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Rensselaerville Town

Rensselaerville Town Hall is located at 87 Barger Road, Medusa NY 12120; phone: 518-797-3798.

Beginnings [†]

The Town of Rensselaerville was fashioned from the southwest corner of the former Manor of Rensselaerswyck, created under the "Freedom and Exemptions" grant of the Dutch West India Company in 1630. Grants in the later seventeenth century from the English government to the Van Rensselaer family gave sanction to these holdings, which eventually grew to encompass many thousands of acres on both sides of the Hudson River near Albany.[1] Prior to the American Revolution, some portions of Rensselaerswyck remained largely unsettled, therefore in 1785 patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III began to place greater emphasis on encouraging the settlement of the outer reaches of the estate in order to increase rent income and further improve his holdings. At the time, the area around what would emerge as the hamlet of Rensselaerville as considered the least productive and least valuable part of Van Rensselaer's manor lands, largely on account of its agricultural potential. In order to facilitate settlement of this area, Van Rensselaer commissioned a survey and divided the region into one hundred sixty acre lots, and offered people free use of the land for seven years and, thereafter, perpetual leases subject to payment of goods or in-kind services.[2]

Van Rensselaer's offer apparently did little to entice homesteaders to move to the area during that year, as by 1786 no one inhabited the parcel of land that was to become the hamlet of Rensselaerville, and only a number of people resided in outlying areas. The few that had settled concentrated their houses on the highest points of land, particularly around Mt. Pisgah, located about two miles west of the present village. The first settler of the hamlet of Rensselaerville was gristmill owner Samuel Jenkins, who arrived in 1788 from West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. A mix of people from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, in addition to people from Long Island and the Hudson Valley, soon followed and settled the village and the outlying lands, helping to shape the area's physical and cultural identity in the post-Revolutionary War period. In 1790, Rensselaerville was given official status as a village and by the mid-1790s, as the number of leaseholds granted by Van Renssaelaer increased, more people, particularly farmers, removed to Rensselaerville and the large Helderberg region. The regionally abundant supply of hemlock, an important material in leather manufacture, helped support a burgeoning tanning industry. By 1800, there were numerous tanneries in and around the hamlet of Rensselaerville, along with grist mills and other small scale factories scattered along Ten Mile Creek.[3]

The completion of the Delaware Turnpike in 1805, and related road systems, stimulated a period of prosperity for the hamlet, coupled with a considerable influx of new settlers in the post-war period. The Delaware Turnpike originated in Albany and ran through the Town of Rensselaerville, providing communication with the distant Hudson River, the primary transportation artery of the era. As coaches traveled to the western or southern parts of the state, the hamlet of Rensselaerville became a convenient stopping place, and new services were quickly established to meet and capitalize on this demand. At its peak in 1843, the population of the hamlet was estimated between several hundred and one thousand persons. With the exception of a few German and Scottish families, most of the people who came to Rensselaerville prior to 1850 migrated from New England, a region undergoing a land shortage due to its burgeoning population.

By the mid-nineteenth century, however, with the development of the railroad and canal systems which bypassed the town, this relative period of prosperity and growth for the hamlet and town of Rensselaerville was largely tempered by new realities. The depletion of local hemlock and with it the demise of the tanning industry, in addition to the fairly poor soil conditions of the region and subsequent soil exhaustion, factored into the declining fortunes of a town already feeling the impact of transportation difficulties. Further decline of agricultural interests in southwestern Albany County was felt, by mid-century, by competition with the wheat and corn belts of the west. These factored into economic and population decline, reflected in the twenty-seven percent decline in the population of the Helderberg towns in the forty years after 1840, with the Town of Rensselaerville declining by more than 1000 persons in this period.[4]


  1. Washbon, Rensselaerville Reminiscences and Rhymes (Albany: Charles Van Benthuysen & Sons, 1890), 6.
  2. Ibid, 6,9.
  3. Ibid, 27, 38.
  4. Ibid, 5.

Krattinger, William E., New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, and Robinson, Carol, SUNY Albany, Sidney White House, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Regiser of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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