Two years ago, my wife and I made the wonderful decision to build a house and move to the Town of Poestenkill. Since making that decision, I’ve tried to gather what information I can from the Internet on the history of this town in the interest of recording it in a single location. My research follows below and I hope to update this over my many years here.
Last Updated 11/21/2012
A Brief History
“Poestenkill ["Poos-ten-kill", now pronounced "Pohs-ten-kill"] derives its name from its principal stream, the Poestenkill, which, in the Dutch language means ‘puffing’ or ‘foaming creek’. It is located near the center of Rensselaer County, and was formed from the town of Sand Lake on March 2, 1848. It is bounded on the north by the towns of Brunswick and Grafton, on the south by Sand Lake, on the east by Berlin, and on the west by the towns of North and East Greenbush.
The first permanent settlements were made in the town about 1770. The early settlers came mostly from river towns, working their way north and east as settlement of the county progressed.
Poestenkill boasted the usual grist mills, blacksmith shops, cotton mills, and later a shirt factory. A medicinal spring was located near the settlement and in the early years of the nineteenth century it was a very popular resort, with large bathing houses. In 1814 the resort and dams were destroyed by a flood and never rebuilt.
Poestenkill’s military record is praiseworthy. At the time of the Revolutionary War the town contained few inhabitants, a large number of whom served in the army. Among these were William Sluyter, Archelaus Lynd, Barent Polock, Mr. Windsor, and Daniel Peck. Benjamin Cottrel, grandfather of George and William L. Cortrell, served in the war and drew the first wheelbarrow-load for the fortifications of Bunker Hill.
A number citizens served in the War of 1812, among whom were Joel Peck, William C. Cooper, Thomas Morrison, Burbee Feathers and Platt and George Horton.”
History of Rensselaer Co., New York | Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester (1880)
“Poestenkill1 – named from its principal stream – was formed from Sand Lake, March 2, 1848. It lies near the center of the co., upon the western declivities of the Petersburgh Mts. The central and e. portions are rugged, rocky, and mountainous, and the soil is cold, sterile, and unproductive. The w. part is hilly, with a gravelly loam well adapted to pasturage. Snake Hill, near the center, is one of the principal elevations. Upon the Poesten Kil is a fall of about 80 feet. One mi. w. of the falls is a medicinal spring, with a local celebrity for the cure of eruptions and cutaneous diseases.2 Poestenkill (p.v.) contains 300 inhabitants, East Poestenkill (p.o.) 10 houses, and Barberville 16. A union academy was formed in this town in 1854, but it is not under the regents. The census reports 4 churches.3
1 Pronounced ‘Poos-ten-kill’. It is a Dutch word signifying ‘puffing or foaming creek.’
2 A bathing establishment erected here was swept away by a freshet.
3 Bap., F. W. Bap., Disciple, and Ev. Luth.”
Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State | J. H. French (1860)
“The village of Poestenkill, on the creek of the same name, contains two churches, three stores, a grist mill, a saw mill, a small cotton batting factory and about 300 inhabitants.
East Poestenkill is a hamlet.
The village of Barberville contains a church and about fifteen dwellings.
The population of the town in 1865 was 1,952, and its area 19,353 acres.
The number of school districts is eight, employing the same number of teachers. The number of children of school age is 725; the number attending school 503; the average attendance 226, and the amount expended for school purposes during the year ending Sept. 30, 1869, was $2,727.56.”
Gazetteer and Business Directory of Rensselaer County, N. Y., for 1870-71 | Hamilton Child (1870)
“Named for its principal stream, the town of Poestenkill was formed from part of the town of Sand Lake in 1848. The land on which the town was established was once part of the colony of Rensselaerwyck, a 700,000-acre area covering most of the present-day Albany and Rensselaer counties and part of Columbia County. A patroon, or wealthy Dutch landowner, named Kilean Van Rensselaer, owned the colony. Van Rensselaer and his descendants encouraged settlement in the upper Hudson Valley by providing tenant farmers with seeds, plows, and other farm implements, as well as some livestock. In return, occupants had to pay rent to the patroon’s agent. Trappers and traders participating in the lucrative fur trade also located in the area.
The first permanent settlements in the town were made by farmers prior to the Revolutionary War. Archelaus Lynd was given the use of 300 acres of land for two years by the Van Rensselaers. This was done for the purpose of opening up and settling this section of the manor or patroonship. Lynd made his first clearing about 1775 on White Church Road near the vicinity of the cemetery, which is today called Hillside. Years ago the cemetery was known as the Lynd Cemetery, after Archelaus Lynd who founded it in 1762.
Other settlers who came to the area before the Revolutionary War included the Strunks, Ives, Whylands, Barringer, and Blewers families. Some pioneer families came during and immediately after the war from “over east,” which is western Massachusetts, southern Vermont, and New Hampshire. Many also emigrated to Poestenkill from Connecticut. Records show that several earlier families came up the Hudson River as far as Albany or Troy, then moved eastward into the wilderness of present-day Rensselaer County. Others followed the mountains to settle in the eastern section of Poestenkill. These small hamlets no longer exist. To the north and east of East Poestenkill are sites of Rogers Bridge, Red Rock, Oak Hill, and Four Corners. Four Corners was located on Perigo Mountain and was once populated by sturdy German settlers. The trails that the settlers followed soon became roads that connected the growing industrial Troy with growing industrial communities in Massachusetts. These roadways also provided the routes for raw materials and food, as well as pieced materials bound for the mills. As all traffic went by foot power or horse power, inns were developed as rest stops for weary travelers to get food, fresh horses and the occasional bed for the night. Due to the traffic around some of these inns, additional services such as a store, competing inns, and blacksmith shops developed.
By the nineteenth century, the town of Poestenkill had four hamlets. The principal village, situated just west of the town’s geographical center along the Poestenkill Creek, was known as Poestenkill Village. It contained several stores and churches, a hotel, and a sawmill. East Poestenkill, the second of four hamlets, was formerly known as Columbia and contained a Methodist and a Baptist Church, two stores, an inn, and about 100 inhabitants. Barberville, a small settlement east of Poestenkill Village, boasted a tollgate, a hotel, store, shoemaker shop, and about a dozen houses. Ives Corners, the smallest of the four hamlets, was further north and east.
Poestenkill was the site of a popular mineral spring health spa until it was destroyed by flood in 1813-14. The Poestenkill Creek supplied water power for mills located along its banks, such as a grist mill, saw mill, tannery, collar shop, etc. Craft industries developed early in the nineteenth century and were replaced by piecework and support industries serving the larger manufacturing concerns, which prospered with river and rail access in Troy and Rensselaer. Agricultural products, kindling, charcoal, ferns, and berries provided cash income for residents not involved in manufacturing. As transportation improved and subsistence farming declined into the twentieth century, Poestenkill followed the natural pattern of urbanization with increased reliance on the heavily developed areas along the Hudson River. Today, the town is primarily a bedroom community for residents working elsewhere in the Capital Region.”
Poestenkill Comprehensive Plan | (2006)
Historical Depictions of the Town of Poestenkill
Joseph H. Hidley (1830-1872), whose paintings depicted townscapes and rural life in New England, was virtually unknown as an artist during his lifetime of forty-two years which ended in death from consumption. He was born in 1830 in Greenbush, New York, and left an orphan at the age of four when his father died, preceded in death by three other siblings of the young Hidley. When he later married, only three of his six children lived beyond infancy.
Painting 1: Poestenkill, New York, c.1850s (oil on wood) | New York State Historical Association
A bird’s eye view of the village of Poestenkill set within a valley landscape. Main dirt road duns from lower right through center into the distance in upper left. A flagpole is visible in the center; “Eagle Hotel” in the lower right. A number of people are visible on the streets, walking or riding in horse-drawn vehicles. The largest lone pedestrian can be seen on the road in the lower right. Greens, reds, whites and browns dominate. The landscape fades into the background and there is a mixture of light and dark clouds in the sky, which covers the top one-fourth of the painting. The reverse of the painting has an old typed letter with information about the village of Poestenkill.
Painting 2: Poestenkill, New York, c.1855 (oil on panel) 49×70 | Private Collection | Lauros / Giraudon | American, out of copyright
President James A. Garfield & Poestenkill: A Unique Relationship
The following letter was received by Paul from Albany, NY when he asked President Garfield: “Did you ever teach school in Rensselear County, New York State? If so, where was the place/location of the school and the year(s) you taught there?”
Yours of the 28th inst. reached me today. I thank you for your inquiry. I was fortunate to continue my education at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, just east of Troy, New York, from 1854 to July, 1856. (This area is where New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont are in close proximity.) After the end of the fall term of 1854, I enjoyed a winter vacation of two months in North Pownal, Vermont, where I taught writing classes to earn enough to meet my college expenses. While at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now called Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio-JA Garfield’s secretary), I had taken a Spencerian penmanship course. I was now able to put that skill to use.
My second winter vacation was passed at Poestenkill, the old Dutch village in New York, in Rensselaer County, just 21 miles from Williamstown. Here, too, I organized a writing school where classes were conducted in the large, airy ballroom of the Union Hotel, located at the four corners. It was in Poestenkill, teaching the good people there the fine strokes and shadings of the Spencerial art of the day, that I also gained a chance to preach for the Disciples of Christ Church–due to Elder Myron Streator’s connections. I remember writing to friends back home how cheaply they could attend classes at Williams and teach three months each winter!
J. A. Garfield
P.S. President Garfield’s secretary wishes to tell you that Garfield’s vice president, Chester A. Arthur, taught in Pownal, Vermont the year before James Garfield!”
Western Reserve Historical Society
Future president James A. Garfield considered a job as high school principal in Poestenkill in 1856, though lost it to another applicant.
Garfield | Allan Peskin (1978)
Natural and Historical Attractions
“Barberville Falls is a spectacular sight. Above Barberville, the Poesten Kill drains about 35 square miles of the Rensselaer Plateau — an area from Dyken Pond on the north to Taberton on the south. This drainage basin generates a substantial flow of water throughout the year, although the flow is most dramatic in the spring when the snowpack is melting. When it reached the Hudson River at Troy, this same flow of water provided water power for much of that city’s early industrial development.
Below the falls, the stream flows through a gorge as deep as 100 feet and 500-1,000 feet wide. The waterfall itself is about 90 feet high and 50-60 feet wide. The main rock at the falls is Rensselear greywacke; above the falls are beds of Nassau slate and limestone.”
The Nature Conservancy
The Pine Bowl Speedway
“Pine Bowl Speedway opened in 1948 as a 3/10 mile dirt oval. For 1949, paving was planned. Due to problems with the paving machine, only the corners were paved (by hand) for the 1949 season. The track was completely paved for the 1950 season. Racing ended in 1965. A small number of unadvertised races were held in 1966.”
The History of America’s Speedways: Past & Present | Alan E. Brown (2003)
The Hollywood Drive-In Theatre
“The Hollywood Drive-In Theatre is located on Route 66 just eight miles outside of Troy, N.Y. The Theatre was built in 1952 by the late James Fisher who oversaw the operation for the next sixteen years. In the beginning he, his wife Beatrice and son Frank kept the theatre open year round. It ran seven nights a week in the spring and summer months and on weekends September through May. For the colder weather, the theatre offered heaters for the cars at no charge. The heaters plugged into the side of the speaker pole you were parked next to (a car would park on either side of the pole on which hung two speakers). You took these speakers and hung them on the side of your window for the picture’s sound. In its era the speakers were considered high quality sound but became outdated with newer hi-tech innovations.”
Hollywood Drive-In Theatre Website
The Geiser Preserve
The Geiser Preserve is beautiful woodland of 95 acres, high on the Rensselaer Plateau. The access route follows a level dirt road (Lindeman Road) through attractive woods. The preserve has only one trail, a short section of the old Eastern Turnpike of 1802. Elevations here range from 1600 to 1900 feet.
The forest consists of sugar maple, American beech, and eastern hemlock. The understory is full of witch hobble, striped maple, and an incredible carpet of ferns. Fern gathering for florists was one of the sources of income for Plateau residents years ago. There are small wetlands and rocky knolls within the preserve. There are a number of seasonal flowers. Jack-in-the-pulpit and many violets are found in the spring, and asters, white snakeroot, and goldenrods in the late summer and fall. Ferns include royal, interrupted, lady, wood, marginal shield, Christmas, maidenhair, hay-scented, bracken, and grape.
From the highest elevation on the former Turnpike, in the preserve, you can bushwhack to the north, following the height of land and reach the summit of Perigo Hill. It is a rocky ascent, and difficult to see your footfalls in the abundance of ferns. In late fall and winter the view is well worth the effort. If you bushwhack, take along a compass. The Conservancy has plans to mark trails through the area in the future. The roads are good for cross-country skiing.
Rensselaer Land Trust