What’s in a Name?

Story and photos by Rich Finzer

In my travels around Central New York, I’ve been both puzzled and amused by many of the street names and street sign configurations I’ve seen. Some are absolutely comical, while others seem strangely out of place or slightly mysterious in derivation. Chew on some of these facts.
In the villages of Cato, Baldwinsville, Jordan and Camillus, to name but four, there is a Mechanic Street. A properly worded query in Google yields references to numerous Mechanic Street(s) in the 14-county Finger Lakes Region. In the tiny Village of Cato, there are only two side streets, and one is named – you guessed it, Mechanic Street. So at some point in the past, mechanics must have been very popular to merit this form of recognition.

In Lysander there’s a street named Phosphate Alley. Near the southern end of   Weedsport, there is a Rude Street. Your guess is as good as mine on this one. But of all the potential street names available, this is the best Weedsport could come up with?

There is a Rochester Street in Hannibal, but no Hannibal Street in Rochester. There is an Oneida Street in Baldwinsville, but no Baldwinsville Street in Oneida.
There’s a DeWitt Street in Syracuse, but no Syracuse Street in DeWitt. There’s a Buffalo Street in Ithaca, but there’s no Ithaca Street in Buffalo. There’s a Cleveland Street in Liverpool, but no Liverpool Street in the tiny Village of Cleveland in Oswego County – or in the big city in Ohio. As dual routes 5 & 20 pass through Seneca Falls, the road is named Cayuga Street, but there is no Seneca Falls Street in the Village of Cayuga.
I live on White Cemetery Road in the Town of Ira and the cemetery borders my farm. But don’t get the wrong idea. The street name has absolutely nothing to do with race; rather, it’s named for the man who donated the land for the cemetery. And as far as burials, we make no distinction about race. Our sole demand is that the person must be dead first – which is reasonable. Strictly as an aside, there seems to be considerable confusion when it comes to spelling the word cemetery. As an example, I’ve received reader mail where it was spelled “Semitary.”
In North Syracuse there is a Sandy Lane (rumored to be Lois Lane’s sister), a Sandra Lane and a Sandra Drive. All three are located within about 4 miles of each other. In the early ‘80s, I lived on Sandy Lane. Everything was fine for 11 months of the year, but come Christmas time, temporary mail carriers brought many “extra” holiday cards to my house. And I can only speculate about where some of my mail may have ended up.
Syracuse, however, takes the cake for unusual street names and configurations. In the Rose Hill section of town, you’ll find both Highland Street and Highland Avenue. They meet at the corner of Highland and Highland. Less than one mile away, is the tony enclave of Sedgwick. And about halfway through this upscale neighborhood is the corner of Sedgwick Drive and Sedgwick Road. To complete this hat trick of redundancy, one must venture near Syracuse University. There you will find the corner of Comstock Place and Comstock Avenue. To me, these street corners speak volumes about the creativity of the street namers in the Salt City. Imagine explaining to some slightly intoxicated first time visitor that you’ll meet him at the corner of Highland and Highland. I’d buy a ticket to see that!
To an extent, Rochester has much the same problem. Depending upon your location, the same stretch of pavement is called Exchange Street, State Street or Lake Avenue. For the record, there are no chestnut trees growing on Chestnut Street. Circle Street does NOT run in a circle and Canal Street is nowhere near the Barge Canal! But again, Syracuse trumps even these road naming anomalies with West Street – which runs north and south (sigh).

One Place “Gets It”
The Syracuse suburb of Solvay has at least one pair of street names that make total sense. Solvay marks the eastern terminus of the Finger Lakes Railway. It is home to both Lionel Avenue and Boxcar Lane. Boxcar Lane crosses the FGLK tracks and Lionel Avenue is located within a stone’s throw of the rails. Corny names, perhaps – though either beats the living daylights out of Highland and Highland!
But, I’d rather focus on a more positive note, so I’ll mention a few of the snazzy street names from my old hometown, Rochester. The Flower City boasts streets with classy names like Argyle Street, Vick Park A, Vick Park B, Radio Street, Rocket Street, Trafalgar Street and my personal favorite, Richard Street. Let’s focus just a bit more scrutiny on the “Vicks.”
During the 1830s, aspiring teenaged printer, seedsman and nurseryman James Vick moved to Rochester along with his parents. The family purchased a large tract of land in the “Park Central” district and began raising both fruit trees and crops for garden seeds. Later the family built a racetrack on their land that stretched between Park Avenue and East Avenue. James Vick’s seed company is long gone, as is the racetrack. But Vick Park A and Vick Park B mark the straight-away stretches of that nearly forgotten equestrian venue.  
So while some streets have names bordering upon the ridiculous, others have deep historical significance or specific meanings. It’s up to you to decide which label fits best. As for me, I believe everything will eventually work out fine once we replant the millions of majestic elms that once lined the Elm Streets gracing the byways of our local cities, villages and towns.

To view articles on the history of street names in Rochester, visit cityofrochester.gov. For more information about the life and times of James Vick, visit saveseeds.org.

Rich Finzer resides in Cayuga County. During his 46 years as a writer, he has published over 1,200 newspaper, magazine and Internet articles. His award-winning book Maple on Tap is available through his publisher, Acres USA. His e-novels Taking the Tracks, Dawn Toward Daylight and Julie & Me are available through Amazon Kindle.

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