The town of Agloe, New York was a fictitious paper town created by a map company to protect their intellectual property.
by Chris Clemens
Protecting intellectual material can be a bit of a precarious plight. One intellectual’s creation could be interpreted and then slightly changed (or not) and then published as something brand new. Nearly everyone has heard the iconic guitar riff from Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but for decades Jimmy Page has been accused of ripping the melody off from a 1968 song by the band Spirit–who most people have never even heard of, much less have heard their song ‘Taurus‘. Nevertheless, Led Zeppelin has always maintained the position that they created a melody that was different-but-similar strictly by chance.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg defended himself in court when the Winklevoss twins accused him of stealing their idea to create Facebook. Apple’s Steve Jobs came under fire for suing competitors for patent infringement. That’s despite his shamelessly public affection for the Pablo Picasso quote, “good artists copy, great artists steal“.
Because art and ideas are the thing of inspiration and creation, it’s tough for a court to interpret what intellectual property has been stolen and what has been created out of inspiration or the evolution of an idea. How do you prove that a song sounds too much like another song? Scientific data and factual information is different though. It seems like it would be tougher to copy without it being obvious.
Unfortunately, for a map maker with interesting ties to Upstate New York, that’s precisely what happened.
How A Map Is Published
Any map maker would certainly want their published product to be thorough and accurate. If they can avoid it, why go and run a land survey if someone else has already done it?
Making it to a geographical location and setting up land surveys is just the beginning. Then you have to take the data back to the office. Then you start drawing up the map and designing the layout. Doing the proofreading, placing keys and compass and coloring it all is a ton of work.
Many times a mapping company would skip all the complicated stuff. Instead they would grab a map that already existed and toss their name in the corner. Then they just have to place it up for sale. Now, imagine being the company who did all the hard work in the first place.
But, how could you tell them they were wrong? Their map displayed factual information that exists publicly. How could you prove they stole it from you?
Welcome To Agloe, New York
For their scheme, they used a plot of land near the town of Roscoe (“Trout Town USA“) in Delaware County. The land they chose was essentially a nothing area. It was a dirt road that was rarely visited by anyone other than a few locals.
The founder of General Drafting Co. was Otto G. Lindberg, and together with his partner Ernest Alpers he created a fictious town in the very spot where that lone dirt road existed. Using an anagram of a selection of letters from their names, the two published a map sometime in the 1930’s and placed the town of Agloe right in that “nothing” spot.
Now, were any plagiarist to copy their map, Agloe would show up on their map, too. That way, their competitor’s map would be evidence that they didn’t go and do a land survey. If they had, they’d know Agloe didn’t really exist.
Agloe Shows Up On A Map
Not long after, Rand McNally published their own New York map. Sure enough, the Rand McNally map included the small, out of the way town of Agloe.
General Drafting had their ‘gotcha moment’ and proudly brought them to court. In front a judge they publicly unveiled their fictitious town to surely win a cut and dry case.
Quite unfortunately, their plan had been destroyed nearly on accident.
A local couple had purchased a legal copy of the map from a company called ESSO (who was a distributor of General’s maps) noticed Agloe on their map. Thinking it would be cool to use a rather unknown name for their shop they began to operate the Agloe General Store.
Rand McNally claimed in court, “If there’s no Agloe then what the heck is this store doing there?”
Much to the dismay of Lindberg and Alpers, it held up. The “paper town” they created to protect their own work ultimately became a real entity. That effectively voided their claim that they had made it up in the first place.
Agloe Still Exists, For Some
In 1992 General Drafting Co. was purchased. They ultimately were absorbed to become part of the American Map Company, but their Agloe legacy continued to be printed. It wasn’t until 2013 that Google finally removed the non-existent town of Agloe, NY from their maps. It was a task that seemed more realistic since the Agloe General Store had closed decades earlier.
While passing through Roscoe each year on my way to a fund raiser in New Jersey and always stop at Roscoe Diner for lunch. I wanted to go stand in Agloe, or, what was believed to be Agloe, or what wasn’t actually Agloe at all.
I asked the waitress if she knew much about the story but she admitted to never having ever heard of it, despite having lived her whole life in the area.
With one last ditch effort, I checked with the hostess while paying my bill and she said, “Ohhhh yes! That’s right up the street!” and gave me directions.
While driving west on 179A, I was told that I would encounter Beaver Kill stream and then pass a white house. After turning a bend I’d see a barn–once there, I’d be standing in Agloe. It turns out that’s not even close!
The Agloe General Store existed on Beaver Kill Road, right near the intersection of Route 206. Today, the store is a falling down mess, but is the only remaining evidence that the town once existed. Though I was in the area, it appears I wasn’t actually standing in what was Agloe.
So until my next trip through Roscoe, here’s some video I found on YouTube. This even includes a brief look inside the building.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens