by Kevin Walsh

OLEAN Street, in the heart of Brooklyn in Midwood,  runs for two diagonal blocks between East 22nd and East 24th Streets between Avenues N and O. In a confusing situation it was once called Ocean Avenue…a separate route from the Ocean Avenue which runs between Prospect Park and Sheepshead Bay in the line of East 20th Street.

So if it’s not called Ocean Avenue here, why Olean? I can harbor a guess.

Running north-south between Bedford-Stuyvesant and Flatbush are several streets named for prominent cities in New York state. New York itself gets the ball rolling, followed by Brooklyn (which was a separate city when the avenue was named), Kingston, Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Utica, Rochester, and Buffalo. (Strangely, Syracuse is skipped.) The order after Brooklyn seems to follow the Hudson north to Albany, and then west, roughly along Interstate 90 (the New York State Thruway) to Buffalo, but when the streets were laid out in the 1800s, the Mohawk River or Erie Canal was likely the route followed in naming the streets.

The best educated guess I can figure is that, in order to not confuse ‘this’ Ocean Avenue with ‘that’ Ocean Avenue, it was decided to change a letter, from Ocean to Olean. Your guess is as good as mine as to why Olean, but with Brooklyn’s penchant for naming main streets after NY State towns…maybe they decided to name a little street after a little town…

Olean is a town of about 20,000 souls in western New York near the Pennsylvania border. The closest town of bigger size is Jamestown, NY, where Lucille Ball and the 1980s folk rock band 10,000 Maniacs came from.

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John October 11, 2022 - 12:07 am

Great stuff. But whence Ryder and Roder Avenues, respectively, in the same neighborhood?

Kevin Walsh October 11, 2022 - 11:58 am

I think a similar thing happened. Ryder is an old Kings County family and they named that section Roder, changing a vowel, to delineate it from Ryder.

There also had been a separate Ryder Avenue in Sheepshead Bay!

Edward F. October 11, 2022 - 8:41 pm

It seems that the Ryder-to-Roder change happened about 1931; that’s when Roder Avenue first appears in the Brooklyn papers. There actually were a number of people named Roder living in Brooklyn at the time, but no specific reference to any one person for the name of the avenue.

Gregg Goldberg October 11, 2022 - 12:20 am

Can you do o ne about the Brooklyn avenues that are named for the cities of New York states, New York, Brooklyn, Kingston, Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Utica, Rochester, and Buffalo Avenues and how many of them mix in with the East numbered streets in the 30’s and 40’s such as East 45 and 46 Streets

Edward F. October 11, 2022 - 10:22 pm

That would be an interesting FNY article. Until then, here’s the quick version: New York Ave. = E 33 St. Brooklyn Ave.=E 36. Kingston Ave. ends at Kings County Hospital and does not continue south. Albany Ave.=E 41. Troy Ave.=E44. Schenectady Ave.=E 47. Utica Avenue = East 50th Street. Rochester and Buffalo Avenues do not extend south of East New York Avenue but are represented by the extra “Avenue size” width of East 53rd and East 56th Streets, respectively.
To fill out the list? McDonald Avenue = East First Street. Prospect Ave. (also Ocean Pkwy.) = E 6 St. Coney Island Avenue is variable, but the straight part = E 11 St. Ocean Ave. = E 20 St. Bedford Ave. = E 25 St. (except a short section north of Flatbush Ave which = E 24 St. Nostrand Ave. = E 30 St. Ralph Ave. = E 60 St. Remsen Ave. = E 90 St. Finally, Rockaway Parkway = E 97 Street.
Among the West numbered streets, Stillwell Ave. = W 14 St.

Howard Lindenauer October 13, 2022 - 7:29 am

You missed a major point regarding Olean’s origins. There was a small village in the area over 125 years ago with its own
streets ( Bay, Chestnut, Elm, Olean ). When the City laid out the current grid, it overlaid these streets, leaving disconnected pieces.

Edward F. October 11, 2022 - 11:48 am

Olean Street (formerly Ocean Avenue) was a part of the old South Greenfield community and originally extended much further, from Kings Highway almost to Avenue L. This can still be seen in diagonal property lines and building facades. This potentially would have had one Ocean Avenue intersecting with another Ocean Avenue.
A side note on Kingston Avenue. When the Commissioners’ Plan street grid for the City of Brooklyn was adopted in the 1830s, it was called Hudson Avenue for the City of Hudson, NY. As the Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights area began developing it was found that Hudson Avenue was a duplicate of an existing street. In 1869 it was renamed as Kingston Avenue.

Bill Tweeddale October 12, 2022 - 7:20 am

Olean NY was named after the Latin word for oil (oleum), as it was the site of the first petroleum springs discovered in North America. If anyone wonders why so many New York towns have classical names (Troy, Ithaca, Rome, Syracuse, Utica, etc.), they were given by Robert Harpur, Deputy Secretary of the State of New York, when he divided up the Military Tract in central New York and gave the land to Revolutionary War veterans. The full story here: http://yorkstaters.blogspot.com/2006/01/whats-in-name-no2-origins-of-classical.html.

Brad October 12, 2022 - 10:13 am

Rogers Ave. = E. 28 St.

Allen Wone October 17, 2022 - 2:49 pm

Rogers Ave actually takes the place of East 27 Street, not East 28 Street.


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