History (Rensselaerville)

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY
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Rensselaerville was once part of the Rensselaerwyck estate and is named after Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. The town was settled around 1785.

Rensselaerville was created from part of the Town of Watervliet in 1790. At that time it included all of what are now the Towns of Berne, Knox, and Westerlo. In 1795 the northern part of the town was lost to create the new Town of Berne. Additional territory was lost from the eastern part of the town upon the formation of the Town of Westerlo in 1815.

Early Settlement - The Dutch Colony of Rensselaerwyck was founded in 1629. The land became English in 1664 but was still controlled by a single person, the Lord of the Manor. As late as 1767 no one was recorded as having settled in the future village of Rensselaerville.

Settlers first came to Rensselaerville during the Revolution. The first settler was Henry Van Dyke. Settlers followed from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Dutchess County in New York about 1788 including Samuel Jenkins, Melatiah Hatch, Nathanial Hatch, Joseph Woodford, Thomas Brown, Joel Culver, Jonathan Crocker, Ashbel Culver and others. They built log cabins and remained in warm weather and in the winter returned east. These settlers were very poor. For the first year or two there was no horses owned within a mile of the village, and they had to carry their sugar 20 or 30 miles on their backs, exchange it for corn and return the same way.[1].

A survey in 1787 found 67 settlers in the region. A description of that time referred to ‘‘the terrific forests [of] overshadowing hemlock [that] had not then (1793) been felled’’ and to ‘‘mountain sides . . . covered with dense thickets of somber-looking hemlocks’’ (People Made It Happen Here, 1977, p.45).

In the late 1700s the land throughout the region was rapidly cleared for farming. Sawmills and tanneries proliferated.

  1. People Made It Happen Here, History of the Town of Rensselaerville ca. 1788-1950, Published 1977