Albany County, NY
From: Gazetteer of the State of New York
By: J. H. French, LL.D.

(Note: The Gazetter also had several large footnotes and tables that could not be easily read on my copies and not included on this page)

Also see City of Albany and towns in Albany County.


This was an original county; formed Nov. 1, 1683, and confirmed Oct. 1, 1691.

Tryon and Charlotte (now Montgomery and Washington) counties were taken off in 1772, Columbia in 1786, Rensselaer and Saratoga in 1791, a part of Schoharie in 1795, a part of Greene in 1800, and Schenectady in 1809. The Manor of Rensselaerwyck was erected into a district March 24, 1772, and subdivided into east and west districts soon after the Revolution. The county lies on the west bank of Hudson River, about 150 miles from its mouth, and contains an area of 544 square miles. Its surface is undulating and hilly, and it has a general inclination toward the southeast. A narrow intervale extends along
the course of the river, bounded by a series of steep bluffs from 100 to 180 feet high, from the summits of which an undulating and slightly ascending plateau stretches westward to the foot of the Helderbergh Hills, where it reaches an elevation of’about 400 feet above tide. This range of hills rises from 400 to 800 ibet above the plateau, and 800 to 1200 feet above tide. Their declivities are very steep, and sometimes precipitous, on the east, but more gradually sloping upon the west. Several other ranges of hills, inferior to them in height, extend in a general northerly and southerly direction through portions of the county. The highest point is the summit of the Helderberghs, in the northeast corner of the town of Bern, and is 1200 feet above tide. All these ranges of highlands may be considered as outlying spurs of the Catskills, which, in turn, are but a northerly continuation of the Allegany Mountains, and a part of the great Appalachian system.

The geological formations of this county belong to the Upper Silurian system, and comprise nearly all the rocks of the “New York System,” from the Utica slate to the coruiferous limestone. Above the rocks, in the eastern part of the county, are thick deposits of drift, consisting of sand, gravel, and clay; and along the river intervales are rich alluvial deposits. The lowest rock, cropping out on the Hudson, Normans Kil, and Mohawk, is the Utica slate. Next above is the graywaeke and shales of the Hudson River group, appearing in the valleys of all the streams that flow into the Hudson, and apparently underlying the entire eastern part of the county. This stone is quarried for building stone and flagging. The red rocks that form the base of the Helderberghs evidently belong to the Medina. sandstone series, though they have sometimes been confounded with the red shales of the Onondaga salt group. Next above, forming the first terrace of the mountains, is the water-lime group, from 50 to 200 feet in thickness, furnishing both water and quick-lime. Next in order is the pentamerus limestone, 50 feet in thickness, consisting of impure gray and black limestone mixed with slate and shale. Overlying this is the Catskill limestone, from 50 to 180 feet in thickness, consisting of thick, compact masses of limestone alternating with thin layers of shale. It is used for building stone and lime. The Oriskany sandstone is next developed, in a strata only 2 feet in thickness, followed by the cauda-galli grit, from 50 to 60 feet in thickness. This last has a fine grit, and resembles black or gray slates, but is easily disintegrated, and crumbles upon exposure to the air. Next in order come the Onondaga and corniferous limestones, the latter crowning the summits of the mountains. These rocks furnish both a superior quality of lime and an excellent building stone. The surface of the eastern part of the county is covered with immense beds of clay, gravel, and sand. The highlands west of Albany City are covered 40 feet deep with sand, which rests upon a bed of clay estimated to be 100 feet deep. In this drift are found small beds of bog ore and numerous chalybeate and sulphuretted springs. In the limestone regions are numerous caves, sink holes, and subterranean water courses, forming a peculiar and interesting feature of the county.

The principal streams are, the Hudson River, which forms the eastern boundary; the Mohawk, which forms a part of the northern boundary; the Patroon Creek, Normans Kil, Vlamans, Coeymans, Hannakrois, and Catskill Creeks, and their branches. Nearly all the streams that flow into the Hudson have worn deep gulleys in the sand and clay. Many of these gorges are 100 feet deep, and extend from one-fourth of a mile to one mile from the river. The streams farther west generally flow through narrow, rocky ravines bordered by steep banks. These streams are mostly very rapid, and subject to extremes of flood and drouth. There are several small lakes among the hills, but none of special importance.

The soil upon the intervales is a deep, rich alluvial loam. In Watervliet, Albany, and the eastern parts of Guilderland and Bethlehem, it consists of almost pure sand, with strips of clay along the banks of the streams. A belt of land lying between the sandy region and the foot of the flelderberghs is principally a clayey and gravelly loam, and very productive. Upon the Helderberghs the soil consists of alternate layers of clay, slate, and gravel, generally with a subsoil of tenacious clay called “hard-pan.” Patches in this region are also stony, and much of it is wet and cold, and only moderately productive. Pitch pine, oak, and chestnut are the principal kinds of timber that grow upon the sandy region. In the most barren parts these trees are mere dwarfs, and the region has much the appearance of a desert. In the southeast corner of the county is a limited amount of red cedar. West of the sandy tract are found the usual trees of this northern climate, including both the deciduous and evergreen.’

In the farming districts the people are principally engaged in raising spring grains, dairying, the raising of stock, and in gardening for the markets of Troy and Albany. The people of Albany, West Troy, and Cohoes are principally engaged in manufactures and commerce.

The city of Albany is the county seat and State capital. The county buildings are commodious, and the county institutions are well organized. The City Hall at Albany, erected at the joint expense of the city and county, contains the principal city and county offices. The Albany County Penitentiary3 is a fine building in the western part of the city. Persons convicted of certain crimes, and sentenced to short terms of imprisonment, are confined here; and prisoners are received from Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer, Washington, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties. The county has no poor-house, but contracts with the city for the support of its paupers.

Albany is 146 miles above New York, upon the Hudson. The tide rises about one foot in the river. In low water, navigation is obstructed, except for vessels of light draught, by the “overslaugh,” or bar, near Castleton, and at other points; and considerable sums have been expended in attempting to deepen the channel, by dredging, and building a long stone dike below Albany. The most important works of internal improvement in the county are,— the Erie Canal, the New York Central, and the Albany, Vermont, and Canada Railroads, all terminating in the city of Albany. Connected with these lines, and terminating at Greenbush, directly opposite Albany, are the Hudson River, Albany and West Stockbridge,T Harlem, and Troy and Greenbush Railroads. A company has been chartered to build a a. a. from Albany in a s. w. direction to Binghamton, and the work upon-it is now in progress. A pier has been built in the river in front of Albany, for the benefit of navigation.

Hendrick Hudson is supposed to have ascended the river as far as Albany in 1609. During the next three or four years, several Dutch traders commenced a traffic with the Indians, and small trading houses were built at Manhattan and Albany. In after years these stations were fortified, the one to protect from invasion by sea, and the other against incursions from the French settlements in Canada. The principal military work at Albany (built in 1623) was known as Fort Orange. The station at Albany remained a mere trading post until 1630, when agricultural improvements began. The Dutch West India Co. was formed in 1621, for promoting settlement in “New Netherlands,” as the Dutch possessions in America were then called. In 1629, this company granted to Killian Van Rensselaer, one of the commissioners, (a pearl merchant of Amsterdam,) a charter conferring upon him privileges similiar to those enjoyed by the feudal barons of Europe. His agents made large purchases of land lying on both sides of the Hudson, near Albany, in 1630-37, at which last date the manor embraced a territory 24 mi. n. and s. and 48 mi. a. and w., including nearly all of the present counties of Albany and Rensselaer.3 By the terms of the grant the charter would be forfeited unless the lands were settled in 7 years by at least 50 persons over 15 years of age. A shipload of emigrants was forwarded in 1630, and others in each of several succeeding years. The emigrants were furnished with stock, seeds, and farming implements, and the land was leased at an annual rent, payable in grain, beeves, and wampum, or a share of the products. The proprietor received the title of Patroon, and in him was vested authority in civil and military affairs subordinate only to the West India Co. and the States General. He had his forts, soldiers, cannon, and courts of justice; and, although the laws allowed an appeal from the decisions of the local courts, he required every person who settled within his jurisdiction to pledge himself never to exercise this right. Altercations soon arose between the agents of the patroon and the officers of the garrison at Fort Orange, in regard to the land immediately around the fort; and the controversy was not settled until after the English conquest. The settlement formed under Van Rensselaer gradually acquired importance as a trading post, and a considerable hamlet was built under the guns of Fort Orange. Mills were built on several of the streams, and a church was erected. By the surrender of the colony to the English, in 1664, the personal rights of the colonists were secured, and a new charter was granted to the patroon, restricting his civil power, but confirming the relations existing between landlord and tenant. The feudal tenure was finally abolished in 1787.

The leasehold tenures, from an early period, excited discontent among the tenants. The late patroon, by his indulgence, had secured their regard; and when he died, in 1839, the course that would be pursued by his successor became a matter of solicitude. A committee of respectable men, appointed by the tenants to wait upon him and confer upon subjects of mutual interest, were treated with marked coldness and disdain, which quickly led to the organization of armed resistance to the enforcement of civil processes in the collection of rent. In Dec. 1839, the excitement was so great in the w. part of the county, that the Governor issued a proclamation, and sent an armed force to assist the civil officers. The people finally dispersed, and no collision ensued. For many years the anti-rent question greatly excited the public mind in all sections of the State where the leasehold. tenure prevailed. Within a few years, much of the land has been conveyed in fee to the lessees; and probably in a few years the whole question will be amicably arranged in this manner.” There are 17 newspapers and periodicals now published in the county.

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