by John Wolcott
Join us on a visit to a forgotten locale at the crossing of Old Karner Road with the AMTRAK tracks. This was bypassed when New Karner Road was built and then after a while the crossing was closed. This place was the location of the railroad stop half way between Albany and Schenectady established in 1831 when the first chartered passenger railroad in the Western Hemisphere was constructed here and for it’s first several years ran only between Albany and Schenectady through the Pine Bush. For many many years, there was only the railroad station building and a few nearby farms in the vicinity. Nevertheless the place was assigned the name of Centre, New York.
In 1882 the name of Center, N.Y. was changed to Karner when Thodore Karner and a W. W. Thompson filed a plan with the Albany County Clerk’s Office for an impressive residential sub-division. Karner and Thompson advertised the place as having wonderfully fresh air. Which of course it did because of all the pines and no manufacturing industry nearby. They didn’t mention the smoke and noise of the trains. Maybe that’s why virtually nobody bought house lots there. Otherwise it’s a mystery as to why this village never materialized. Thompson and Karner even promised to build a school house and church and a nice central park. The locale was already well know to entomologists and to lepidopterists specifically. An indication of this scientific interest in the locale of Karner, N.Y. is an article by James Bailey in 1877 entitled: “Center New York Entomologically Considered.” Then there’s an article published by Samuel Scudder in 1901 entitled “My First Namesake”, which refers to the locale with it’s new name of Karner. Later a Russian emigre; famous novelist, English literature professor at Harvard and Cornell, studied and more precisely identified a butterfly specimen raised on eggs laid long before; near Karner and so Named by Nabokov — The Karner Blue Butterfly. In addition to all of his work in other careers; Vladimir had become an intense and expert lepidopterist by avocation. Vladimir Nabokov is probably known around the world for his novels “Lolita“ and “Prin“ and for his analysis of and naming the Karner Blue. Likewise the Type Locale for which Nabokov names the Karner Blue is famous because of that. Because Nabokov’s initial studies of the Karner Blue were with museum specimens, he didn’t actually visit Karner New York until 1950 when he caught several specimens of the butterfly. The actual type locale of the Karner Blue Butterfly appealed to Vladimir Nabokov so much that he referred to it as a “Sandy Paradise.“
The only area immediately adjacent to Karner is a tract at it’s south east acquired by Colonie with a Community Block Grant upon the suggestion of Colonie resident named Roger Hall. Lesser known is that Roger Hall requested this at the urging of Save the Pine Bush. The Save the Pine Bush March hike to Karner will be through this preserved area by way of a remnant of Center House Road. There participants will get some idea of what the area looked like to Vladimir Nabokov and earlier biological scientists such as Samuel Scudder, James Bailey and Joseph Lintner. We will visit the sites of the schoolhouse, the railroad station, the site of a big ice house, the park and look at the one street actually built, “Thompson Street.” We will see what is left of a once very extensive area of sand dunes and upland savannah like grass, shrub oak and scattered pitch pines.
A place so ideal for Karner Blues that they were at one time reported to be so numerous as to block the sun from view. We will see for ourselves what is left of Karner and it’s adjacent natural area and consider what to do to preserve what’s left of both . We can discuss and exchange ideas for better connecting the Discovery Center to the Karner’s Type Locality and to the planned light rail connection between Schenectady and Albany. — John Wolcott
Published in March/April 2011 Newsletter