The Jonathan Pearson Street Books are a wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in the history of Schenectady from the early Dutch settlement through the mid-nineteenth century, or in researching genealogy and people of Schenectady from that time period. The Street Books are also a valuable resource for people researching the history of homes in the Stockade Historic District and in or near downtown Schenectady.
The Jonathan Pearson Street Books consist of four scrapbook volumes of notes and sketch maps regarding property ownership in Schenectady, created and compiled by nineteenth-century Schenectady historian Jonathan Pearson. Pearson was born in New Hampshire, but moved to Schenectady as a young man and attended Union College. After graduating, Pearson taught at Union and served as the college's librarian for nearly fifty years. He developed a keen interest in the history of his adopted city and became a prominent historian of Schenectady. Pearson wrote a number of works about the history of Schenectady, including Contributions for the Genealogies of the Descendants of the First Settlers of the Patent and City of Schenectady, 1662-1800 (1873), History of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Schenectady (1880), and History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times (1883). Pearson also learned Dutch to be able to translate early records that documented the history of Schenectady and Albany.
The Street Books focus primarily on Schenectady’s original settlement area, now defined as the Stockade Historic District; to a lesser extent, the Street Books also cover the areas east and south of the original settlement. Source records referenced in Pearson’s handwritten notes include deeds, mortgages, wills, and other documents. Some notes appear to refer to documents held in private ownership. Occasionally, Pearson includes full transcribed copies of documents in addition to his notes. He also includes notes relative to the history of particular streets and alternate names the streets may have been known by before Schenectady streets were first given official names in 1799.
The original arrangement of the Jonathan Pearson Street Books has been maintained. Each volume contains a section dedicated to a specific street. Streets covered by the Street Books include Amanda Street (now Chapel Street), Barrett Street, Church Street, College Street, Ferry Street, Fonda Street (now the portion of Jay Street north of Union Street), Front Street, Green Street, Jay Street, Jefferson Street, Liberty Street, Maiden Lane (now Broadway), Mill Lane, North Street, Pine Street, Rotterdam Street (once a portion of Washington Avenue south of State Street), State Street, Union Street, Washington Street (now Avenue), and Water Street (now the closed portion of street between Washington Avenue and South Church Street that runs just south of present-day Liberty Park).
The physical volumes of the Jonathan Pearson Street Books are very fragile, as they are often composed of very thin paper pasted in layers on acidic scrapbook paper. To minimize damage to the original volumes, volunteers in the Grems-Doolittle Library have created high-quality digital scans of each page of the Street Books for general access.
Volunteers also indexed all instances of names of people, street names, landmarks, waterways, and other features found in the Street Books. The index to the Street Books makes it possible to quickly and easily find references to a variety of pieces of information. Genealogy researchers can locate where their ancestors owned property in Schenectady. Researchers of military history and fortification in Schenectady can quickly find references to forts, garrisons, palisades, and blockhouses. Researchers interested in occupations and industry can easily find references to mills, taverns, breweries, blacksmiths, hotels, restaurants, and tanneries. Those interested in transportation can find information related to bridges, ferries, railroads, and the Erie Canal. There are myriad possible research uses of this information-rich resource.
Some images from the Jonathan Pearson Street Books are included here. Researchers can gain full access to the scanned images of the Jonathan Pearson Street Books by visiting our Library or contacting our Librarian. A master index and guide to the Jonathan Pearson Street Books can be found by clicking this link.