Rensselaer County Up Close
Year-round activity abounds, whether it be swimming, boating, hiking, biking, skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, or maybe even dog sledding. During the growing season, the county offers an array of locally produced fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats, baked goods, arts, crafts, and even a buffalo hide or two!
A magnificently grand territory, Rensselaer County began playing a key role in American history back in 1630. It was then part of the Van Rensselaer patroon holdings, an important part of the great Dutch West Indies Company. Van Rensselaer’s stand as a patroon ended with the Anti-Rent wars of the 1840’s, when local farmers refused to pay rent to the sheriff’s deputies – then proceeded to tar and feather them for even trying to collect!
Before that happened however, in 1824 Stephen Van Rensselaer founded the oldest degree granting engineering school in the English-speaking world. At the same time, the county’s proximity to waterpower and markets forged the growth of the region’s iron industries, which quickly became legend for the production of such items as the iron plates for the Civil War battleship ‘Monitor’ and most of the horseshoes for the Union Army. And, in 1876, the 13,000-pound replacement for the cracked Liberty Bell was cast here.
Congress long ago designated Troy as the home of “Uncle Sam” – Samuel B. Wilson, a meat packer who stamped his barrels bound for U.S. Army troops with “U.S.” Local troops soon recognized their meat deliveries as coming from “Uncle Sam.” The label stuck – and the rest is history! Sam Wilson is buried in Troy’s beautiful Oakwood Cemetery, along with a host of Civil War generals, industry powerhouses, inventors, and community leaders. The nation’s first female labor union, the Collar Laundry Union, was founded in Troy in 1864 by Kate Mullaney and Ester Keegan. Another classic American icon – this one of a musical sort – was created at the old van Rensselaer manor house, Fort Crailo, where ‘Yankee Doodle’ is rumored to have been written.
The region also boasts many other impressive cultural contributions. It was here that Herman Melville found inspiration to write his first two novels, and Washington Irving penned “Father Knickerbocker” tales while residing at the Knickerbocker Mansion in Schaghticoke. The ‘Troy Sentinel’ was the first to publish “The Night Before Christmas” in 1823, and art collector Louis Caldor discovered Grandma Moses’ art on display in a Hoosick Falls drugstore. Living just over the county’s border, the beloved folk artist immortalized Rensselaer County’s lush hills and charming communities in her paintings.
As befits a county seat, the streets of Troy undeniably feature some of the finest nineteenth century architecture in the country. Blessed with what one expert calls the mother lode of Tiffany windows, Troy also houses such world-renowned treasures as the acoustically superb Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Norman Rockwell was so taken with the area that he painted scenes featuring the streets of Troy, and Hollywood directors have used numerous county locations when making both period films and contemporary blockbusters.
Established in 1954, the acclaimed Children’s Museum of Science and Technology was at the forefront of the nation’s children’s museum movement, and it is presently the only place in the Northeast where guests can visit a Digistar II planetarium. Another active cultural mecca, The Arts Center of the Capital Region annually welcomes over 70,000 artists, patrons, students, and performers at its new 36,000-square-foot facility. Troy is considered the official gateway to the New York Canal System and boasts a picturesque waterfront park, a dock, and marina. The city itself is acclaimed for events like its River Street Festival, the nation’s largest Flag Day parade, and the wintertime favorite, the Victorian Stroll.
The entire region practically pops at the seams for popular events like the Schaghticoke Fair, Troy Chowder Festival, Troy Victorian Stroll, the Grafton Lakes Winter Fest and the annual Apple Festival and Crafts Show, which are enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors annually. And for those moments you want to get far from the madding crowd, the county offers many solitary activities and pursuits.
Come…Take a closer look…And discover the many wonderful secrets of Rensselaer County.