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.

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