With the beginning of the New Year 2015 in the thriving town of Guilderland, it is appropriate to look back on the early years of the town's history for new residents and students. Long before Guilderland was a town, bands of Mohawk Indians camped and lived along the Normanskill River.
On Feb. 10, 1803, a petition was filed by Nicholas V. Mynderse with the New York State Assembly asking for 58.67 square miles of land to be separated from the town of Watervliet. That land was owned by Dutch Patroon Stephen VanRensselaer and called VanRensselaer Manor.
The petition was passed by the State Assembly and emerged from the State Senate 10 days later; it declared that the town was to be hamed in honor of the patroon whose homeland in the Netherlands was the province of Gelderland. The Dutch influence remained in Guilderland for many years and still stands with the Dutch barns built by early settlers.
When Guilderland was organized, Thomas Jefferson was president, the Union flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes, the Louisiana Purchase was the first territorial expansion in the new nation, and Lewis and Clark had begun their Northwest Expedition.
Nicholas Mynderse, who had come from the Netherlands, was elected supervisor of the new own of Guilderland. His family owned many acres of land on the Albany-Schoharie Road, now called Route 146. The historic house and tavern he built then still stands in Guilderland Center, and is used today by the Guilderland Historical Society and other community groups.
Captain Jacob Van Aernam was called an outstanding patriot during the American Revolution, and Colonel Abraham Wemple was noted for his command of a regiment reported to have been at the Battle of Saratoga. Descendants with their surnames still live in Guilderland today.
The old Schoharie Road was improved, headed west, and it became the Great Western Turnpike in 1799. Agriculture replaced forests in Guilderland while turnpikes and railroads cut through countryside.
New farms and small businesses flourished along the turnpike, and the growing township of Guilderland began a school district in 1813.
Guilderland has two main water streams, the Normanskill and the Hungerkill. Water power from these streams enabled industrial complex to begin and thrive. A glass factory, a grist mill, a saw mill, and textile and woolen mills were powered by these turbulent waters.
In 1954, Guilderland's one- and two-room schoolhouses were consolidated, and new large buildings were erected. Flying over a new town hall, built in 1972, Guilderland's flag boasts an heraldic coat-of-arms of the Province of Gelderland in the Netherlands.
When the town celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2003, its Dutch heritage was acknowledged with a meeting at the Appel Inn where the Town's first meeting was held on April 3, 1803. Parades, historic meetings, and gatherings continued throughout the year.
A group of 11 town residents traveled to Holland to visit the small village of Nijkerk in the province of Gelderland. That Hanseatic town became a famous commercial center after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was also the birthplace of Killean VanRensselaer, Stephen VanRenselaer's ancestor, whose land grants by the Dutch West India Company in 1630 served as the basis for today's Guilderland. This was the homeland of the original settlers along the Normanskill or Norman's Creek.
Nijkerk's Mayor Vries welcomed the delegates from Guilderland in his handsome conference room and spoke of our communal ancestors. We were given a guided tour of his town and then arranged for the group to visit Putten, and the still-working farm of the VanRensselaers.
The farmhouse was immaculate. We walked in the back entrance, through an attached barn, between two rows of cows in stalls. A fireplace and two windows kept the caretaker warm as he could watch a cow giving birth.
A touch of our own Guilderland history enveloped us as we left the VanRensselaer farm in Putten, Gelderland across the Atlantic. (The complete story of that bicentennial visit is in my book, From The Historian's Desk, on pages 112 to 115.)
Today, Guilderland is a thriving town of 35,000 residents. Its eastern border encompasses the New York State University at Albany campus, two large shopping centers, growing business complexes and housing developments. A large school district educates students. New housing developments and businesses are starting to be built at the western end of Guilderland near the town hall.
Watching this development and writing of it has been educational and inspiring. Residents seeking additional information about Guilderland's history or local books on the subject may call me, the town historian at 356-1980, ext. 1050.
It always surprises this historian when youngsters come to the Guilderland Town Hall, usually with a parent, and they have no idea what goes on there, what its purpose is, or how it affects their
Old, old historic papers, legal and otherwise, reached out to me this week. I'd like to share a few with Enterprise readers.
This historian has filled columns with information on the Schoolcraft House and the congressman that built it, John L. Schoolcraft.
ALTAMONT — An enriching evening spent in the Altamont Community Room on Monday, June 23, presented Everett Rau, a long-time Altamont resident, billed as “An American Farmer, Rich in Spirit.” He was interviewed by Laura Shore, a volunteer worker at the Altamont Museum Archives.
This historian has known Everett for many years, and his historic wisdom on the success and benefits of early farming and his great knowledge about historic barns is documented.
Everett, born in the year 1919, has lived his whole childhood and adult years on his grandfather’s farm, Pleasant View Farm on Lainhart Road. His grandfather was Peter John Ogsbury, a Civil War veteran.
Everett spoke of the many aspects of early farming. Using a Farmall tractor was a big step forward for American farms. Up until that tractor, he said with a chuckle, “We made hay the old-fashioned way.” The attentive audience seemed to know what the “old way” was.
Everett also described his family’s activities in tough times. “In 1929, our country was just entering the Great Depression,” he said. “Through that time, as farmers, they worked hard raising 300 laying hens, made our own butter and cheese, and grew fruits and vegetables.”
The Raus preserved enough food to feed their families and neighbors and to donate food to others in need. “We never went hungry. Our root cellar was never bare,” said Everett.
In addition, Everett’s mother took in summer boarders for $22 a week. That sum included three meals a day and room!
“Neighbors all helped each other then,” said Everett. The names of Altamont families that farmed included Lainhart, Pangburn and Ogsbury. They shared farming equipment, labor, and knowledge.
Oxen were used in early farming days, and Everett said, “I still have the original ox yoke hanging up in the house.”
Everything was grown from heirloom seeds, Everett told the group. Food was grown naturally, without pesticides. “If we saw a bug or a small green worm on an ear of corn or fruit,” Everett said, “we just picked it off!”
Then he advised how to get rid of leaf insects or worms: “Very simply.”
When World War II broke out, Everett Rau went to work at the General Electric Company in Schenectady on a secret armament project. When engineers couldn’t fix a particular problem, they turned to Everett. He took it home and did fix it.
Everett still worked the farm while at G.E. and he sold green vegetables, chickens, and homemade sausages to the G.E. workers. He told the audience, “Most jobs make you a living but farming makes you a life.”
Everett Rau married Peggy Vedder in 1943 and, he said, “We set about making a family.”
Today, Everett and Peg have four children, 17 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. Everett consulted his lovely wife, Peg, sitting in the front row, to get the correct figures: They’ve been married 71 years!
After the war, the Rau family began raising turkeys — 3,000 of them. In 1951, they opened a store called Turkeyland in Schenectady. Six ovens would roast stuffed turkeys that sold to long lines of waiting customers. It was a grand success until 1961 when a new highway bypassed Turkeyland and detoured traffic away from Ev’s store.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the Raus’ farm continued general farming and they also raised sheep. A field hay bailer was purchased and successful harvests followed. Hay was donated to the state of Georgia when it suffered a really bad drought.
The Raus also raised wheat to donate feed to the Altamont fairground for the animals there, and they raised a special crop of rye straw for roof thatching needed for the Shakespeare Theatre in Lenox, Massachusetts.
At the end of the interview, Everett strongly urged everyone to grow and eat more “fresh” food. “Start a garden, even a small garden,” he said. “If I have encouraged even one person to start a small garden or have chickens — if allowed — or at least decide to eat more fresh food because it is good for you, then tomorrow will be another precious day for everyone.”
The standing audience clapped and clapped for a very long time. OK, Everett, I’m watching my first tomatoes and my first two cucumbers grow on the vine!
Historian’s Note: This event was the first in a series for a film being made about Pleasant View Farm. The filming will take place through the summer and early fall, according to Marijo Dougherty, curator at the Altamont Museum Archives. It is an educational project planned for the District Educational System. We will all be looking forward to viewing that.