Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Manor

Henry Hudson’s river voyage of 1609 gave the Dutch West India Company territorial claims to the river valley. Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a Director in the company, suggested granting manorial rights known as Patroonships to encourage colonization. Van Rensselaer was the most successful of these Patroons, though he never visited the colony (he was a diamond and pearl dealer in Amsterdam). The 700,000-acre Manor of Rensselaerswyck was purchased from the Algonquian Mohican tribe in 1629, and spanned Albany, Rensselaer, and part of Columbia counties.

The Van Rensselaer Patroonship persisted for many generations, ending with General Stephen Van Rensselaer III, who managed 3,000 tenants on over 430,000 acres. Stephen III was known as the “Good Patroon” for his charity and leniency as a landlord. He was New York’s second Lieutenant Governor, fought in the War of 1812, served seven years in Congress, and co-founded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

When Stephen III died in 1839, his will divided the Manor between sons Stephen IV and William. Stephen IV inherited most of Albany County and the ancestral West Manor house. William inherited the East Manor (most of Rensselaer County), with 202,100 acres, 1,666 leasehold farms, and annual rents of 20,210 bushels of wheat.

William Paterson Van Rensselaer built Beverwyck Manor on the eastern bluffs of the Hudson River. The beautiful Greek Revival mansion was designed by architect Frederick Diaper, and completed in 1842.

The brothers worked aggressively to collect the overdue rents they’d inherited. (Stephen III “sold” land, but retained rights to the feudal rents.) The resulting Anti-Rent War of 1845-46 reformed the property laws, eliminating these "incomplete sales". With his manorial income gone, William couldn’t afford to maintain Beverwyck. He moved downstate to escape the Anti-Renters, and began selling off his lands.

In 1850, the mansion, with 900 acres, was purchased as a country house by Paul S. Forbes, a wealthy New York City merchant in the China trade with Russell & Co. The estate was known as Forbes Manor long after the family closed the mansion and moved away, twenty years later.

Abandoned for decades, the Forbes estate was used for picnics, baseball games, and gypsy encampments, while the mansion slowly fell into decay. In 1905, the Forbes Manor Improvement Company replaced the roof and began work on development projects including a brickyard, a box factory, and a horse racing track. The estate was briefly rechristened “Van Rensselaer Park”, and continued to host excursions and church picnics.

In 1911, the Franciscan Fathers Minor Conventuals bought the mansion to house St. Anthony-on-the-Hudson Seminary. Forbes Manor is on the national Historic Register, and is still privately owned by the Franciscans.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Video: Historic Rensselaer Photos

John Gavin has put together a great video from old photographs: A Pictoral History of Rensselaer, New York - 12144 - Settled in 1630

Great job!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

North End Park Neighborhoods

Rensselaer’s “North End” includes these five historic neighborhoods along upper Washington Ave. Originally part of the East Manor of Rensselaerswyck, this land was in high demand during the building boom of the early 1900’s. Our “park district” is enclosed by the wooded ravine of the Black Creek to the north, the Quackendary Kill hollow to the south, the ridge at the Rock Cut to the east, and I-90 to the west.

Prior to the turn of the last century, this area was part of North Greenbush. The city of Rensselaer had not yet been formed from Bath-on-the-Hudson, East Albany, and Greenbush. The colonial-era turnpike that is now Washington Ave. brought farm wagons and stage coaches through farmlands, pine forests, and the park-like setting of the East Manor grounds.

I've been researching the history of these neighborhoods, so the next few weeks of posts will be more or less as follows:
This will be a multi-week series of posts. Don't want to wait? You can be an early proof-reader, and download a free brochure here. I live in this neighborhood, but I didn't grow up in Rensselaer, so I've compiled this information mostly from old maps and property titles in the County Clerk's office, as well as vintage books and newspapers online. If you have any corrections to my information, please email me at, so I can update the booklet. If you have any additional stories to share about these neighborhoods, please post a comment. Antique photos of Rensselaer's neighborhoods are welcome at the Rensselaer NY Facebook Page.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Peter Coddle's Trip to New York

How might the snowed-in Victorians have endured Albany's blizzard of 1888? Find out at Hoxsie.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Inside Albany's Gypsy Camp

It was a beautiful spring weekend in Victorian Albany. The memory of the Great White Hurricane of 1888 was all too fresh - a blizzard buried the city under 48" of snow in March, and 30-40' drifts trapped people indoors for days. But the snow was gone, the sun was bright, and ladies in beribboned spring bonnets and gents in derby hats went out to walk in Washington Park, and visit the gypsy camp at Manning Boulevard.

Monday, May 7, 1888 Albany Evening Journal

With the temperature in the seventies, the sun shining from a clear sky and a westerly breeze of just sufficient force to make pedestrianism delightful, people flocked from the houses to the streets yesterday. The streetcars running in the suburbs were crowded from morning until long after dusk. The scene in the park was an animated one, especially on the terraces and about the lake house. The big fountains in the lake threw up their solid streams of water into the air, only to have them return in glittering spray to the surface. The boulevard was more than well patronized, and the gypsy encampment at its junction with Washington avenue, a magnet that drew large crowds, especially girls and women. The few males who lounged about and watched others pitch pennies and trade horses included a JOURNAL man. It was not that he wanted his fortune told or to swap horses; he was seeking novelty. His steps, like those of other people, there, had been guided by some unforeseen power, and had he been asked why he chose the gypsy village, he would have been at a loss for an explanation.

The Stanley family, consisting of mother, father and two sons, are of that class of gypsies that prefer to remain in one locality for a long period, rather than keep on the go constantly. These people came here from England some years ago, and though they have been about cities a good deal of their time, and mingled freely with people in the common walks of life, they cannot break themselves of the Romanic dialect. The parent, though old, is erect, and has a ruddy, healthful face. His better half has jet black hair which is plastered against her temples. Her face, like that of her husband, has much color.

The younger members of the party are very popular with a large class of Albanians. They are genuine gypsies and will "swap" anything from a jackknife to a horse, but they are classed as honorable in their dealings. Both are fine types of gypsy manhood, with bronzed complexions and erect forms. This band had traveled all over the world and has at last become almost domesticated. It was their custom in the North to travel in summer and live in a city house during the winter. A few years since they passed the cold months of several winters in houses in the western part of the city. Last spring the band appeared at the corner of the boulevard and Washington avenue. Complaint was made against them, but nothing wrongful in their actions or business could be discovered and so the band was permitted to remain a certain length of time. Before this expired they bought the plot of ground on which they were encamped and remained on it all last summer. In the winter they went to their farm house near the Shakers, only to return to their camp here as soon as the weather would permit this spring.

The site of the camp is very sandy. The wagons of the family stand about in much the same order, or disorder, that those of a circus do. Horses of different kinds were tied to saplings, and dogs of many breeds lay curled at the end of chains under wagons against fences and in holes scooped out of the sand yesterday. The men busied themselves mending harness, doing chores, or in conversation, while the women in frocks and aprons of high hues lugged firewood, told fortunes and smoked their pipes. The women remained within their tents, save when some duty called them forth.

The tents were not in keeping with the wagons of the band. They were old and grimy and sadly patched. The canvas of which they were composed had seen its best days. From the rear of the tents through the canvas protruded common iron stovepipe, from which smoke curled. Two of these pipes had a joint upward above the elbow, the other was content to end with the elbow. The cooking is done on small wood stoves, and these pipes were attached to them. Within the tents everything looked clean, and was in striking contrast with things about the exteriors. The wagons used as sleeping apartments were nearly new and of excellent make. The box above the wheels extended over them, giving additional space enough within for a grown person to lie crosswise of the wagon. The interior of one of these wagons resembles a state room on a steamboat. The bunk was divided from the dressing part with lace curtains and lambrequins, and at the small windows in the three closed sides hung lace curtains caught back gracefully. The interior of these wagons, which are the sleeping quarters, are the pink of cleanliness and had an inviting appearance.

Gypsy Encampment - Glenwood Road (Bethesda, Maryland, 1888), Library of Congress

Gypsy Camps were known in Bath-on-the-Hudson and all around the Capital region.