History of Schenectady, New York

SCHENECTADY CITY was patented with certain municipal rights, Nov. 4, 1684; it was chartered as a borough, October 23, 1765; incorporated as a district, March 24, 1772; as a town, March 7, 1788; and. as a city, March 26, 1798. Princetown was taken off in 1798, Rotterdam and Glemville in 1820, and parts of Niskayuna and Rotterdam in 1853. The name is of Indian origin and signifies “beyond the plains.” In old documents we find it spelled Schenectada and Schenectedi. The City, under its first charter, contained an area of 128 square miles, but has now an area of about 550 acres. It is situated on the Mohawk River, on the borders of one of the finest alluvial flats in the State. Its situation affords excellent facilities for trade and commerce by the Erie Canal, which passes through it, and the railroads extending through and terminating here. The New York Central Railroad, forming one of the great thoroughfares between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with its branches to Troy and Athens on the Hudson; the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad, affording easy and rapid communication with the north and east, have all been in successful operation for many years. A short road from Schenectady to Duanesburgh is about to be constructed, connecting with the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad, giving a direct communication with Binghamton and the coal region of Pennsylvania. A survey has been made for a railroad from Schenectady to Ogdensburgh, on the St. Lawrence, which, when. completed, will form a direct road to New York.

The City contains 14 churches, Union College, two daily and three weekly newspapers, three banks, the Schenectady Locomotive Works, agricultural works, several machine shops, foundries, carriage factories, planing mills, manufactories of steam boilers, hollow ware and various other articles, and about 12,000 inhabitants.

Union College was incorporated by the Regents February 25, 1795, and received its name from the co-operation and union of several religious denominations in its foundation. As early as 1779 the inhabitants north of the Mohawk River petitioned for the incorporation of a college, but without success. In 1782, and again in 1791, the petition was renewed with no better success than before. In 1793 an academy was incorporated, and an effort made to raise funds to secure the endowment of a college. The sum of $7,935 was subscribed by ninety-nine persons in Albany, and $3,425 by 231 persons in Schenectady. This amount was further increased, and through the influence of General Philip Schuyler, the College was located at Schenectady. In 1805, 1814 and in 1822, lotteries were authorized by the Legislature, the net proceeds of which were to be appropriated to the endowment of the College. The total amount for permanent investment in 1822 amounted to $331,612.13. The proceeds of the last lottery were so involved with the private property of Dr. Nott, who managed the whole, that it required several months to ascertain the rights of the two parties. The question having been amicably adjusted, Dr. Nott, on the 28th of December, 1858, made over to the Trustees several hundred thousand dollars, the proceeds of which are applied to the various purposes of the College. The first college building was erected on Union Street, and is now occupied by the public schools of the City. In 1814 the tract of land now occupied by the College was purchased, and the buildings subsequently erected. The site is upon an eminence that overlooks the City, sufficiently near the business portion for all practical purposes, and far enough away to avoid the noise, dust and confusion incident to a City. The first president was Rev. John Blair Smith, who was succeeded in 1799 by Rev. Jonathan Edwards, who held the office until his death in August 1801. Rev. Jonathan Maxcy was the next president, and was succeeded in 1804 by Rev. Eliphalet Nott, who held the office until his death, January 29, 1866. During his presidency, over 4,000 young men graduated, a large number of whom have been conspicuous in political, commercial and ecclesiastical life. For many years the Junior and Senior classes were by far the largest in the College, a very unusual thing. Dr. Nott contributed largely of his private property, and several professorships bear his name. In 1855 the College was partially reorganized, and departments of Civil Engineering and Analytical Chemistry were established. Besides the courses of special instruction in the departments just named, there are two courses of study in the institution, the Classical and the Scientific, each of which embraces a course of four years. The apparatus of the College is ample for illustrating the principles of the various branches taught, including a full supply of field instruments for the Engineering department. A valuable collection of minerals and shells, known as the “Wheatly Collection,” and purchased for $10,000, was presented to the College by E. C. Delavan, Esq. About 4,000 specimens of minerals have been systematically arranged and labeled for the purpose of instruction, and form a collection which stands among the first in the country in value and interest. A large number of students have their bills for instruction paid wholly or in part by scholarships which are accessible, under certain restrictions, to all who present the reqtiisite certificates of character, and sustain the examination required for admission to the regular classes of the College. The last annual catalogue gives the names of 114 undergrthuates in the various classes, 92 of whom were residents of this State. The Faculty consists of fourteen professors and teachers, at the head of whom is Rev. Charles Augustus Aiken, Ph. D., D. D., President.

The Public Schools of the City are under the control of ten Commissioners, two from each ward, who hold their office for two years; one from each ward being chosen annually. The schools are graded and afford instruction in all the branches usually taught in the best public schools of the State. Thirtyone teachers are employed. The number of children of school age is 3,654; the number who attended school some portion of the last year was 1,950; the average daily attendance was 1,176; the amount expended for teachers’ wages was $11,744.20, and the whole amount expended for school purposes during the year was $17,755.24. The number of volumes in the library is 3,000, valued at $4,600. The estimated value of school house sitesis $15,000, and of school houses $28,000.

The Schenectady Locomotive Works Co. was incorporated in 1851, with a capital of $130,000. About 600 hands are employed, turning out about 75 locomotives annually. The officers of the Company are John C. Ellis, President; Charles G. Ellis, Treasurer; Walter McQueen, Superintendent.

The New State Arsenal is a fine brick edifice, ceupying a corninanding position near the Park. Its size is about 75 by 100 feet, and two stories high, with a Mansard roof, and cost $40,000.

Vale Cemetery occupies a beautiful site a short distance from the City. It is handsomly laid out and contains many fine monuments. When the present contemplated improvements are completed it will form one of the most beautiful rural cemeteries of its size in this part of the State. Among the monuments of this Cemetery is one “Sacred to the memory of 57 American soldiers who were buried at Schenectady during the Revolution.” The ménument was erected by the citizens of Schenectady in 1859.

The first settlement of Schenectady was made in 1661, as already noticed in the, sketch of the County. As this was a frontier settlement, the compact part was at an. early day surrounded by palisades, as a protection against the .incursions of the Indians. In 1690 the inclosure was in the form of an oblong rectangle, with gates at the ends. The gates were frequently left open, and sometimes no guard was kept, the people feeling so secure. This was the situation on the memorable night of February 9th, 1690, when the French and Indians made the attack, killing sixty-three persons and carryin twenty-seven into captivity. The lives of sixty old persons an children were spared in this massacre. The settlement recovered slowly from the disaster, and but few accessions were made previous to the close of King William’s War. A new fort was built in May 1690, which was garrisoned for many years. Another fort was built in 1735, and still another in 1780. By an act of 1780, all the people living within a half mile of the Dutch church were assessed in labor and materials for the erection of defensive works, the work to be done under the direction of the field officers and magistrates. The old Fort stood at the intersection of Ferry and Frunt Streets. The following description of Schenectady in 1757, is from “Documentary History of New York.”

“Chenectedi or Corlear, situated on the bank of the Mohawk River, is a village of about 300 houses. It is surrounded by upright pickets, flanked from distance to distance. Entering this village by the gates on the Fort Hunter side, there is a fort to the right which forms a species of citadel in. the interior of the village itself. It is a square flanked with four bastions or demibastions and is constructed half of masonry and half of timbers piled one over the other above the masonry. It is capable of holding two or three hundred men. There are some pieces of cannon as a battery on the rampart. It is not encircled by a ditch. The entrance is through a large swing gate raised like a drawbridge. By penetrating the village in attacking it at another point, the fire from the fort can be avoided. The greatest portion of the inhabitants of Chenectedi are Dutch.”

“From Chenectedi to Albany or Orange is estimated to be six or seven leagues. The road is excellent for all sorts of carriages; the soil is sandy and the country covered with open timber. There are, only a few hills. A league and a half from Ohenectedi, there is a house on. the road which is a tavern. A league and a half further on, that is to say half way, another house is met which is also a tavern.” * * * “The Mohawk River can. be forded during the summer a league and a quarter west of Chenectedi. Opposite Chenectedi the traverse is usually in a ferry boat and bateaux. The inhabitants of this country are Dutchmen. They form a company of about one hundred men with those on the opposite side of the river below Fort Hunter.” -

In 1802 Rev. John Taylor, a missionary sent out from Massachusetts, made a tour through the region of the Mohawk and Black Rivers. He says: “Schenectady makes a singular appearance, being built in the old Dutch form—the houses generally one story or a story and a half and standing endwise to the street. Its local situation is excellent, standing upon - the south bank of the Mohawk, and there appears in everything a simplicity and neatness that is very pleasing.”

The first mail was brought to this town April 3, 1763. The first English school was opened under the supervision of Rev. Henry Barclay, in 1710. In 1771 Rev. Wm. Andrews opened a grammar school, and in a letter to Sir W. Johnson, dated Nov. 5, 1771, he says, “I have determined on forming it into an Academy and propose giving instructions in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and history, to those who may be designed to fill the stations of actual life, exclusive of those who may be taught the learned languages, book-keeping and merchants accounts, to fit them for business or the mechanic arts. At present I have thirteen. scholars, and as the prices are moderate for teaching and receiving boarders, I have a good prospect of getting more daily.” In the same letter he says: “What I only wish for is, that the venerable Society would please to add something to my income, either on account of the school, or because of the poverty of the mission. For I believe I may safely pronounce it to be one of the poorest missions on the Continent. Still I would not wish to appear discontented, for I am far from being so, I only wish to have my income so settled in a moderate way that I can make it barely satisfy my few wants.” In 1785 the Consistory of the Dutch Church erected a small academy on the corner of Ferry and Union Streets, and in. 1793 the Schenectady Academy was incorporated, and was merged in the College in 1795. In 1816 a Lancasterian school was incorporated and was continued in operation until the present school system was adopted.

The first church organization in the town was the Reformed Dutch. The oldest preserved record of the Church is dated 1681. This record is an account of bonds belonging to the Church, and shows that it had been in existence for some time previous. The first church edifice was erected in. 1684 at what is now the junction of State and Church Streets. The first pastor was Rev. Petrus Thesschawmaseher, who continued in charge of the Church until February 9th, 1690, when he fell a victim to the French and. Indians during that memorable massacre. Previous to his appointment in 1684, this Church was occasionally supplied by the ministers from Albany. Rev. Barnhardus Freeman was the second pastor, and came here in 1700. About this time a second church edifice was erected, the Governor granting a special license for the inhabitants or their agents, “to gather, collect and receive the free and voluntary offerings and. contributions of all and singular his liege subjects, inhabitants of his province, at any time from the day of the date thereof for and during the term of six months then ensuing.” Tile funds raised were restricted to the rebuilding of the church, and all justices of the peace, high sheriffs, and all others, His Majesty’s friends, with all Protestant ministers, were exhorted to use each their utmost diligence to excite and stir up the charities of the inhabitants. This church was converted, into a fort in 1734. After a pastorate of five years, Mr. F. was transferred to Kings County, and the Church in Schenectady was supplied by the Albany ministers for ten years, when Rev. Thomas Browers became the pastor. In. 1715 the society purchased. the lot now occupied by the church, together with a dwelling house, which was occupied as a parsonage for nearly one hundred years. In 1734 a massive stone church was erected at the corner of Church and Union Streets. Another one of brick was erected near the same site in 1814, and continued to be occupied by the society until August 6, 1861. The present church edifice was dedicated August 6, 1863. It is one of the finest structures in the State, and cannot fail to attract the attention of all by its beautiful and unique appearance. It is situated at the corner of Union and Church Streets, upon a lot about 141 by 189 feet. The main building fronts Union Street, and the consistory room Church Street. In the angle between them stands the tower. The buildings are so placed as to leave a large open space in front. The whole building, including buttresses, measures outside 113 feet from north to south, and 116 from east to west; and it is 170 feet from the ground to the top of the spire. The building is of stone, covered with slate, the walls of which are constructed of Graywacke, while a variety of other stones is introduced to adorn the structure. Edward Tuckerman Potter was the architect of the church. On the occasion of the dedication, a sermon was delivered by Rev. Edward Seelye, the pastor of the Church. The -original cost of the church was about $50,000, but its present value is nearly double that sum. It will seat about 1,000. The present membership is 450, and the present pastor is Rev. D. Wortman, D. D.

St. George’s Church (Episcopal) was organized in 1750 by Rev. Henry Barclay. It was incorporated in 1766, and an edifice erected in 1768. From a letter written by John W. Brown of Schenectady, to Sir William Johnson, Oct. 19th, 1768, we learn that the church was not completed. After expressing grateful sentiments to him, he says: “We shall instantly set about finishing the church, though I fear it will be too late in the season to plaster the walls. According to order I have sent a barrel of Rusk, branded on the head E. B., which I hope has come safe to hand.” The present house of worship will seat about 1,000 and is valued at $18,000. The number of communicants is 340. The present rector is Rev. Wm. Payne, D. D.

The following inscription is on a slab in St. George’s Church:

“In memory of John W. Brown who departed this life June 30th, 1814, aged 87 years. A native of Great Britain, came to Schenectady in 1748, where he remained until his death. The founder and steady friend of this Church.”

The First M E. Church of Schenectady was organized in February 1807 by Rev. Alexander McKean. The first pastor was Rev. Samuel Howe. The first house of worship was erected in 1809, and the present house in 1834. In 1816 the membership was fifty; it now numbers 850. Rev. J. W. Eaton is the present pastor. The present value of the church edifice is estimated at $12,000; it will seat 1200. The society are about to erect a new church at a cost of about $60,000.

The German M, E. Church was organized in 1848 with seven members. The first pastor was Rev. John G. Grace, and the first house of worship was erected in 1850. The present membership is 310. The church will seat 250 and its value is $3,000. The society have purchased a building lot and, are about to erect a new church that will accommodate about 700.

St. John’s Roman Catholic Church was organized by Rev. Charles Smith, with twenty members. The first house of worship was erected in 1830; the present house in 1839. The original church cost $2,000; the present one is valued at $25,000. It will seat 2,000 persons. Rev. M. E. Clark is the present pastor.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized previous to 1769, though the precise time cannot now be determined. A new church edifice was commenced this year, and was not com pleted in 1771, though it had a tower and bell. Rev. Alexander Miller was one of the early pastors, serving the Church at various times from 1771 to 1787, though how long he continued each time is not known. A new church edifice was commenced in 1809. December 6, 1832, Rev. J. Trumbull Backus was ordained and installed pastor, and has continued in that capacity to the present time. The church edifice was enlarged in 1834, and again in 1859, giving it a seating capacity of about 1500. The present membership is about 400.

East Avenue Presbyterian Church, an offshoot of this, was organized. with seventeen members, and a house of worship erected in 1867. It will seat 400 and cost $4,000. The first pastor was Rev. George Alexander, the present incumbent of the office. The present membership is 60.

The Second Reformed Church was organized. in 1852 by . Rev. J. G. Duryea, with 18 members. Their house of worship was erected in 1854 at a cost of $22,000. It will seat 940, and its present value is $35,000. The present membership is 112; the present pastor is Rev. Wm. A. Phraner.

Christ’s Church (Epis.) was organized in 1867 by Rev. Dr. Payne, and a house of worship erected the same year. It is valued at $6,000 and will seat 200. The first pastor was Rev. F. C. Wainwright. The present membership is 34. The Church is at present without a pastor.

The Protestant Dutch Reformed Church was organized in 1854, and a house of worship was erected the same year, at a cost of $3,000; it will seat 450. The present membership is 200. Rev. Wm. F. Swilk is the present pastor.

The Congregational Church was organized in 1859 with 24 members. A house of worship was erected in 1863 at a cost of $5,000. It will seat 300. The first pastor was Rev. Amos Dean; the present pastor is Rev. James G. Cordell. The present membership is 62. The society is in a flourishing condition, with an interesting Sabbath school, in. which students of Union College render efficient service as officers and teachers.

St. Joseph’s Church (R. C.) was organized in 1862 by Rev. P. Leopold, O. M. C., and consisted of 600 members. A house of worship was erected the same year at a cost of $2,500, and capable of seating 500. The present membership is 900. The present pastor is Rev. P. Maurus, O. S. B.

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