Nassau Village Hall is located at 40 Maiden Street, Nassau NY 12123; phone: 518-766-3044.
Three small Historic Districts were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. [Albany Avenue, Chatham Street and Church Street]Text below was selected and transcribed from a copy of the original nomination documents. Together, the three districts comprise a substantial part of the town as it was ca. 1829.
Significance [1, 2, 3]
The Village of Nassau is located in the southern part of Rensselaer County, within easy driving distance of the City of Albany (and the congestion of the Tri-City area). A major east-west highway, U.S. Route 20, bisects the village. The countryside between Nassau and Albany is rapidly suburbanizing and many portions of Route 20 are given over to modern commercial strip development.
Due to alterations and demolition the center of the crossroads village has lost its historic appearance. However, unusually intact groupings of early structures remain on Albany Avenue, Church Street and Chatham Street.
Due to its strategic location on the Albany to Boston stage route, the village of Nassau became the location of many fine examples of Federal period architecture, as well as a few outstanding examples from later periods. Despite the fact that the present day village is traversed by a heavily travelled east-west highway, the historic early environment remains surprisingly intact and illustrates the continual prosperity which the village enjoyed throughout the nineteenth century.
In 1685, the site of the present Nassau village, then a trackless wilderness, became a part of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck. By this time, Dutch settlers had already taken up valuable farmland along the fertile Hudson River flats. However, serious efforts to settle inland along the Valatie Kill had to await the building of the new fort at Crown Point with its promise of security against French and Indian attack. When settlement did take place inland, it occurred through the movement of New Englanders coming westward as well as English and Dutch settlers from the south and west. The New England influence became predominate, giving the village architecture a strongly Federal style orientation.
In 1760, Hugh Wilson and Joseph Primmer purchased land on the interior which included the site of present Nassau village. A few farms were established. However, it was not until after the Revolution that Nassau experienced its major period of expansion under the leadership of Johnathan Hoag and Moses Vail.
These two men built stores and dammed the Valatie Kill to form a source of water with which to power mills. In 1799, a New York City newspaper announced that "that very handsome and flourishing village in the Town of Schodack, heretofore known by the name of New Stores, has assumed the name of UNION-VILLAGE."[†] Later the name "Nassau" replaced "Union Village."
Schodack Landing, a Dutch community on the Hudson to which Nassau was linked by road, had developed early into a hub of waterfront commerce. Nassau's first growth came as an inland satellite of this village. However, around 1800, the creation of a stage route from Albany to Boston, which passed through Nassau, solidified the community's position as the most important center of southern Rensselaer County.
Another stage route used Maiden Street south to Malden Bridge. The junction of these two stage routes spawned additional stores, hotels and other commercial enterprises, as well as many commodious Federal period residences.
In 1819, Nassau was incorporated as a village. Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, growth was slow but steady. An Academy was built in 1835 and a foundry in 1840. A piano action factory was established outside the village which provided employment for many residents. In 1904, the piano action firm built in the village, although outside of the historic district under discussion.
A map of 1854 shows a vigorous group of mills still operating at the site on the northern arm (Elm Street) of the crossroads which was chosen by Hoag. The foundry, eight stores and several hotels are indicated on the east (Albany Avenue), west (Church Street), and north (Elm Street) arms of the crossroads. Two southern streets, Chatham and Malden, which fork at the crossroads, were as yet largely undeveloped. However, by 1876, Chatham had buildings on its west side while Malden Street had development on its east side.
The village was now fairly well cast into its present mold. Later changes consisted of the addition of dwellings in the vacant periphery and changes to the commercial core on Albany Avenue. Hotels were demolished and stores altered in this latter area, but the rest of Nassau remained. A rare and almost complete set of early photographs exists to document the loss of some architectural detail throughout the village, yet Nassau still retains a visually exciting and rich collection of nineteenth century architecture which deserves preservation and recognition.
Activities associated with the use of this area may have produced archeological remains which enhance the historical value of the site.
Perhaps because of the hilly topography of this part of Nassau Village, the Albany Avenue district became a gracious residential area with lawns, trees, and fine homes set well apart from one another. This resulted, too, from the fact that the land was originally part of two farms whose affluent owners had no need to subdivide the land unduly.
Most of the land was once the Phillip Cook farm which Cook sold to Peter C. Van Valkenburgh in 1915. Van Valkenburgh was a prominent innkeeper who, in turn, sold his own inn to Cook, also an innkeeper. Van Valkenburgh's inn, located on the Columbia Turnpike just west of the Valatie Kill in the town of Schodack, still exists and is a substantial five-bay, center hall building with classical details and a ballroom on the second floor. This property was later occupied by Cook's daughter and her husband, Dr. Samuel McClellan, a well-known load physician.
Van Valkenburgh's new purchase included a tavern (no longer extant) at the Nassau village crossroads. By these transactions, the two men changed places, so to speak. However, Van Valkenburgh did not buy the Cook house at #35 Albany Avenue, a building very similar in appearance to his inn. This house was retained, by the Cooks. As a result, Van Valkenburgh constructed a home for himself (now #23 Albany Avenue). The home he built is, again, a generously scaled five-bay, center hall plan residence with pilasters. All three of these early buildings, Van Valkenburgh's inn, the Cook residence, and Van Valkenburgh's new home, escaped renovation in the late nineteenth century and retain many late eighteenth and early nineteenth century features which make them valuable examples of regional craft practice.
Later, Van Valkenburgh's son occupied a house next door to his father's at #25 Albany Avenue. This building remains and is a beautifully preserved example of a Greek Revival style, temple-form building.
The remaining Cook family land also underwent some subdivision. Around 1810, the Cooks sold a parcel, now an early house at #32 Albany Avenue, which had become isolated due to a realignment of the Albany Turnpike. Then, in the 1830's, a movement to build an academy arose. Dr. McClellan, who was married to one of Cook's daughters, was on the board of trustees and donated the land needed by the academy. Comparison of old photographs and maps shows that the academy building is relatively intact an the exterior, though without its cupola. However, two wings were separated, from the main building in the 1920's and moved a short distance. The academy is now #31 Albany Avenue and its occupied wing is number twenty-nine.
After the building of the academy in 1835, the area remained stable for over seventy years. Two homes which were built in the first decade of the twentieth century have been included in the district because they are enclosed within its park-like setting. Today, this district preserves the rural character and architectural identity of a Federal period village to a remarkable degree.
Footnote: † Paul R. Huey and Ralph D. Phillips, The Early History of Nassau Village, 1609-1830 (Nassau: Nassau Free Library, 1969).