NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: The stories behind some local road names

The 1852 Niagara County map shows Shunpike Road in the towns of Lockport and Cambria with Plank Road to the west, the Lockport-Cambria Plank Road to the south and the Lockport-Warrens Corners Plank Road to the north.


An email came recently from someone expressing an interest in the history of some road names in the county that are in need of a fuller explanation. Many roads in Niagara County are named for people or families, usually the surnames of the earliest settlers in a particular area. Some are named for locations, often connecting one place to another. A few are named for geographic features, even though sometimes the word used is not the correct one. The Niagara Escarpment is not a mountain, but that is what it was called by the first non-Native inhabitants who settled here. The word “mountain” was probably more familiar to people than “escarpment,” so now we have Upper and Lower Mountain roads rather than Upper and Lower Escarpment roads.

For this series of articles, one road in each of the 12 towns in the county was chosen but there are others that would also qualify in each of the towns. Four towns are highlighted today.

Plank Road in Cambria. The Lockport-Cambria Plank Road Company was chartered in 1849 and the road was built a year later. The approximately 17 mile-long road was laid with oak planks and later with crushed limestone. It was maintained through the charging of tolls at various places along the road. It began at West Avenue in Lockport, turned west at Upper Mountain Road, went down the escarpment at Gothic Hill Road, then west on Lower Mountain Road, turned north on Plank Road to Molyneaux Corners at Ridge and North Ridge roads, then continued on North Ridge until it reached Ransomville, where it ended. The company was dissolved in 1899 but this one section continues to be called Plank Road.

Checkered Tavern Road in Hartland. This was specifically requested in the email and other people have asked about it too. This road was named after a tavern that once stood on the northeast corner of the intersection with Ridge Road (Route 104). Though the exact date is uncertain, the tavern may have been there as early as 1820 and it is on the 1852 Niagara County map as “Checkered Tavern.” Businesses often painted their establishments in a checked board pattern to attract attention. When the road was cut through just to the west of the tavern, it was named Checkered Tavern Road. The tavern later became a private home and it was, unfortunately, destroyed by fire in April of 2019.

Black Nose Spring Road in Lewiston. This road is named for Chief Black Nose, a Tuscarora Beaver clan chief who lived near a spring on the west side of the road not far from Upper Mountain Road. He had a black mole on his nose. When he lived there is uncertain, but Chief Clinton Rickard, who bought property and built a house across the road in 1906, wrote that Chief Black Nose “lived there long ago.” This road connecting Lower and Upper Mountain roads was built between 1860 and 1875. The northern half of the road is divided between the Tuscarora Nation Reservation on the west side and Bond Lake Park in the town of Lewiston on the east side. The southern portion is entirely within the reservation.

Shunpike Road in Lockport (and Cambria). In the mid 19th century, several toll roads, sometimes called turnpikes, were constructed leading out of Lockport in each direction. These were “improved” roads, because they were usually laid with oak planks, as mentioned above, and were maintained by the charging of tolls. Not everyone wanted to pay the toll to use these roads, so an alternative road was built to “shun the pike,” between Crapsey (now Sunset) Road and Budd Road. This road bypassed both the Lockport-Cambria Plank Road to the south and the Lockport-Warrens Corners Plank Road to the north. Most of the toll roads were built in the 1840s and Shunpike Road was in place by 1852.

NEXT WEEK: Roads in the towns of Niagara, Newfane, Pendleton and Porter.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

Trending Video

Recommended for you