Historic Albany County

General Historical Overview

Albany is the oldest continuing settlement in the nation. The City of Albany still serves under its original charter, which dates back to July 22, 1686, and has been the capital of New York State since 1797. For information about touring local historical landmarks, check out the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The region that would become Albany County was settled by French and then Dutch fur traders in the early 17th century after Henry Hudson voyaged up "La Grande Riviere" (later named the Hudson River) in his ship the Half Moon, searching for a trade route to the Far East.

Albany was one of the twelve original counties of colonial New York as established by Governor Thomas Dongan in the late 1600's. The land that became Albany was carved out of the vast manor owned by the Dutch diamond merchant Kiliaen Van Rensselaer.

By 1774, Albany County was the most populated county in colonial New York with over 42 thousand settlers. In 1790 the federal government conducted its first comprehensive census, and Albany County was still the most populous county in New York State, with 75,921 inhabitants. By 1800, Albany County had shrunk significantly in size and population as Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Greene, and Columbia Counties were split off.

For the past two centuries, Albany County has been within its current borders, bounded on the east by the Hudson River and on the north by the Mohawk River. You can learn more about the early history of Albany County by visiting the Colonial Albany Social History Project.

Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd

Erastus Corning 2nd, the longest serving mayor of a major American city, was born October 7, 1909 into a wealthy and politically experienced family. First elected as mayor of Albany in 1941, Corning would go on to serve as mayor for eleven terms, until his death in 1983. You can learn more about Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd from the Albany County Clerk.

Albany County Municipalities and their History

In 1624, French Walloons set up a colony named Fort Orange for the House of Orange, the royal family of The Netherlands. By 1629 the Dutch West India Company had established a trading post at Fort Orange, later proclaimed the Village of Beverwyck by the governor in 1652. The City of Albany received its charter on July 22, 1686. Because of its location along the Hudson, Albany became a military hotspot in the latter half of the 18th century during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Albany became the capital of New York State in 1797 and since then has been the home of numerous governors and others who would go on the become presidents of the United States. You can learn more about the history of the City of Albany from their website.

On March 17, 1795, a settlement known as Beaverdam separated from the Town of Rensselaerville and became the Town of Berne. Birthplace of Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley, who in 1886 cast the deciding vote to elect  Rutherford B. Hayes as president rather than Samuel J. Tilden. More about the history of Berne can be found on the Berne Historical Project website.

The Town of Bethlehem was incorporated in 1793 on the west bank of the Hudson River, just south of the City of Albany. Henry Hudson's ship, the Half Moon, arrived in Bethlehem in mid-September of 1609. Learn more about Town of Bethlehem history on their website.

The Town of Coeymans was named after Barent Pieteres Koijemans who arrived here from Holland in 1639 and purchased the land that was to become Coeymans in 1672. Learn more from the Town of Coeymans.

Located at the mouth of the Mohawk River where it joins the Hudson River, the City of Cohoes was developed on land bought in 1630 by Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a director of the Dutch West India Company. In the mid-1800's, Cohoes leveraged its location by the powerful Cohoes Falls to fuel an industrial boom that led to a population expansion from 150 in 1840 to over four thousand only ten years later. Click here for more about the history of Cohoes from their website.

The Town of Colonie was formed in 1895 and received its name from the Dutch "Colonye" meaning the settlement outside the city. The name can be traced to maps used by the Dutch patroons in the 1600's. People unfamiliar with the area usually pronounce the name the same as the word "colony"; however, correct pronunciation puts the emphasis on the last syllable. You can learn more about the history of the Town of Colonie from its town historian's web pages.

The Village of Green Island is comprised of three islands, surrounded by the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. In the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, the land was owned by Colonel Kiliaen Van Rensselaer and called "Manor Rensselaerwycke." Findings of skeletons and arrowheads in the 1800’s have led historians to believe that part of the French and Indian War may have been fought where the Troy-Green Island Bridge is today. Learn more about the history of Green Island from their website.

Incorporated in 1803, the Town of Guilderland dates back as a pioneer settlement in the 1700's. Guilderland's earliest industries included the Hamilton Glass Works established in 1785. By 1800, Guilderland also had a clothing factory, a button factory, a knitting mill and a grist mill that employed early pioneers in the settlement nearby. Learn more about Guilderland's history from their website.

The Village of Menands was incorporated in 1924 and named for the French horticulturist Louis Menand, who had settled in the area with his wife in 1842. Menands lies within the Town of Colonie. You can learn more from the Menands Village historian's web pages.

Originally called "Coeymans Junction" because of the meeting of the new railroad lines there, the Village of Ravena changed its name in 1894 because it was frequently confused with nearby Coeymans Landing. A mile west of the Hudson River, Ravena, which lies within the Town of Coeymans, was officially incorporated in 1914. You can learn more from their website here.

Located in the southwest corner of Albany County, the land that would become the Town of Rensselaerville was a part of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck dating back to 1629. However the land was so inaccessible it wasn't settled until after the Revolutionary War, when tracts of land were offered free - for the first seven years - to anyone willing to develop the land. When rent became due, it was perpetual and binding on all future purchasers of the property. These types of land transactions, where the sale was never completed, led to the Anti-Rent Rebellion of 1839-89 and influenced the wording of the federal Homestead Act that opened the west for settlement. You can learn more about the history of Rensselaerville by visiting their website and clicking "History" in their menu.

Albany's Shaker Settlement

The first Shaker community in the US was settled in 1776 in Albany County. The original Shaker meeting house, cemetery, orchard and a neighboring farm still stand in the Town of Colonie. The founder of the Shaker Movement and first Shaker Settlement, Ann Lee, is buried in the nearby Shaker Cemetery. To learn more, visit the Shaker Heritage Society's website at http://www.shakerheritage.org/

The Cohoes Mastodon

In 1866 the bones of a mastodon were found in Cohoes on a site being excavated for a new mill. Eventually, parts of the mastodon were found as far as 60 feet from the original discovery. At times accused of being a hoax, perhaps the bones of an old circus elephant, the remains were ultimately confirmed to be from an American mastodon and is now on display at the New York State Museum in Albany. Learn more on the City of Cohoes website here.

George Stacey Davis

One of the best baseball players at the turn of the last century, George Stacey Davis began his career in 1889 with an independent minor league team in Albany. He was brought up to the National League in 1890 by Cleveland and was traded to the New York Giants in 1893 for Buck Ewing, who was considered one of the great players of the age. In 1902, Davis joined the Chicago White Sox in the newly-formed American League. Dubbed "The Hitless Wonders" during the 1906 season, the White Sox nevertheless went on to win the World Series that year and Davis led his team with 80 RBIs. Davis retired from the majors in 1909, after 20 years of playing and went on to manage and coach in the minors and on the college level. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1998. For more about George Stacey Davis, visit the City of Cohoes website here.

USS Slater

USS SlaterMoored on the Hudson River in Albany, the USS Slater is the only WWII Destroyer Escort that remains afloat in the US. These ships battled Nazi U-Boats on the North Atlantic and defended naval task forces from Japanese attacks in the Pacific. The USS Slater has undergone an extensive ten-year restoration that returned the ship to her former glory. The ship is open to the public from April through November with hour-long guided tours, youth group overnight camping, and has become a popular destination for naval reunion groups. You can learn more about the USS Slater by visiting their website at http://www.ussslater.org/.

Van Schaick Mansion

Built in 1755, Van Schaick Mansion sits on one of several small islands at the mouth of the Mohawk river where it meets the Hudson. A Revolutionary War camp was situated just behind the mansion and it was from here that many key figures, including George Washington, visited the mansion. Visit their website to learn more: http://www.vanschaickmansion.org/.

Watervliet Arsenal

Located on the Hudson River just north of the city of Albany, the Watervliet Arsenal is the nation's oldest manufacturing arsenal. Founded in 1813 to support the War of 1812, the Arsenal became the nation's "Cannon Factory" in 1887 and continues today as the sole manufacturing facility for large caliber cannons in the US. A small museum housed in a mid-19th century building on the premises offers a look at the history of the Arsenal and of big guns. For more information, visit the Watervliet Arsenal's website at http://www.wva.army.mil/.