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Early Schenectady County History
- In 1643, Arendt Van Corlear, returning from one of his many errands in the Indian districts of New York, reported to Patroon Van Rensselaer that a "half days journey from the Colonie, on the Mohawk river, there lies the most beautiful land that the eye of man ever beheld." This "beautiful land" extended from Schenectady far on to the west, but it was at the former place that he secured his grant of land, and in the summer of 1661 made application to Governor Stuyvesant for permission to settle in the region. Although the place was called "Curlear" for a time, and he was the possessor of a grant wrung from the Governor by great effort, he never lived there and had little to do with the establishment of the place or its subsequent expansion. He is to be remembered for the results of his amicable relations with the Mohawks. Whatever this tribe may have thought of the whites, Van Corlear was one man in whom they trusted, and of whom they were fond. After his death they gave the title "Curlear" to other Governors who had dealings with them.
The name Schenectady is spelled seventy-nine different ways in the early documents, but no matter how remarkable the orthography, somehow they convey the sound. The Indians called the region Schonowe, pronounced something like the Dutch "schoon"-beautiful. To this was added achten-"valued," and del-"valley," the combination conveying a very true idea of the spot, but too much for the spelling of the time or the powers of pronunciation. From the mixture and the inability to spell or pronounce it correctly, evolved the present form. Another guess is that Schenectady is a corruption of the Indian name Schau-naugh-ta-da, meaning "across the pine plains," and is said to have been applied originally to Albany, but was given to the present locality because of the kind of land over which they journeyed to reach it.
Whatever the name or its derivation, the valley must have been worthy of the enthusiastic praise of Van Corlear. "It is the only level pass through the Appalachians from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico." The Mohawks were the finest of the Indians, and the section was their garden spot. The plain on either side of the river glowed with the results of the labors of the squaws-beans, corn and pumpkins. On the higher levels were the castles of the tribe, farther back were the forest clad hills. The admiration of the past is often repeated in the present by the visitor who, standing on one of the higher hills, beholds the wide flung valley in its garb of today.
As a county Schenectady was organized March 7, 1809, being taken from Albany. The Mohawk flows through most of the width of the irregular shaped county, with nearly all the land Iying on the south side, Glenville town being the only civil division on the north. Away from the river bottom the land is somewhat hilly, approaching, in the neighborhood of Mariaville, a height of a thousand feet. The lower lands are light, warm and easily tilled, and are from one to three miles wide. Some of the glacial drift land is heavier, approaching clay, while the sub-rock is mostly shale with some limestone. Agriculture is naturally the main industry, beginning with the Indian, and only being partially displaced as the advantageous location of this region for manufacturing has brought about the great influx of factories. The staple crops and vegetables are those more often grown, with fruit growing and dairying taking the first place in the hilly sections. At one time the county was a famous broom corn section and the making of brooms a principal occupation, but this crop is now grown more inexpensively on the cheaper lands of the West.
As has been hinted, the early settlers of this area were mainly folk from the Netherlands, and the land taken by Hudson was for the East India Company of Holland and called New Netherlands. In 1621 the East India Company were given control over all this new possession, and it was in the service of Killian Van Rensselaer, who had received 700,000 acres of this land that Van Curlear first saw Schenectady. But it was not as an attempt to colonize the vast Van Rensselaer grant that the Mohawk section was sought by the adventurers. The pioneers wanted to own the land that they had wrenched from the wild. The uncertainties of Patroon tenure did not suit, and it was only after difficulty that fourteen, with Van Curlear, obtained permission to buy from the Indian the "Great Flat" on which Schenectady was built. They were not even given the right to trade with the aborigines, and were therefore compelled to give their whole attention to farming.
The settlers of this tract divided the acreage into farms, town lots and pastures. The piece platted as a village is the part which the city of Schenectady now occupies. It was enclosed with a palisade and fortified as best could be done.
The one notable exception to the Holland origin of the first settlers of this region was Alexander Lindsay Glen, a native of Scotland who, in 1665, secured a patent to lands on the north side of the Mohawk River on which he erected a stone house for his residence. He called his estate Scotia but the desire for change brought about the subsequent title Glenville when this area was erected as a town. The region was not immune from Indian depredations but was freer from interference than most of the early settlements, probably because of the reverence in which the name of Van Curlear was held. The founder had met his death while on a trip to Canada, by the overturning of his canoe on Lake Champlain in 1667.
- Read more about it! . . . History of Schenectady County
PLUS -- Each of these sections has different books on the same region:
- Town & County
- Native American
- Trains & Steamboats
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Copyright © 1996 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.