From the Historian's Desk
by Alice Begley
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 February 10th, 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 Manor. The petition was passed by the Assembly and emerged from the Senate ten days later and declared to be Guilderland in honor of the Patroon whose homeland in the Netherlands was the Province of Gelderland. The Dutch influence remained in Guilderland for many years noted by Dutch barns built by early settlers.
When Guilderland was organized, Thomas Jefferson was President, the Union flag had 15 stars and 15 strips, 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 Town 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, and is used today by the Guilderland Historical Society and other community groups.
Captain Jacob Van Aernam was called a 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. These names are still prominent with Guilderland’s residents today.
The old Schoharie Road was improved, headed west and it became the Great Western Turnpike in 1799. Agriculture replaced forests in Guilderland while 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 the industrial complex to begin and thrive. A glass factory, a grist mill, a saw mill, textile and woolen mills spawned power from these turbulent waters.
In 1954, Guilderland’s one and two-room schoolhouses were consolidated, and new large buildings 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 3rd, 1803.
At the Town of Guilderland’s Bicentennial in 2003, much celebration was heralded. 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 VanRensselaer’s ancestor, whose lands 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 USA 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. It was an immaculate farmhouse. 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 From The Historian’s Desk” book by this historian Pages 112-115).
Today, Guilderland is a thriving town of 35,000 residents. It’s eastern border encompasses the New York State University campus, two large shopping centers, growing business and complex housing developments. A large school district handles a growing population of students. The Town Hall in the western end of town, is beginning to see new housing groups and business there.
Watching this development and writing of it has been educational and inspiring. For additional information about Guilderland’s history and/or for local books on the subject contact Town Historian Alice Begley at 356-1980 ext. 1050.
Reprinted with permission from:
The Altamont Enterprise & Albany County Post