The History of New York State
Book III, Chapter VI

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER VI.

RENSSELAER COUNTY #1

On February 7, 1791, a subdivision of the original Albany County was made and given the name of one of the famous families of the State, Rensselaer. Located where the Adirondacks and the Berkshires meet, combining the beauty of both, without the raggedness of either, at the great cross routes of the State, nature combined to make the region the seat of a great center of commerce and trade. It is the central county along the eastern border of the State. The western boundary rest on the Hudson River, for a distance of nearly thirty-five miles. Back from the fertile valley of the river extends a much broken plateau with masses of verdure clad hills, numerous lakes, with the finest of agricultural area interspersed. Its area is about 663 square miles and its population, according to the census of 1920, was 113,129. It was the seventh most populous civil division of the State, while the value of its agricultural and industrial products ranks it even higher.

The Hudson was the route by which the explorer arrived, and a constantly used highway since. Man made another of these waterways to and from the west in the Barge Canal; its outlet being in this county. The Indian had his trails from the north and east through Rensselaer; their place is taken by the best of modern railroads and highways.

There is nothing surprising in the fact that possibly in no part of the United States did settlement begin so promptly after discovery. Some of Hudson's crew, won by the natural advantages of this region, persuaded Hollanders to send a vessel to trade the Dutch products for the Indians' possessions and furs. In 1610 a vessel came; in 1614 a license was granted to fur traders to make four trips in three years; and in that same year Hendrick Christaensen removed the debris from the ruins of a French fort on Castle Island, erect in 1540, and established there a trading post. In five years from its discovery, and six years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, there was a settlement where grew the future Albany. In 1623, French Protestants in Amsterdam, known as Walloons, were ready to set sail for Virginia, but persuaded by the Dutch West India Company, they came to New York and eighteen families made their way up the Hudson and located in part on the land opposite Castle Island, forming the first settlement in Rensselaer County.

The greater part of the county was included in the patent of Killian Van Rensselaer, given November 19, 1629. The first purchase of the land from the Indians was completed on July 27, 1630. Van Rensselaer was a wealthy diamond and pearl dealer, and used his wealth in the endeavor to build for himself in the new country an almost feudal estate over which he would be the Lord Proprietor. The lands were settled only under lease, upon the same rules of tenure in force at Albany and other parts of the Hudson territory, and led to the same difficulties in the collection of rents.

The settlement of the county did not proceed without the hardships and dangers which troubled all the outlying districts of the State. In the French and Indian wars the northern part of the county was repeatedly ravaged and the pioneers driven from their homes. the Battle of Bennington, or Walloonsac, as it should be named, was fought in Rensselaer, and led to the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga. In the Civil War the first troops from the North to tread the soil of Virginia were from this county, and it is said that no community, in proportion to its population, sent so many of its youth in the World War as did Troy, the principal city of Rensselaer.

The first college of science and engineering in any English-speaking country was the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded at Troy in 1834. And the first school in the world for the higher education of women was established in the county in 1821, the Troy Female Seminary, now the Emma Willard School. In many lines the people of Troy and the county in which it is located have been the pioneers. The building of the first successful iron-clad war vessel, which changed the naval architecture of the world, was made possible by Rensselaer men. So with the development of steel hardening processes, the invention of collar and horseshoe making machines, bells, valves, stoves and a multitude of products, the county has been in the lead. But the history of these and other things belong properly tot he stories of the separate towns. 

 

The county is made up of sixteen civil divisions, fourteen towns and two cities. The towns, with their populations as given in the census of 1920, are:

Berlin

1,305

Brunswick

2,812

East Greenbush

1,558

Grafton

733

Hoosick

6,858

Nassau

2,013

North Greenbush

1,408

Petersburgh

1.005

Pittstown

2,342

Poestenkill

1.002

Rensselaer City

10,823

Sandlake

1,916

Schaghticoke

2,177

Stephentown

1,109

Troy City

72,013

 

CITIES.

Lansingburgh is not only the oldest settled place in Rensselaer County, but the first to become a village and city. it was formerly part of the town of Lansingburgh with a farm acreage of 5,000, and in its growth added part of Schaghticoke on the north. The site was probably chosen by Abraham Jacob Lansing because of its location on a navigable part of the upper Hudson, and it is odd that troy outgrew the earlier founded place because it had deeper water. The original title of the district was Stone Arabia, but at the first meeting held January 1, 1771, it was changed to the present form.

The village was carefully laid out by Lansing and received a steady accession of immigrants from New England. With its position at the cross roads of the routes from New York to Canada, and from New England to the west, it made a most rapid growth. On April 5, 1790, it was incorporated as a village from the town of Rensselaerwyck. A year later it was included in the town of Troy. Besides the usual saw and grist mills, the first industry to gain a hold in the town was the making of oil cloth, begun in 1817, another factory being opened shortly after. The next year saw the first of one of Lansingburgh's present industries started, an academy, five churches, 330 buildings, and population of 1,650. Cattle and hogs were slaughtered in larger quantities than any other Hudson River town. There were tanneries, a brewery and a nail factory, in addition tot he brush and oil cloth factories mentioned. The establishment of the Ludlow Valve Works in 1872 opened the way to the newer and larger industrial city of today. The next ten tears saw more than twenty different manufactures added to the already wide list of Lansingburgh. On January 1, 1900, Lansingburgh was incorporated with troy, Lansingburgh stipulating that the school system should be separate, a plan which is still followed.

Troy was formed as a town from Rensselaerwyck March 8, 1791 Brunswick and parts of Grafton and Lansingburgh were taken off in 1807, and a part of Greenbush in 1836. A part of Brunswick was added in 1814, a portion of Lansingburgh in 1846, and the whole of the latter mentioned city in 1900. The first village charter was secured in 1791, another February 16, 1798, and was formally incorporated April 2, 1801, and April 9, 1805. On April 12, 1816, the Legislature granted a city charter to Troy.

In 1783 the site of troy was three farms owned by the descendants of Dirck Vanderheyden. There was a ferry and immigration was heavy from the eastern States about this time. Lansingburgh had been laid out almost a decade previously and was becoming a thriving village, but the Vanderheydens would not sell their land to the new settlers. Jacob at last sold a lot to Benjamin Thurber, and soon after (1786) laid out part of his farm into lots under the projected name of Vanderheyden. By this time Lansingburgh was a village of 500 and Albany a city of 3,000. By 1789 the Yankees so outnumbered the Dutch that , although the total number of residents of the village was not more then fifty, the name Troy was forced upon the settlement in spite of all the protests of the original owner

With its incorporation of 1798, a list of its inhabitants numbered nearly 1, 500; twelve years later the numbers were close to 4,000. In 1825 the population was 7,859; 1845, 21,709; 1890 it had increased to 60,956; and in 1920 the census figures were 72,013. In trade and commerce Troy made a remarkable growth from the day of the first mill in New York for the manufacture of paper, in 1792, to the present city with its 500 factories, turning our a hundred different articles, with an annual valuation of $80,000,000. In some of its products the city is preeminent and in many the quantities bulk so largely as to make the name of Troy known round the world. Just the clever device of Hannah Montague who a century ago separated the collar from its former permanent attachment on the shirt, laid the foundation of an industry employing 150,000, and an output valued at $40,000,000.

Rensselaer occupies land that was known 300 years ago as De Laet's Burg, in honor of the Dutch historian of that name, who assisted in the colonization of Rensselaerwyck. The site, opposite Fort Orange (Albany), owned originally by Nawanemitt, and Indian sachem, extended a distance along the Hudson of "12 miles, long measure." The arable land of the section was marked on a map in 1630, there being settlers as early as 1624.

The original division of the county was known as Greenbush, erected April 10, 1792, which was divided to make North and East Greenbush in 1855. The part left passed from its township status April 23, 1897, when the city of Rensselaer was chartered.

The development of the city coincides, in a way, with its changes of name. De Laet's Burg gave way the designation akin Square, march 29, 1810, when the surviving trustees of John Van Rensselaer sold the land upon which the present city is situated to William akin for $60,000. The property was laid out in lots and sold well, but litigation eventually ended his project. In 1800 the population of the town of Greenbush was 3,412, but how much of this was centered in the village is unknown. The name Akin gave way to Greenbush when his village was incorporated in 1815. At this date the northern end was known as East Albany, and this part had the railroad station. In 1897 the villages of Greenbush, East Albany and Bath-on-the-Hudson, the latter a hamlet laid out in 1795, but settled earlier, all became one as the city of Rensselaer. Chartered with a population not exceeding 6,500, the city in 1920 numbered 10,823. It is called the "City of Homes," because so many of those working in Albany have their residences on the east side of the river. But Rensselaer has important industries, the foremost of which are: Chemical and pharmaceutical companies, woolen and shoddy mills, and shirt factories. The New York Central has extensive freight yards here, and the Boston and Albany employs many in its repair shop. But its beauty of location, the care with which the city is looked after, its ready accessibility, has made it preeminently a "City of Homes."

Berlin, formed from Petersburgh, Schodack and Stephentown March 21, 1806, lies near the center of the eastern border. Its area of 34,135 acres is located among high hills, with two fertile valleys separating the ranges. Godfrey Brimmer was the pioneer of the town, coming in 1765. The section was settled rather rapidly after the Revolution. The principle hamlets are: Berlin, Center Berlin and South Berlin.

Brunswick, one of the interior towns formed from Troy, march 20, 1807, had part of its territory annexed by Troy in 1814. The soil of the hills is difficult of cultivation, but the valleys make good farms. There were formerly a number of industries in the town, but agriculture, particularly dairying, is now the main occupation. Even the excellent water powers of the Poesten and Qucken kils are no longer used. The land was part of the Rensselaer estate, held on a rental basis for years, there being, even in this century, several farms on which a perpetual rent is due. There were settlements in Brunswick as early as 1720, and most of these who located in this district were Germans from the Palatinate. The present villages of the township are: Eagle Mills, Cropseyville, Brunswick Center, Haynerville, Clum's Corners, Brunswick and East Brunswick, or Rock Hollow.

East Greenbush, erected from Greenbush, as Clinton, February 23, 1855, received its present designation in 1858. Lying on the Hudson, ranging from the very fertile flats of the river to the low hill in the east, it is one of the finest of the agricultural sections of the county. It is believed that the Dutch had farms in the area in 1624, and Gerrit Teunis De Reue was possibly the pioneer, for he had "well stock farm" in 1631. The celebrated diplomat, Citizen Genet, was a resident of the town, dying here in 1834. The hamlets of the township are: East Greenbush, Luther, Best, Couse, and the outskirts of Rensselaer City.

Grafton, taken from Troy and Petersburgh March 20, 1807, lies north of the center of the county on the heights of the St. Petersburgh mountains. Because of its lack of accessibly, dense forests and hilliness, it probably had no permanent settler until after the close of the Revolution. Abel Owen, from New England, was given 200 acres by the patroon in 1785, and possibly settled on it with a year. This district was one of those embroiled with their feudal owners when an attempt was made to collect back rent in 1839. Limbering engaged the attention of most of the early settlers, although tanneries and textile mills had a brief existence. Once there were forty saw mills operating in Grafton, where now the slopes are dotted with the camps of summer colonists. A number of the lakes of this region are included in the watershed of the Quackenkill waterway supply of Troy, Villages; Grafton Center, East Grafton and Quackenkill.

Hoosick, formed as a district March 24, 1772, was not set up as a town until march 7, 1788. It lies in the northeast corner of the county in the narrow valley of the Hoosick River, and includes the wild, rocky regions of the Taghkanic and Petersburgh mountains. The name is derived from the Indians for "Stoney Place." The section was included in the Hoosie patent of 1688, and the Walloonsac patent of 1739. The early settlers of these patents were Dutch farmers, who located along the Hoosick River shortly after the date of the Walloonsac patent. The land has been cultivated in the valleys from that early time with success, it being one of the most stable of the farming regions of this part of New York. There has been a marked development of various industries; the town is the most densely populated of the fourteen towns of Rensselaer. There are a number of hamlets, but the center of population and industry and business is the village of Hoosie falls, incorporated April 14, 1827. The Hoosie River was made to give of its power for manufacturing purposes as early as 1784, when a carding and fulling mill was built by Joseph Door, one of the pioneers of the village. The first store was opened the next year by Isaac Turner. In 1822 it was given a postoffice. When incorporated, the population of the village was about 200, and the houses numbered about fifty. It is now the third community in the county in size and importance, with a population of more than 5,000. Among the industries which have helped in the building of the village are: the agricultural machine company, organized in 1855; knitting mills, paper mills and box factories, radio parts shops, brush factories, as well as a number of minor plants.

Nassau, erected march 31, 1806, was taken from the towns of Petersburgh, Stephentown and Schodack, and first named Philip, in honor of Philip Van Rensselaer. The present title was chosen in 1808. Nassau lies near the center of the south border, contain 26,998 acres of hilly land and swamp, much of which is not arable. In 1760 Joseph Primmer and Hugh Wilson made the first permanent settlement in the region, buying their lands from the Indians. The hamlets of Nassau are: East, West, north and Central Nassau, Nassau, Hoag's Corners, Brainard, Alps, Dunham and Miller's Corners.

North Greenbush, formed from Greenbush February 23, 1855, lies on the Hudson and contains 12,868 acres, the most of which is fertile, gently rolling land, elevated somewhat above the banks of the river. it is one of the main truck garden sections, growing the vegetable for the nearby large cities. North Greenbush is, according to a very ancient map, supposed to have been the southern part of the Pafraets Dael (Lazy Man's Paradise). Dutch farmers were the first to locate within the limits of the town, possibly about 1640. The principal village is Bath-on-the-Hudson, now part of the city of Rensselaer since 1900. De Freestville, originally Blooming Grove, and Wynantskill are the only to hamlets in north Greenwood, but there are a number of settlements suburban to Troy.

Petersburg was a part of Stephentown until erected March 128, 1791. It is situated on the east border and occupied the northwest corner of the old Rensselaerwyck Manor. The surface consists of two high ridges separated by the Little Hoosick River. the pioneers of the section were of Dutch ancestry, who tried to till the lands of the narrow valley. By 1750 there were a number of farms in the region and about this time they had considerable accessions from Rhode Island. The hamlets and villages of Petersburgh are; Petersburgh, formerly Rensselaer Mills, North Petersburg, East and Hills Hollows.

Pittstown, established March 7, 1788, is centrally located on the north border. It was patented as a township July 23, 1761. The terrain is rugged but arable, and agriculture had always been the main occupation of the section, although industrial plants had been located in many of the its villages. Some of the settlements were founded as early as 1765. The principal villages of Pittstown are; Pittstown, Johnsonville, Valley Falls, Tomhannock, Raymertown, Boyntonville, Factory Hollow, East Pittstown, and Cooksborough. Of these Valley Falls is the largest and has a number of industrial plants.

Poestenkill, taken from Sand Lake March 2, 1848, derives its name from the Dutch for "foaming creek." It is a rough but beautiful country, rather unsuited to agriculture except of the pasturage type, but with lakes, "foaming" streams and falls that attract many a visitor. The first settlers in the region came about 1770, and settled near the water powers. On the Poesten Kil is Barberville Falls, which have a drop of eighty feet. One of the interesting historic happenings of the town was the preaching of his first sermon in the village of Poestenkill by the future President James A. Garfield. The church in which he made his maiden effort is still standing. Hamlets of this section besides Poestenkill are: East Poestenkill, Barberville and Ives Corners.

Sand Lake, formed from Greenbush and Berlin June 18, 1812, lost territory to establish a part of Greenbush in 1843 and Poestenkill in 1848. It lies a little south of the center of the county, has an area of 21,968 acres, is rugged, almost mountainous. It is a noted strawberry district. The early settlers came in 1767, the Adams and the Bretts. One of the notable early industries was the glass factory established in 1788 by three Dutchmen on the banks of Glass Lake. The works were in continuous service until burned in 1816, but were started again a few years later, to be again destroyed in 1853. The settlements of Sand Lake include: Averill Park, Sand Lake, Sliter's Corners, Glass House (Rensselaer village), West Sand Lake, South Sand Lake and Taborton.

Shaghticoke ws established as a district March 24, 1772, and as a town March 7, 1788. Pittstown was taken from it in 1788, and a part of Lansingburgh in 1819. It lies on the Hudson in the northwest part of the county. The town derives its name from the tribe of Indians from whom the tract was purchased by the city of Albany in 1707. Two years later the land was conveyed to citizens of the city by lot, and the pioneers of the town settled immediately upon the lands. The hamlets of the section are; Schaghticoke, Schaghticoke Hill, Spiegletown, Melrose, Reynolds and Grant Hollows.

Schaghticoke village has been the power center of this region for a century. Woolen and cotton mills, started before the Civil War, drew their power from the thirty-foot fall in the Hoosic. In 1907-08 the General Electric Company erected a high concrete dam near the village and are taking 20,000 horsepower from the stream. At Valley Falls is a netting mill and between the two villages is one of the subsidiary plats of the Dupont Powder Company.

Schodack, the southwest corner town, formed March 17, 1795, comprises 36,600 acres of some of the most fertile land in Rensselaer. The name is derived from the Indian for "the Fire-place of the Nation." Tradition has it that Henry Hudson was the first white man to visit this district, coming ashore near the site of Castleton for a conference with the Indians. The first settlers were tenants of Van Rensselaer, locating some time prior to 1660. Bleeker's survey of 1767 mentions forty families as residents of the region. The villages and hamlets of Schodack are: Castleton, a pleasant place on the Hudson; Schodack Landing, Schodack and Bunker Hill.

Stephentown, formed from Rensselaerwyck March 29, 1784, lost territory in the making of Petersburgh in 1791, and parts of Berlin and Nassau in 1806. The town, containing 33,538 acres, lies in the southeast corner and is one of the hilly sections of the county. Agriculture, particularly dairying, is the main occupation of the people. The first settlers in what is now Stephentown was Joshua Gardner, who in 17743 cut a road through the wilderness from Massachusetts and built his log home. The situation of this district on the boundary of the State brought to the settlers of the region trouble and bloodshed, until the location of the lines between the two States was settled in 1791. The hamlets of the township are; Stephentown, Stephentown Center, North Stephentown, Garfield, Wyomanock, West Stephentown and Dunham's Hollow.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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