Claverack, NY: a Trove of Hidden Treasures!
By Mindy Potts May 2002
Webpage and Notes by Cliff Lamere 26 May 2003
[best viewed with a resolution of 1024 x 768 or smaller]
This historical article about Claverack, NY is part of series written by Mindy Potts for publication in the monthly newspaper "OK Times & The Hudson River Sampler", Northern Columbia County Edition. Published in Stuyvesant, Columbia Co., NY, the newspaper also distributes a Southern Columbia County and Northern Dutchess County edition. The text and title of the original article may have been slightly revised for this webpage so that they would be more meaningful to a geographically diverse audience.
Original publication: May 2002, pg 1
Original title: Claverack Is a Trove of Hidden Treasures!
(Introduction by Cliff Lamere)
Claverack Is a
Trove of Hidden Treasures!
Hidden in the dirt of the fields of Claverack are clues to a time gone by. Actually, there are clues to many times gone by, from before the ice age to more recent history - a bone from an animal, a tool from the Indians, a clay pipe from Colonial times. Secrets are also contained within the old houses. The town is a trove of hidden treasures.
The first remains of a pre-historic mammal ever found, a molar and a hip bone of a mastodon, were discovered in Claverack in 1725. At the close of the ice age 11,000 years ago, there were also people living in Claverack, the Indians. The Mohicans were the last known Indians living in Claverack. They traded with the Dutch and English who came and settled on the land. Many of the Mohicans also served in General Washington’s Continental Army.
The records of that time are sometimes difficult to locate. Claverack and all of Columbia County was once part of Albany County and when the county divided, the records stayed with the Albany County records. However, the Dutch Reformed Church in Claverack, established by 1727, would keep track of marriages, births and deaths. The church and some of the surrounding area including the cemetery has been designated as an historical area by the State and National Historical Registries. Some historical figures buried in the church’s cemetery are the wife of Robert Fulton, of steamboat fame, and General Samuel B. Webb who was famous for not only fighting in many Revolutionary War battles, but also was the man who held the Bible when George Washington was sworn in.
The Dutch were the first colonists to arrive and brought their own hierarchy of classes. The wealthy Dutch patroon owned the land and the less wealthy Dutch settlers paid the patroon lord "rent" to live on his land. The Van Rensselaers were the landowners of the Claverack area. They had a house in Claverack in an area called The Lower Manor. Built in 1667, this is the oldest remaining house in Claverack. The Van Rensselaers primarily lived north of Columbia County, but came to this home when collecting the rents. When the English settlers came, they abolished this system. So when the Revolutionary War began, the turmoil among settlers of Dutch descent in Claverack was not as strong as with other settlers, because they had already felt a great liberation from paying the rents.
In the 18th century, Claverack was a busy area. Red Mills grain mill was running strong. The mill was built with bricks that were manufactured about a mile away from the mill in a field rich in clay. The brickmakers would build kilns and fire the bricks there in the field where they were formed.
Washington Seminary was established in 1779. It was later known as Claverack College and then the Hudson River Institute before closing in 1902. A few notable people attended this college over the years: Martin Van Buren, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and author Herman Melville. The author Stephen Crane who wrote the Red Badge of Courage also attended this college and in his memoirs recalled his time in Claverack as the best time of his life.
Another writer was Major Henry Livingston, Jr. He composed the poem "Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas" or as it is more popularly known, "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas", in Claverack. The poem first appeared in the Troy Sentinel with the author unknown. Poets were not paid for such work so authorship was not important and credit had been given to Clement Clarke Moore but it is now believed that Major Livingston wrote the poem.
Other famous names associated with Claverack are Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Lawyers and long standing political rivals, these two men both practiced law at the courthouse in Claverack, the first court house in Columbia County. The rivalry between these two men came to a head with a duel that ended Hamilton’s life. This famous duel was rumored to have taken place in Claverack.
Claverack was a crossroads. From Claverack, the route we know as Route 23 went east to the Berkshires and west directly to the busy port of Hudson. In 1850 an average of 90 ships were docked in the port in the city of Hudson. Henry Knox came through Claverack with cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to help drive the Redcoats from Boston during the Revolutionary War.
Houses sprang up along this busy intersection. The architecture of the times the homes were built are recognizable in all directions. On Maple Lane and along Route 9H north of the village, you can see the Victorian period architecture. Along Route 23 toward Hudson, the Colonial homes.
Many well-to-do, well-traveled folks built their houses here. In these old homes, in the attics, sometimes even in the walls, are memorabilia from the past owners. Postcards and pictures of trips all over the world or other remembrances of the owners’ lives are being discovered even today. Many don’t have complete explanations and we can only guess at the history of these items.
In more recent history, there was another kind of secret unearthed. In 1970, a house was torn down in order to build Keeler’s Eskimo Bar snack shop. Under the garage, a skeleton was discovered. This was believed to be the remains of a salesman who had disappeared in 1920.
How many other secrets and stories are buried in Claverack? We can only imagine. Besides the actual artifacts already discovered - coins, buttons, bottles from the 18th and 19th centuries and even a Revolutionary War bayonet - that give clues to the lives of people who lived in the area, by looking out over the town, instead of modern buildings across the landscape, picturing the Mohican’s wigwams, one can only image what artifacts and tools they left behind. Seeing the architecture of the older homes, one can imagine the people of the era when the houses were new at the busy crossroads in Claverack.
Visitors since 26 May 2003
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids