The History of New York State
Book III, Chapter VII

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER VII.

ALBANY COUNTY #1

In 1924 the City of Albany celebrated its tercentenary as the oldest city in the United States. The history of the county goes back another century for, in 1525, Verrazzano ran the keel of the "La Dauphine" on Castle Island. On this bit of land some years later French trappers built a fortified trading post. On September 19, 1609, an English captain of a Dutch vessel reached the head of navigation and dropped anchor near the present city of Albany. After four days spent in getting acquainted with the county and its Indians, the English Hudson set sail in his Dutch "Half Moon" to carry to Holland fruits, furs and astounding ales of the wonderful region to which he had been.

The thrifty Hollanders promptly sent other ships back over the wake of the "Half Moon" to ascend the river and establish trade with the Indians of the Albany and other sections. To protect their venture, they secured a license, giving them trading rights for a period of three years. As a result, the old chateau left by the French or Castle Island was rebuilt in 1615, and named in honor of the Stadt-holder, Fort Nassau.

But the desire of the Dutch was to make more of this district than a mere trading station. they knew nothing about this country, supposing it to be a part of the West Indies, and exceedingly rich with all manner of possibilities. Therefore the West India Company was formed, and under its auspices, in March, 1624, a ship bearing some thirty families was sent to colonize the Nieu Nederlandt. Some of these folks stopped at Manhattan island, but the majority went up the Hudson and located on the fertile meadow, just above Fort Nassau. They built a fort for their protection, which they named Fort Orange. Around it they grouped their rude homes., this was the first permanent settlement in Albany County, and all this had come about two years before the West India Company bought the Island of Manhattan from the Indians.

In 1629 the West India Company granted to Killian Van Rensselaer a charter conferring privileges over the territory in the Fort Orange section that any European feudal lord might envy. Through his agents, from 1630 to 1637, he purchased a domain twenty-four miles north and south and forty-eight miles eat and west, including nearly all the acres of Albany and Rensselaer counties. To this great manor the proprietor, who had been given the title of patroon, sent a ship load of immigrants in 1630,m to be followed by others in the succeeding years. with them came supplies of many sorts, for which, with the land, the colonists were to pay annual rentals. The land was not sold and the difficulties growing out of the controversies over these leasehold tenures were many and increased both in number and size. It was almost a century later, 1839, before they became insurmountable, but the "anti-rent question" troubled the county until civil War times, when most of the lands had been conveyed in fee simple. Meanwhile, the English had taken over the Dutch colonies, 1664, and a new charter given the patroon. In 1787 feudal tenure was abolished.

On November 1, 1683, when the State of New York was divided into ten counties, Albany, was erected as one of them with an exceedingly large territory. From its area has since been taken the counties of Tryon, and Charlotte, in 1772; Columbia, in 1786; Rensselaer and Saratoga, in 1791; a part of Schoharie, in 1795; a part of Greene, in 1800; and Schenectady, in 1809. The Manor of Rensselaerwyck was erected into a district, March 24, 1772. The county lies on the west bank of the Hudson River, 150 miles from its mouth, and contains 544 square miles. The Mohawk forms a part of the northern boundary.

The region which makes up the county is not notable for its scenery, minerals or fertility of soil, although in variety and completeness, it is probably the equal of all but one or two of the New York counties. There are numerous streams, many of which gave their power to the early colonists. The surface of the county is rolling, hilly in parts, still there are no mountains. Many of the shallow valleys between the hills have a deep, rich alluvial soil, but in several towns the soil is almost a pure sand. Agriculture has risen to heights in the area and has many phases, both of these being due rather to the rapid development of cities within the range of a few miles. Almost every variety of farming and gardening are found in the county, with nearly every crop possible in the climate grown in a commercial scale.

If there is one feature more than another that brought about the past and present prominence of the Albany section, it is its location on the great thoroughfares of today and the historic yesterday. It was the four corners of the Indian trails. And when these in turn became the highways of the French, and following them the British, they took on a strategic value in addition to, or because of, their intrinsic importance. Later came the canals and railroads and the growth of commerce and industry. The capital of the greatest of the States was located in the county. And in its centers the crossroads of traffic through the most densely populated, richest part of the republic. The facilities for production and transportation are great, and have been developed, but Albany seems but to be at the beginning of its industrial expansion.

From the earliest days, the Hudson served the county as its means of communication with the rest of the country. Fulton's steamboat of 1807 gave a new impulse to its prosperity. Improvements in steam navigation followed and today the largest steamboats on the inland waters of the globe are those on the Hudson. The Erie Canal, upon its completion in 1825, marked another high spot in the expansion of the county. There soon followed a rival of both canal and river, the railroad. The first company chartered in the United States to build a railroad was the Mohawk and Hudson, designed to connect Albany and Schenectady, 1826. The road was not completed until 1831, and by that time plans were underway for a road from Albany to New York City. The era of prosperity that these improvements had brought about was accompanied by a period of speculation resulting in the financial crisis of 1835-38, giving the country its most serious check in growth of its history. The record of the last half century is one of steady progress.

The erection of a county is usually the start of a fight by the various hamlets for the honor of appointment as the shiretown. Albany was an exception, for the city was the most important part of the county. The losses of territory in the formation of other counties has been mentioned. The present civil divisions of the district were made out of the towns of Watervliet, itself erected March 7, 1788. The manor Rensselaerwyck had been divided into east and west sections on March 5, 1779, the Hudson River separating the two. The town of Watervliet comprised the west district, together with certain government lands in the northeast part. From this great town of Watervliet has been set up: Rensselaerville, in 1790; Coeymans, in 1791; Bethlehem, in 1793; Guilderland, in 1803; and Niskayuna, in 1809, in addition to Albany city. of the present civil divisions there are three cities and eleven towns.

CITIES.

Albany, city, shiretown, capital of the Empire State, and oldest city in the United States, was incorporated by patent July 22, 1686, when it consisted of about 100 houses, surrounded by a stockade. Various names had been given the place--Beverwick, Fort Orange, William Stadt, New Orange, Colonie--just as it has been made up from a number of settlements, hamlets and villages. The Dutch period had ended officially in 1664, but the Dutch were still dominant. The charter was merely a sign that a change was taking place. When Albany was incorporated as a village, the English had blended with the Dutch, and there were now only Americans, April 9, 1804.

Between the date of its incorporation by patent and by the State, many of the greatest events in American history had been enacted there. Almost twenty-two years before the Declaration of Independence, its principles have been enunciated by Benjamin Franklin in Albany, 1754. They were uttered in the "Stat Huis" at the first colonial Congress. Of the part the city played in the Revolution, accounts are given elsewhere. In the Indian and French difficulties that preceded the War for Independence, Albany had even a greater share, for she was the strategical place in the colony, the center for attack, and a maker of history in the final settlements.

The story of the county has been to a large measure the history of the city, the record of the achievements of a larger area is the account of the progress of Albany city. Separated from this, however, is her place as the capital of the State. This honor came to her March 10, 1797. Sessions of the Legislature were held in the town hall until the completion of the first capitol building in November, 1808. On July 7, 1869, the corner-stone of the present structure was laid, and completed in 1898. The west part came into use in 1924.

The present city hall, with its splendid campanile, is the fifth used by the municipality, the first being little more than a good sized log cabin. These two buildings have set a standard and example in architecture, which, followed by the builders of more recent times, is making Albany notable in the character of its principal buildings,. Possibly its favorable site on the three hills lends itself to architectural perfection.

Parks the city has in ample number and great beauty. The principal pleasure ground is Washington Park, which since the Indians roamed its trails, has been public property. There are more then twenty parks in the municipality. Education has been well cared for since the day of the first school of September 9, 1650. Albany Academy and the Albany Academy for Girls are both more then a century old. The New York State College for Teachers, among the earliest of this character in the United States, has been in existence since December 18, 1844. There are a number of private and professional school. Geological Hall, with the magnificent collections, might also be included with the educational institutions. And the city prides itself on the fact that its library supplies the facilities for research not possessed by places of its size.

In spite of, or because of, its political prominence, Albany is a city of homes. One of the surprising facts revealed by census figures is that there are a greater proportion of houseowners in the city than in any municipality of like population. Albany is the mercantile center of a region stretching north to Plattsburgh, south to Poughkeepsie, east to Pittsfield, and west to Binghamton. It is third in wealth of the cities of the State. Manufacturing is increasing yearly, and in diversity of products Albany ranked fifth in the State. In 1920 there were 382 manufacturing plants in Albany, employing 11,216 hands, and turning out products valued at $45,544,955. The principal industries are car building and repairing, printing in many forms, production of chemicals, cigars, felts, while all kinds of knit goods and paper articles are made in quantities.

Cohoes people are inclined to the belief that Hudson penetrated as far as its site on the Mohawk and Hudson, when his little craft came to anchor at its "farthest north." Whatever the truth in this, there is evidence in a book of 1655 that this place was known to the whites in 1632 and was called by the name from which its present title is derived. Cohoes seems to have been derived from the Iroquois for "below the falls." These falls, which were the making of the place industrially, together with the site of the present city, were all originally a part of the Van Rensselaer manor except those owned by a half breed woman. Her lands had been given to her by the Mohawks in 1667.\ As a village Cohoes amounted to little until 1830, and even then had only twenty houses. A wing dam had been thrown across the river so as to create a fall of 103 feet, and various mills utilized the power thus provided. This dam was the work of the Cohoes Company, the early agent in the expansion of the hamlet. The Harmony Mills, maker of print textiles, coming in 1838, made the second most important of the early factories. By 1855 there were more than a dozen plants surrounding the dam.

As a village, Cohoes was incorporated under the general act; as a city, on May 19, 1869. Its growth in industries and population have been remarkable. The census of 1920 credits the city with residents to the number of 22,987. In that same year there were nearly 100 manufacturing establishments in the municipality, employing more then 5,000 people, with products to the annual value of nearly $22,000,0000. The manufacture of knit goods is probably the most important industry of the city. because of its large production of textiles, Cohoes is often called the "Spindle City."

Watervliet city, the third of the industrial cities of the county, was incorporated as the village of Gibbonsville in 1824., and as West Troy April 30, 1836. The land on which it is built was once owned by Killian Van Rensselaer, and was known as Port Schuyler, Washington, Gibbonsville, and West troy, before it settled on its present title. The city became rather well known when a large arsenal was established here by the Untied Stated in 1813, but its greater fame grew out of the extensiveness of its lumber trade, at one time being the largest in the State.

From 1793, when a part of the farm of John Schuyler was laid out, to the creation of the city of Watervliet, in 1896, is little more than a century. In that time the results have shown the wisdom of the men who chose the largest level section of land north of New York as the proper site on which to erect their village homes. The present city has an estimated population of nearly 18,000. In 1920 there were about thirty-five manufacturing plants in Watervliet, employing 1,600, with an output valued at $8,500.000.

TOWNS.

Berne, formed from Rensselaerville, March 17, 1795, lost some of its area in the erection of Knox, in 1822. It now contains 38,942 acres, much of which is hilly and broken by streams. Farming has been the main industry of the town for a century, the sandy loam which comprises the most of the fenced lands, lending itself to the growing of vegetables and grasses. Horticulture has been taken up in more recent years with success. The first settlement of the town was begun in 1750 by several German families. In 1777 the section raised a company of eighty-five men, sixty-five of which joined the British, while the remaining few fought on the winning side with the American forces at Saratoga. Bernville (Bern post office) is the principal village. At the time of the Revolution it was known as Beaver Dam and was fortified against the Indians. The hamlet of West Berne was formerly called Mechanicsville. East Berne is on the Foxenkill, while South Berne is pleasantly located on one of the smaller streams. Population (1920), 1.371.

Bethlehem, formed from Watervliet March 12, 1793, included New Scotland until 1832. It lies on the Hudson, east of the center of the county, and it is claimed that it was on the town's territory that Hudson both landed and some of his sailors camped. So, too, nearly all of the temporary settlements made by the traders before the establishment of Albany, in 1624, were upon Bethlehem lands. The first permanent settlement was begun in 1830, when Albert Andriessen erected a mill at the mouth of the Tawasentha. Agricultural improvement were made by the tenants of Van Rensselaer in this same year and mills built on the Normanskill. The water powers were few and weak, which, with its proximity to Albany, retarded then, as it has since, the larger growth and development of manufacturing. Farming is the present main pursuit, although the town is the home of manufacturing companies. There are few large villages in Bethlehem; a list of the smaller places would include: Bethlehem Center, South Bethlehem, Slingerland, Selkirk, Cedar Hills, Deckers, Delmar, Normansville, Glenmont, and Hurstville.

Coeymans, formed from Watervliet March 18, 1791, included a part of Westerlo until 1815. It is the southeast town of Albany and includes the Barren Islands. Marble, limestone and bluestone are tot be found in the township, but the soil is the principal source of income. Vegetables, fruits and milk are the principal farm products. Barent Peterse Coeymans, one of the Dutch immigrants from Utrecht, settled in 1636, leasing the patroon's mills along Patroon Creek and Normans Kill. In 1673 he bought the land now enclosed by the boundaries of the town, for which a patent was granted him, April 17, 1673, by Governor Lovelace. Van Rensselaer had already purchased the same territory, and the dispute with Coeymans which followed was settled by the latter taking title from the patroon and paying an annual quit rent. The history of the town is that of a quiet agricultural community., No important villages have been developed. Coeymans Landing has been the leader among the settlements and shows more of its ancient Dutch origin than the most of the places in this district. Ravena, Ache-que-tuck, Coeymans Hollow, Alcove, Indian Fields and Keefer's Corners are the hamlets of the township. Population, 1920, 4,147.

Colonie, formed from Watervliet June 7, 1895, is all the section left of Watervliet after the erection of the town of Green island in 1896, and the village of West Troy (city of Watervliet. Colonie, then, is the modern name of the town of Watervliet, the "mother of towns." Set up on March 7, 1788, it included the greater part of the manor of Rensselaerwyck. From it was taken off: Rensselaerville, in 1790; Coeymans, in 1791; Bethlehem, in 1793; Guilderland, in 1803; Niskayuna, in 1809; and Green island, in 1896. The cities of Watervliet and Cohoes were both taken from Colonie. It lies at the junction of the Hudson and the Mohawk, in one of the busiest of the manufacturing centers of New York State, and was the most populous town in the county, 10,196 (1920). Much of its industrial history has already been related in the stories of the cities once a part of the township. Outside of the cities, agriculture rules. There are still a number of hamlets which are: Boght, the oldest settled hamlet in Colonie; Town House Corners, which has had several other names in the last century; Watervliet Center; Newtonville.

Green Island, the last town taken from old Watervliet, may 21, 1896, embraces the island of that name. Green island village was incorporated October 14, 1853, comprising the same area as the town. When the town of Colonie was erected in 1895, it left West Troy and Green Island as the town of Watervliet. With a village government already on its hands, it was thought too heavy a burden to bear to pay taxes to West troy in support of a town, hence its erection as a separate division. The island is opposite the sixth "sprout" of the Mohawk, and was bought by Hendrick Oothout, of Albany, June 8, 1713, although its early history is a part of the Rensselaer Manor, of which it was a part. The most notable event in the existence of Green island was the erection by the State, in 1835, of a long dam across the Hudson from the island to Troy. In 1835 the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad built a bridge across from the island. These developments led to the rise of the village whose incorporation, in 1853, has been mentioned. Population, 1920, 4,417.

Guilderland, formed from Watervliet, February 26, 1803, is located on the northern border. It ha a terrain varied from the foothills of the Heidelbergs to level valleys, yet nearly 30,000 of its 35,000 acres have been improved. It is one of the most productive of the general farming towns. One of the early industries of the county has it start here in 1792, when a company was formed for the making of window glass. Spafford, in 1813, said that "Guilderland contains a factory where are made 500,000 feet of window glass annually," Hamilton, the oldest village of the township, was named "Glass House" until 1796, and is now called Guilderland. Altamont, formerly Knowersville, is the largest and busiest of the villages. Guilderland Center, McKnownsville, Dunnsville, and Meadow Dale are hamlets, Population of the town, 1920, 3,117.

Knox, formed from Berne, February, 28, 1822, is the northwest corner of the county. It is a high plateau region, where grass, hay and milk are the main products. The first settlers in the section were Germans, who came just before the revolution. The War found many of the colonists on the side of the British, which led to their departure for Canada later. The first of the settlers after peace had come were Samuel Abbott and Andrew Brown, 1789. The hamlets in the town are: Knoxville and West Township.

New Scotland, formed from Bethlehem April 25, 1832, is the central town of the county. The hilly lands which are characteristic of the area have proven strong soils and for nearly two centuries have been producing general farm crops. Fruits and potatoes are grown extensively at the present time. Teunis Slingerland located on the flats as early as 1660, and probably was the first to settle in the area. The villages and hamlets of the township are: New Salem, founded in 1770; Clarksville, New Scotland, Feura Bush, Unionville, Wolf Hill, Tarrytown, and Callnan's Corners. The villages of Vorheesville is the largest of the places, principally because of the location there of the repair shops of the Albany and Susquehanna, and West Shore railroads. Population, (1920), 2,470.

Rensselaerville, formed from Watervliet March 8, 1790, lost in the organization of Berne, in 1795, and Westerlo, in 1815. Located among the uplands of the southwest corner of the county, its interests are mainly agricultural. The first settler in the territory was Apollos Moore, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, in 1785. Daniel Shays, the leader of Shays' Rebellion, came to the town in 1795. It is probable that both Dutch and German pioneers were in the region in even earlier times, but of these we have no record. There are four villages and two hamlets in the township. Preston Hollow, the largest village, is located in the valley of Catskill Creek; Medusa, in the southeastern corner; Rensselaerville in the northeastern part. Potter Hollow was settled in 1806. Cooksburg and Williamsburgh are hamlets. The population of the town, (1920), 1,345.

Westerlo, formed from Coeymans and Rensselaerville March 16, 1815, lies in the center of the southern border. The surface of the town is rather rugged, but is the seat of many fine farms. The heavy forest of the early days supported asheries, tanneries and saw mills, but there is little manufacturing now. Flagstones are one of the former exports. The settlements of the township are: South Westerlo, Westerlo, Dormansville, Van Leuven's Corners and Westerlo Center. The pioneers of the district were mostly New Englanders, who came after the Revolution.

 

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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