipe for industrial uses. There it joined Sheridan Ave in a Y. Across the street was the old Gateway Ford (later Orange Ford)service department; their showroom became the Albany Arts Building at Orange and Chapel. Number 2 Road Street was the home of the Haggerty Family, he was chairman of the Albany Common Council. Four Road Street was a black family named Robinson. At Swan and Road Street was a family named Burns, right at the foot of the stairs.

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