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Colonie Town


The Colonie Town Hall is located at 534 Loudon Road, Newtonville NY 12128; phone: 518-783-2734.

The Colonie Town Multiple Resource Area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the text below were selected, transcribed, and/or adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

Description

The Town of Colonie is situated in the northeastern portion of Albany County, New York, close to the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. It is bounded on the north by the Mohawk River, Town of Niskayuna, and City of Schenectady, on the west by the Town of Guilderland, on the south by the City of Albany, and on the east by the City of Cohoes, Village of Green Island, City of Watervliet, and Hudson River. The town is 57.2 square miles in area and contains two incorporated villages: the Village of Colonie and the Village of Menands. The town consists primarily of suburban residential neighborhoods and is experiencing rapid developmental pressures. The population grew from 29,000 to 75,000 between 1950-1980. At present, Colonie ranks 14th of 930 towns in the state by population and is larger than 50 of the state's 62 cities. Because of its strategic position, commercial development has been heavy in the town and is concentrated along several principal inter- and intra-state transportation routes.

The physical geography of the town was determined by glacial and post-glacial events. During the retreat of the last glacier a large lake, called "Lake Albany," formed in the Upper Hudson Valley from glacial runoff. A river, in the general path of the Mohawk, ran into this lake and formed a large sand delta stretching across some 40 square miles from Albany to Schenectady. Subsequent to the glaciers, winds formed hyperbolic sand dunes, creating a flat to gently rolling surface. A unique ecological zone, called the "Pine Bush" or Albany Pine Barrens, composed of pitch pine and scrub oak trees occupied this area and has remnants in the western part of the town. Post-glacial streams, which traverse the northern and eastern part of the town, flow either into the Hudson or Mohawk Rivers and have cut deep ravines into the glacial clays and sands in some areas. Rich alluvial flood plains extend inland from the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.

The agricultural history of the town originated with a tenant system devised by the Van Rensselaer family, as Colonie was a part of the enormous manor of Rensselaerwyck until 1840. The Yankee migration beginning in 1780 brought new population and new architectural tastes to the town. With the demise of the manor and the increasing industrialization of Hudson River cities, agriculture evolved from a subsistence to a commercial occupation. Following the Civil War, Colonie was both the bedroom and the breadbasket for Albany, Troy and other factory towns in the Hudson-Mohawk region. Farm architecture assumed a new prominence and pretension in this period. Suburbanization has had the greatest physical impact on the town. Major arteries extending from Albany into the town (and to a lesser degree, Cohoes and Watervliet) became prime zones for important residences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Planned subdivisions and garden communities followed in the twentieth century, a few of which are with age gaining distinction as intact representative examples of taste and life patterns in the period.

Farmhouses were generally of frame construction, the earliest houses incorporating a post and beam structural system peculiar to the Dutch in the region and the later buildings utilizing the interlocking framing system developed in the British settlement areas of New England. Siding material was exclusively clapboard and gable roofs were the norm until the suburban period. The impermanence of frame buildings and the transient nature of the tenants' occupancy on the land has resulted in few identifiable buildings surviving from this group and period. Brick farmhouses also exist and, due to their sturdiness and prestige, survive in a greater proportion than wooden buildings. The abundance of rich clay in the region and a good number of brick manufacturers in the Albany environs made brick construction an available alternative. The use of stone was rare because the bedrock in most areas of the town is covered by glacial deposits to a great depth. There is only one historic period house constructed of stone in the town.

Farm outbuildings survive less often than houses. Only one example of the predominant farm building in the eighteenth century, the Dutch barn, survives in the town. In the nineteenth century, as farm building types became more numerous and diversified, multi-unit frame complexes were the norm. Fragments of these complexes survive on historic farms as these buildings have fallen victim to time, neglect and changing farm use patterns. The transition from subsistence to market farming altered the composition of the nineteenth-century farm yard. The most common farm building today is the greenhouse. Also, the subdivision of farm land for house sites and the conversion of farmhouses into suburban residences made the functional and spatial relationship of houses and their outbuildings obsolete. One distinctive characteristic of nineteenth-century farms in the town which survives in at least two instances is the New England practice of connecting the carriage house to the main house.

Suburban movement into Colonie began prior to the Civil War. A few farms from the late Federal an Greek Revival periods survive that were owned by Albany citizens as country seats and retreats. There appears to be little surviving from the early Picturesque period (1835-65). Suburbanization accelerated following the Civil War as city industrial activity and population burgeoned. Outstanding examples distinguish the eastern half of the town built from the 1870's into the 1920's. The suburban picturesque taste influenced farm architecture in the late nineteenth century with prosperous farmers adopting more ornamented styles and, in one example, the services of an architect. Growth continued in the twentieth century and planned suburban sub-division appeared. The Village of Menands became a showplace "garden city" with homogeneous developments styled by local architects and developers.

The town of Colonie roughly follows the shape of an isosceles triangle with its base along the Hudson River on its eastern boundary and the apex extending westward towards Schenectady.

The earliest settlement in Colonie occurred in the northern and eastern section of the town along the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers and their tributaries. Part of the manor of Rensselaerwyck, the town was settled in the eighteenth century by Dutch tenant farmers who preferred these areas, with their rich alluvial soils and easy access to transportation waterways.

The population was limited during this period and tenant houses have proven impermanent both here and on other manors in New York. The only physical remnants of this period in the town is part of the Vandenbergh-Simmons House (construction date: 1720-60) in the northeast section of the town near the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers and the Schairer Dutch Barn (1720-80) located further west in the Mohawk valley. The Schairer Dutch Barn is the only Dutch barn surviving in the town.

The central and western part of the town was covered by pine barrens which discouraged settlement for most of the period of significance. Most of the New England farmers who migrated to Colonie after 1780 settled in previously undeveloped areas of the northern and eastern parts of the town along overland routes such as the Troy-Schenectady and Albany-Schenectady turnpikes and Albany Post Road. Evidence of this period (1780-1840) is fragmentary, but resources survive illustrating the distribution, character and evolution of this New England farmstead type. The Henry-Remsen House in the eastern part of town and the John V. A. Lansing Farmhouse in the northwestern part contain late eighteenth century house sections in large multi-stage house forms that reflect the development of local architecture into the suburban period. The Ebenezer Hills, Jr. Farmhouse (1785), located in the northern section, is an intact late eighteenth century farmhouse that shows that Dutch vernacular building tradition expressed in a Yankee's house.

Nevertheless, the immigrants brought a New England architectural taste with them which was distinctly different and progressive when compared to the native Dutch. Tall, narrow farmhouses with crisp attenuated Federal style decoration appeared at the turn of the century, such as the John Wolf Kemp Farmhouse near the Albany-Schenectady Road and the Jedediah Strong House and the Friend Humphrey House along the more northern Troy-Schenectady Road, (The Friend Humphrey House is also one of the earliest suburban retreats in the town.) Later in the migration period, the Greek Revival style was embodied in houses such as that of the operator of the Mohawk River Ferry, Martin Dunsbach (1840), which also incorporates that decided New England feature of an attached carriage house. The only other example of this form is the post Civil War Isaac M. Haswell House (1880) in the northeastern settlement area.

Centrally located with the farm development in the town was the property belonging to the Van Rensselaer's business agent Casparus F. Pruyn (1824-36). His house reflects the pretension of his position as well as the best of the Greek Revival taste of the period. Other farms remain from this period but have been altered to the degree that they no longer retain characteristics significant to their period of construction or later renovation styles. The Greek Revival style Reformed Dutch Church of Rensselaer at Watervliet (1847), located at the intersection of Route 9 and the Troy-Schenectady Road, is the only significant historic religious building in the multiple resource area.

By 1840, the town of Colonie was experiencing tremendous economic and cultural change. The demise of the Van Rensselaer manor in 1840 coincided with increasing industrialization in the upper Hudson Valley. The eastern part of the town became highly urbanized with the cities of Albany, Watervliet and Cohoes dominating the Hudson coastline. Linked to the Harmony Mills in Cohoes, the Cohoes Company Head Gatehouse, Dam and Headrace is the only significant industrial resource in the multiple resource area. The growth of these cities effectively eradicated the pre-industrial settlement on the east side of town but contributed to the development of the central and western rural section. Colonie provided agricultural goods for the city population and space for suburban expansion.

Farms like those once associated with the Issac M. Haswell House (1880) and the Frederick Cramer House (1877) were established after the Civil War to provide foodstuffs and their fashionable designs are indication of the wealth and position of these agriculturists.

Yet it is the enormous suburban growth in this and later periods which characterizes Colonie today, as affluence and easy transportation allowed for people to work in the cities and enjoy the benefits of country life. The Route 9 corridor (renamed Loudon Road) was the main focus of suburban expansion. The New York State Route 9 Multiple Resource Area (NR 1979) included many such properties; however, the Bacon and Stickney House (1874), the Senator William T. Byrne House (1916), the George H. Lawton House (1851-54), Treemont Manor (1929), The Alfred H. Renshaw House (1927) and the Royal K. Fuller House (1926-27) have been added to the list of significant properties from this period in the vicinity of this major route.

Broadway, extending north between Albany and Watervliet, also provided for country seats. Henry M. Sage's Estate (1980) is located in this area as is "Hedge Lawn" (c. 1908) a distinguished suburban residence built by the Jermain family. Also in this corridor, the village of Menands developed as a bedroom community around a trolley stop for the Albany Rural Cemetery (NR 1979). Horticulturalist Louis Menand, whose family's home and greenhouse (1881) are still extant at the cemetery entrance, was the most prominent citizen and namesake of this "garden city." Distinguished examples of early twentieth century houses such as the Tudor style Charles Peck House (1908) and the Bungalow style houses of the Menand Park Historic District (1913-25). The George E. Trumble House (1909-10) is an Arts and Crafts style residence in the Menands vicinity. The Jermains of "Hedge Lawn" were benefactors of the Menands Home for Aged Men (1877) on Broadway, which is a distinctive example of a Federal period house enlarged and renovated into a Stick style institutional building by locally prominent architect William M. Woollett.

The Cohoes vicinity influenced modest suburban growth west of the city limits. Daniel Simmons, a Cohoes industrialist, acquired the old Van Denbergh House and added an Italianate wing in c. 1847. Simmons also built a stone house (1847-49) in a picturesque style which is a rare expression of this taste surviving in the multiple resource area and the only historic stone house in the town.

Suburban growth brought the demand for services. The Verdoy School (1910) is an unusually styled one-room school somewhat outside the suburban concentration but reflecting the contemporary architectural taste and educational standards. While small portions of the town have remained agricultural, most areas are residential in character. Virtually no industry other than farming and few public, or religious buildings of any status were built during the period of significance.

Significance

The Colonie Town Multiple Resource Area contains a variety of historic resources reflecting the development of the area adjacent to the important city of Albany during the period 1720 to 1930. Located in an area of abundant land, fertile soil, water and timber, Colonie prospered primarily as an agricultural district from the middle seventeenth century into the early twentieth century. The vast majority of the surviving historic features from the pre-Civil War period of the town are farm buildings. No major industrial or commercial concentrations were constructed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The proximity of Colonie to Albany allowed affluent city dwellers to construct substantial estates and suburban residences during the period from 1875 to 1930. Several of these suburban estates and suburban residences were designed by prominent Albany architects, such as Ernest Hoffman, William M. Woollett, Norman Sturgis and Walter H. Van Guysling. Colonie's rich architectural heritage includes distinctive examples reflecting changing tastes and lifestyles in vernacular, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italian Villa, Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts and a variety of twentieth-century revival style designs. Together the twenty-seven individual components and one historic district in the Colonie Town Multiple Resource Area embody three centuries of growth and development in the Hudson-Mohawk region.

The town of Colonie was incorporated in 1895, containing the majority of the agricultural area and a segment of the industrial area of the former town of Watervliet. This earlier town covered the entire area south of the confluence of the Mohawk River with the Hudson River. It is important to note that the historic resources of Colonie dating before 1895 were components of a larger regional historic complex. The earliest Dutch settlement of Colonie took place with the 1629 formation of Rensselaerwyck, which included most of present-day Albany and Rensselaer Counties and surrounded the Dutch settlement at Fort Orange (now Albany). The strategic location of Fort Orange near the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson was an attempt to place a Dutch fur-trading post where European and Indian networks could intersect. The early (1630) occupation at Schuyler flats (an archeological site listed on the National Register, January, 1974) relates to this early phase of Colonie's settlement.

With the English takeover of New York in 1664, little social change took place in the Albany area. New settlers who came to the province of New York prior to the 1750s avoided established Dutch communities, and thus settlement in the area of Colonie retained its Dutch character. The early portion of the Van Denbergh-Simmons House (c. 1720-60) displays the distinctive elements of New World Dutch architecture, being a low one-story frame structure with mud brick nogging, and was built adjacent to the Van Rensselaer Manor. The post and beam construction and jambless fireplace are characteristic of vernacular Dutch farmhouses built before 1760 in the Albany area. J. R. Bleeker's (1767) map of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck locates 145 families on the west side of the Hudson River and 131 families of the east side, and many of these tenant farmers probably had vernacular Dutch farmhouses. The Van Denbergh-Simmons House is the only house of this type found to survive in the multiple resource area. The Schairer Dutch Barn (c. 1740-80) is an agricultural building surviving from this period and is the only extant example of this barn type in Colonie.

The French and Indian War and, later, the Revolutionary War stimulated major movements of English and New English populations into the area. Troop movements along the Albany Post Road (U. S. Route 9, now known as Loudon Road) in Colonie introduced soldiers to the favorable agricultural conditions of the town. Two western turnpikes, the Albany-Schenectady Turnpike (N. Y. Route 5) and the Troy-Schenectady Turnpike (N. Y. Route 7) traversed Colonie and encouraged development. The Mohawk and Hudson Rivers were important transportation routes for immigrants and were augmented in the early nineteenth century by the construction of the Erie and Champlain canals. The myriad of routes contributed not only to settlement but to the early movement of goods and growing prosperity.

This period of growth and the ethnic character of the new populations is reflected in the style of architecture in the town. The Federal and Greek Revival styles of the buildings in this period are in marked contrast to the existing Dutch taste. Initially, both the traditional and newer fashions found expression, often resulting in a hybrid of types and ownerships. The Ebenezer Hills, Jr. Farmhouse (1785) is a significant example of a Federal period house built by a New Englander with the spacious, horizontal proportions attributable to the Dutch tradition. In the John Wolf Kemp House (c. 1780) the opposite phenomenon occurs; an established Dutch tenant family erecting a tall, fashionable brick house inspired by the New England taste. The Jedediah Strong House (c. 1795) is a distinctive example of a stylish Federal period house built by an active politician on the manor. In this example, as in the Friend Humphrey House (1840), the houses were designed with a clear restraint resulting, at least in part, from the nature of the farm community. The manor system and the Dutch traditions were well established on the landscape in social customs and in the craft establishment. One additional influence on the architecture in Colonie was the Shakers who had built a substantial community at Watervliet in the 1780's. (This is the only Shaker resource in the multiple resource area, NR listed 1973.) By example and as craftsmen, the Shakers played an important role in the development of Federal period architecture in the town.

By the 1830s, the Greek Revival style was popular in house design. The product of an active period of growth in the town, Greek Revival style farms are conspicuous as farmsteads. Two distinctive examples retain sufficient integrity to be included in the multiple resource area: the Martin Dunsbach House (c. 1840) and the Casparus F. Pruyn House (c. 1830). The Martin Dunsbach House is additionally significant for a rare surviving New England feature, an attached brick carriage house. Dunsbach operated the ferry crossing the Mohawk which was an important link in the westward route. The Casparus F. Pruyn House was constructed by the Van Rensselaer's business agent.

The external events of the time notwithstanding, the history of Colonie prior to 1840 is directly related to the Van Rensselaer manor. The majority of the people in Colonie were tenant farmers leasing their lands from Van Rensselaer and were not feeholders. The farmers were required to pay rent in the form of specific agricultural products or their cash equivalents and bring it to the impressive Georgian style Van Rensselaer mansion that stood in Colonie near Albany (built c. 1760 and removed to Williams College, Massachusetts c. 1890). The "anti-rent wars" of the 1840s forced the Van Rensselaer family to sell much of its holdings and further stimulated settlement in the area.

Many farmhouses in Colonie are multi-stage buildings reflecting the changing requirements of the farm, periods of prosperity and the expression of fashions in architecture. The best examples of this type in the multiple resource area are the John V. A. Lansing Farmhouse (c. 1830) and the Henry-Remsen House (c. 1830-50). Both houses incorporate earlier simple tenant houses as dependencies to larger, stylish residences in the Greek Revival style. The Henry-Remsen House is also significant for still later upgrading as a suburban residence.

The post Civil War period saw the development of a rapidly expanding industrial corridor along the Hudson River between Albany and Troy. Railroads combined with the canals, turnpikes and Hudson River to form a great transportation nexus. In the late nineteenth century the town of Colonie was an important agricultural provider for the growing urban industrial population. The only industrial component of the multiple resource area is the Cohoes Company Head Gatehouse, Dam and Headrace (1866), part of the power system for the Harmony Mills complex in Cohoes (NR, 1978). Two major farmhouses were erected during this period: the Frederic Cramer House (c. 1877) and the Isaac M. Haswell House (c. 1880), and reflect the prosperity and sophisticated taste in the farming regions of the town. The Cramer House was designed by Albany architect Ernest Hoffman.

From 1875 to 1930 Colonie was developing as a suburb of Albany and other surrounding cities for prominent area politicians, merchants, businessmen and factory owners. The movement actually started before the Civil War as city dwellers like Friend Humphrey (c. 1840), Henry R. Remsen (1830, 1860), George H. Lawton (1851-54) and Daniel Simmons (Van Denbergh-Simmons House, 1720, 1847 and Simmons Stone House, 1847-49) developed retreats outside the city. Remsen and Simmons both acquired old farmhouses and added to and upgraded them in the prevailing taste. The post-war period also saw the construction of substantial residences and estates in this largely rural setting (several of these properties are listed on the National Register as part of the Loudon Road Multiple Resource Area, NR 1977). Additional residences in Loudonville and other areas included in this multiple resource area nomination, many designed by prominent area architects, are: Bacon and Stickney House (1874), designed by William M. Woollett and published in A. J. Bicknell's Wooden and Brick Buildings with Details (1875); Senator William T. Bryne House (1916), one of Walter Van Guysling's important Colonial Revival style works; Royal K. Fuller House (1927-27); Alfred H. Renshaw House (1927), designed by Norman Sturgis with landscaping by Louise Payson; and Tremont Manor (1929) by the New York City firm of Adams and Prentice. The last three are distinctive English Revival style country houses with well-landscaped settings. Treemont Manor and the Renshaw House are oriented toward formal gardens. Their architects are known locally for their urban designs and their Colonie buildings reveal their ability to design in diverse settings and for different types of clients.

On Broadway north of Albany an estate area was developed between that city and the city of Watervliet. The Jermain estate, "Hedge Lawn" (1870, 1908), survives along with the Henry M. Sage Estate (NR 1980) as two distinctive large houses in this suburban area. However, this area is characterized more by the smaller scale suburban development that occurred in the early twentieth century. The area was connected to the nearby city by a railroad line. An important stop on the line was at the Albany Rural Cemetery (NR 1979), a popular pleasure ground at the turn of the century. Louis Menand, a prominent horticulturalist, operated a large garden/greenhouse at this location and the stop came to be known as Menands. The development of the area as a suburb was fortuitously influenced by Menand's reputation and the village was designed as a "garden city." The Menand Park Historic District (1913-1925), the Charles Peck House (1908) and the George Trimble House (1909-10) are located in or near the village of Menands. They reflect the role of the Menands area in new lifestyles based on a suburban model. The houses on Tillinghast Avenue that form the Menand Park Historic District are representative examples of Prairie and Bungalow style houses embellished with Arts and Crafts elements, such as cobblestone chimneys, porch supports and fireplaces, beamed ceilings and rough shingle siding. In the quality and variety of the buildings and in the overall integrity of their settings, the Menand Park Historic District is an excellent example of finely designed early twentieth century suburban developments. The Peck and Trimble houses are distinguished, intact examples of well-crafted homes in Tudor and Arts and Crafts styles, respectively.

There are few historic religious, educational or public buildings that survive in Colonie. The Newtonville Post Office was listed on the National Register in 1973 and the multiple resource area nomination includes three additional examples: the Reformed Dutch of Rensselaer at Watervliet (1847), Menands Manor (1877) and the Verdoy School (1910). The church is an intact example of a Greek Revival style religious building in the region. Its association with a Reformed Dutch congregation in 1847 indicates the longevity of the Dutch culture in the town and reflects their adoption of the then current architectural fashions. Menands Manor is a distinctive example of William M. Woollett's work in the area and is an accomplished use of Stick style design in the adaptation of a Federal period house to institutional use. The Jermain family from nearby "Hedge Lawn" were benefactors of this building and the Home for Aged Men. Woollett probably also designed the distinctive carriage house built at "Hedge Lawn" in this period. Enlarging population, changing community centers and the centralizing movement in school districting is represented in the Verdoy School as well as current schoolhouse design. The remoteness of the Verdoy area from the prime suburban areas is indicated by its small size; yet, the town was evidently knowledgeable of school architecture in a broader context.

References

Albany Architects: The Present Looks at the Past. Albany, N. Y. Historic Albany Foundation, 1978.

Albany, N. Y. Albany County Assessor's Office. Assessment Rolls.

Albany, N. Y. Albany County Clerk's Office. Deed Records.

Albany, N. Y. New York State Library. Van Rensselaer Manuscript Collection.

Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934.

Fitchen, John. The New World Dutch Barn. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1968.

Florman, Philip. The Growth of a Church and its Community, 1922-1963. Albany, N. Y.: n.p., 1963.

Howell, George R. and Jonathan Tenney. History of the County of Albany. N. Y. from 1609 to 1886. New York: W. W. Munsell & Co., 1886.

Kim, Sung Bok. Landlord and Tenant in Colonial New York: Manorial Society, 1664-1775. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978.

Meining, Donald W. "The Colonial Period," "Geography of Expansion," and "Elaboration and Change." In John H. Thompson (ed.). Geography of New York State. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. pp. 140-196.

Menand, Howard. Village of Menands: 50th Anniversary, 1924-1974. Menands, N. Y.: Village of Menands, 1974.

Menand, Louis. Autobiography and Recollections of Incidents Connected with Horticultural Affairs. Albany, N. Y.: Weid, Parson & Co., 1892.

Memoirs of an Immigrant: The Journal of Alexander Coventry, M.D. in Scotland. The Untied States and Canada during the Period 1783-1831. Albany, N. Y.: Albany Institute of History and Art, 1978.

Newtonville, N. Y. Town of Colonie Historian's Office Research files.

New York State Board of Agriculture. Proceedings. Albany, N. Y., 1840-1850.

Olton, Jean S. (Compiler) and Warren F. Broderick (Editor). The Town of Colonie: A Pictorial History. Colonie: Lane Press, 1980.

Parker, Amasa J. (ed.). Landmarks of Albany County, New York. Syracuse, N. Y.: D. Mason & Co. 1897.

Phelps, Henry P. Menands: The Garden Suburb of Albany and Troy. Albany: Brandow, Barton & Co., 1886.

Pierson, William H., Jr. American Buildings and Their Architects: Technology and the Picturesque, the Corporate and the Early Gothic Styles. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1978.

Vogel, Robert M. (ed.) A Report of the Mohawk-Hudson Area Survey. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1973.

Witbeck, Govit T. Sketch of Roads, Streams and Localities of Watervliet. 1850 Town of Colonie Historian's Office file.

Witbeck, Lucas G. A Map of a Tract of 6957 Acres of Land Surveyed and Laid into Lots for Stephen Van Rensselaer in October 1799. Melius Map Collection. Albany County Clerk's Office, Albany, New York.

  1. Larson, Neil, N. Y. State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Colonie Town Multiple Resource Area, nomination document, 1985, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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