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AMERICANA

January, 1926

Old-Time Schenectady
By CHARLES A. INGRAHAM, CAMBRIDGE, NEW YORK
HERE has never been a time when the people were more

disinclined to study the history of our country than at
the present day. So rapid of late have invention,

wealth and world distinction developed, thus engrossing the attention and enjoyment of young and old, that there is little leisure or desire to investigate our rich stores of historic accumulations. No State of the Union has an earlier or more interesting volume of annals than the State of New York, and within its borders can no city boast of a more absorbing story than that which, through its existence of two hundred and sixty-four years, Schenectady has been steadily developing. Unlike most towns, it has had a wilderness, pioneer experience, fraught with hardship and tragedy; it arose in the long-past years to a great mercantile and forwarding center, to lapse into somnolent decades of indifference to trade, and with grass growing in the cobble-stone streets where a world traffic once thundered. Then, in more recent years, it has awakened from its dreams by the shock of electrical progress, and “Old Dorp” (Old Town), the last place in the world which would have been considered for so colossal a plant, has become the home of the General Electric Company, employing as many as 26,000 hands in works covering five hundred and twenty-three acres of ground. As if by magic the city has grown from a population of 15,000 to about 100,000, the cobble-stone streets have been repaved with modern surfaces, city limits have been widely extended, noble buildings erected, and in all respects the place has a Rip Van Winkle resurrection.

Schenectady lies fifteen miles west of Albany and on the south bank of the Mohawk river. This distance, however, is by the direct route of today; in early times the roads used were circuitous and “twenty odd” miles length, one bending west via Normans Kill, and the other east through the village of Niskayuna, on the south bank of the Mohawk. The site of the city with the lands surrounding it had been for centuries cleared, and cultivated as corn fields by the Indians, for the extensive alluvial flats here were fertile and bore perennial crops without fertilization. It is believed that the Mohawks once had a village at this point and that a trail leading from the Mohawk Valley to the vicinity of Albany, crossed the river at this place. Owing to the interruption of navigation by the Cohoes falls on the Mohawk, a few miles west of its junction with the Hudson, it was more convenient for the Indians to go by land from Schenectady to Albany, rather than to carry around the falls and paddle down the Hudson eight miles to their destination. It is not unlikely that in the earliest times the localities of Albany and Schenectady were thus recognized as desirable locations, even before a trading post had been established at the former place; for Albany was practically the outlet of the Mohawk;—the way to that favorable passage to the West which then as now, is utilized by our entire eastern country. Moreover, Albany was but a few miles below the navigable water limit of the Hudson, and hence tapped the trade of the Mohawk and Hoosac Valleys, and all northern parts to Canada.

The first white man's government set up in the State of New York was that of the Dutch West India Company, which was chartered by the States-General of Holland in 1621. This organization was frankly a trading, money-making concern, whose purpose was to derive as much profit as possible from the territory and people under its jurisdiction, irrespective of the interests and welfare of the inhabitants. The patroon system, which it introduced, carried out its policy of repressing individual and collective liberty, and the great land-lords having been granted vast blocks of the most desirable lands and invested with almost absolute authority, ruled in feudal arrogance over those so unfortunate as to be their tenants or in anyway under their power. The patroons, (patrons) had the privilege of naming magistrates in the towns of their domains and in other ways to exercise control in their government;—they prohibited all trade with the Indians of a kind to interfere with their own, and they forbade the manufacture of cloth, and in other restrictions made themselves obnoxious to all those living within their territories. This grasping and domineering method of government discouraged immigrants from entering the boundaries of the patroons, who owned most of the desirable lands along the Hudson which at that time embraced about all that had been even partially settled in the colony. On the other hand, New England, with a less fertile soil and a rugged surface, attracted through a liberal policy more settlers and developed more rapidly than New York, as a study of statistics will reveal. The pursuit of the Indian fur trade being the chief enterprise of the Dutch, agriculture languished in the colony and a large part of its subsistence was procured from Holland.

The Manor of Rensselaerwyck was a tract of land in which were contained, besides other parts, the present counties of Albany, Saratoga and Rensselaer, the non-resident patroon of which was Killian Van Rensselaer, a rich diamond and pearl merchant of Holland. He was interested in the Dutch West India Company, in the formation of which he had been active, and though his vast estate here was carried on without his personal supervision, he was so fortunate in the selection of its efficient superintendents that it came to be the most successful and prominent manor in the colony, its population in 1638 being equal to that of the entire Province. The relations between the patroons and the West India Company, owing to the fact that both were merely venal adventurers jealous each of the other, were far from amicable. Thus, Colonel Peter Stuyvesant, Director General of the West India Company, and Brandt Van Slechyenhorst, Director of the Rensselaer Manor, became embroiled in dispute concerning matters of trade and authority. The inhabitants of Beverwyck (Albany), had nothing to gain and everything to lose through the rivalries of these selfish and unscrupulous trading governments, and being of independent proclivities and longing to be separated from the humiliating and unjust methods of rule under which they lived, determined to found a settlement of their own further out on the frontier.

The prime mover and leader in this venture was Arendt Van Curler, a Hollander of excellent ability, energetic and popular with the Dutch, French and Indians. He was a cousin of the patroon of the Van Rensselaer Manor and had served as its superintendent from 1630 to 1646; from his long experience he was well qualified to father and lead out the proposed undertaking. He had become acquainted in his travels over the Manor with the beautiful vale and

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