The Early Years of RCHS

Keeping Green the Memory of Pioneer Days in Rensselaer County: The Early Years of RCHS, 1927-1952

The headline in the December 19, 1927, Troy Record read, “Rensselaer County Historical Society Incorporated Today.” Reading further, one learns that the impetus for this event came both from an individual and from another organization. The individual was Louis Van Antwerp Brown and the organization was the William Floyd Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. It was Mrs. Brown’s desire to establish a fund for “historical purposes” to memorialize her father, Daniel Van Antwerp. She approached the Sons of the American Revolution with this idea but, “it was felt by the officers of the William Floyd Chapter, however, that the purpose of the scope of the memorial would be narrowed by holding it to purely Revolutionary matters and they suggested to Mrs. Brown the establishment of a separate historical society, sponsored by the organization of which her father was so long a member.” Mrs. Brown accepted the proposal and a committee was appointed to look into the matter.

The result was an organization incorporated to “1) Promote and encourage historical research, 2) Disseminate a greater knowledge of the early history of that portion of the State of New York known as Rensselaer County, 3) Gather and preserve books, manuscripts, papers and relics relating to the early history of Rensselaer County and the contiguous territory, 4) Suitably mark places of historic interest, and acquire by purchase, gift, devise or otherwise, the title to, or the custody of historic spots and places and to receive gifts, bequests and devises of any kind to be used for the purposes of the incorporation.”

The original board included a number of members of the William Floyd Chapter of the SAR as well as member from the Philip Schuyler Chapter of the DAR. An attempt was made to include “as many clubs and societies as possible whose activities have historical significance.”

It was pointed out that it was high time that Rensselaer County had its own historical organization. On December 20, a follow-up Troy Record editorial noted that such an organization would correct “…a deficiency that was amazing in view of the rich historical value of the county and especially in view of similar societies that have long flourished in Albany and Schenectady.” The Troy Times editorial on December 20 recognized the challenge in front of the new organization. The “County Historical Society has a large work before it and no time should be lost in bringing it up to a functioning organization working on the broadest and most inclusive lines.” Between 1927 and 1952 RCHS grew to include almost two hundred members. From 1929 on collections, primarily of documents and photographs, but with a number of “relics” as well, were added and housed at the Troy Public Library. Programs, lectures, an important exhibit to celebrate Troy’s 150th anniversary, “pilgrimages” to other historic sites all took place under the leadership of a dedicated group of volunteers, including Mrs. Brown. By the late 1940s it had become clear that the group had reached a plateau and needed to take the next step in its growth.

Beyond the House

The Acquisition of 57 Second Street and the Impact of America’s Bicentennial, 1976-1996

It became clear by the mid-1970s that the Rensselaer County Historical Society had outgrown the Hart-Cluett House and Carriage House. Growth of the collections and demands for programs had outpaced the building’s space. In 1976, the building to the north of the Museum was acquired and a capital campaign was initiated to begin making it into an educational and administrative center. An Education Director was added to the staff in 1980. The first phase of the 57 Second Street project was finished in 1982, providing a meeting room, gift shop and temporary exhibition gallery on the first floor of the building.

It was during this period that the library collections began to grow faster than at any time during the organization’s history. This was due in part to the increased awareness of local history which lead up to the United States bicentennial celebrations. Family history and the history of ethnic groups became very popular, challenging the history field to develop new research methods and resources. RCHS’s collections had been surprisingly rich with information on the everyday life of county residents. Now more conscious attempts to document workers and the county’s ethnic groups were undertaken. The first computerization feasibility study was done in 1981, with funding from the New York State Council for the Arts, to see if collection information could be handled better; it was not until 1994 that a complete computer system was installed. In 1982 RCHS was re-accredited by AAM, a process that had become much more rigorous during the previous decade.

When Breffny Walsh retired in 1990 after 20 years as Director, RCHS was raising funds to finish the second floor of the General Carr Building (57 Second Street) and install an elevator. Anne W. Ackerson, RCHS’s fourth director, made important strides in getting computer technology into the organization and overseeing the continued expansion of facilities at the Carr Building. The new Dean P. Taylor Research Library opened in the fall of 1993. The number of patrons served increased with the new space and better collection accessibility. The concept that the study of history should include more contemporary events was added to programming, exhibits and interpretation of the house. The mission statement approved in 1994 by the Trustees noted that RCHS was a “dynamic, community-responsive educational organization that connects the importance of local history and heritage to contemporary life.”

The Research Value of Business Records

Documenting Change: Industry and Business in Troy and Rensselaer County, NY

Business records are especially valuable documents. They trace the development of American capitalism: they document the history of technical and managerial innovations, advertising, market development and expansion; they help scholars reconstruct and describe the evolution of labor-management and business-government relations; they preserve the history of unique business and corporate cultures; and they trace the ebb and flow of local and regional economies. Yet the importance of preserving the historical records of American industry – particularly 20th century firms – has unfortunately only recently been widely recognized.

Though American culture, society, and politics have been heavily influenced – some would say “shaped” – by American industry, few local and regional historical societies and museums put much energy into documenting and preserving the records of the economic institutions that were the bedrock of their communities. Few took the time and effort to document the often hidden worlds of innovation, competition, and struggle that lay behind the creation of the material objects they so carefully collected. Similarly, few businessmen and businesswomen recognized the paper treasures that lay mildewing in basement cardboard caskets, or the importance of treasurer’s reports, board-of-directors meeting minutes, memoranda, and transcriptions of labor-management conferences that were filed and forgotten in office or back room file cabinets.

It wasn’t until 1943 that a U.S. corporation – Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. – became the first American company to hire an archivist and initiate an extensive archival program for its records. Then and in the years that followed, only a handful of business leaders recognized what Harvey S. Firestone and his son did – that the preservation of their business’ records fulfilled both a historical as well as a business need. They helped accurately record the historical legacy of their business and aided management in making important decisions related to current and future business problems. Thankfully, in recent decades more and more industrial and business leaders, as well as archivists, have come to share Firestone’s wisdom. Large firms like General Mills, Kraft, Texas Instruments, Philips Petroleum and others have established business archives and hired professionals to maintain them. Historical societies increasingly collect business records. Academic libraries aggressively bid for the privilege of becoming official repositories of corporate archives.

The Rensselaer County Historical Society, in documenting the industrial transformation of Troy and Rensselaer in the post-WWII era, has thus joined a most worthy and important movement. This documentation project reflects the progress made over the last half-century, as well as the work that still needs to be done. It marks the beginning of a long-term effort aimed at remedying a tradition of neglect — a recognition by archivists and industrialists alike that through cooperative efforts the industrial legacy of Rensselaer County will no longer be forgotten or destroyed.

Prof. Gerald Zahavi
University at Albany, SUNY
July 1996

Documenting Change: Project Description and Methodology

Documenting Change: Industry and Business in Troy and Rensselaer County, NY

Troy and Rensselaer both have long histories as centers of industry and commerce that go back to the late 18th century. First the iron and steel industries and then the clothing and textile industries played key roles in the economy of both communities. Beginning around the turn of the 20th century, heavy industries began to move out of the area to be closer to sources of raw materials and cheaper labor. During all phases of their development, these industries shaped not only the economy but also the geography of these cities and the lives of their residents. The records that document the impact of industry and subsequent deindustrialization in Troy and Rensselaer have been largely uncatalogued and, in many cases, unidentified until now. Efforts at revitalization, which began just after World War II and continue today, have taken the form of a fundamental shift away from heavy manufacturing. The industries and other businesses that have slowly filled the gaps left by earlier industries have tended to focus their production in high technology and services like insurance and health care. Institutionally, it has become apparent that RCHS needs to look at this more recent past and at collection materials and documentation that reflect the many changes and groups that have affected the history of the county since World War II. This project adds important information to the base which will be used to assess RCHS’s current collections and future collecting directions during the next few years.

The people who worked for and ran these businesses have formed the bulk of the population of these two communities and have had their own impact on the life of the two cities. The records that document their private lives are generally unavailable for research. Institutional records, however, can provide glimpses of these lives through personnel records, information on production, etc. More importantly, these records can help to identify forces that shaped the communities in terms of labor practices, economic ups and downs and provide a context for the individuals’ lives. The documentation project looked for typical business archival materials including charters, incorporation papers, correspondence files, financial papers, personnel files, advertising materials, photographic records of the firms as well as product information and samples. Smaller firms and firms that did related work for the bigger industries are hard to document and an attempt has been made to locate their records. Equally important is the identification of businesses that have developed to fill the gap left by deindustrialization and newer firms were contacted for information about their records. The Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce has been particularly helpful in identifying firms involved in revitalization.

The first project task was to identify industries that were here just prior to World War II and then identify the ones that stayed open, left the area for other locations afterwards or stopped production altogether. The Project Archivist used the RCHS research library and many other repositories for this background work. Some of the largest firms’ records are in institutions, i.e. Cluett, Peabody & Co., Inc. records are at RCHS. Other firms who have stayed in business, like the Ross Valve Company in Troy, have records that would be valuable research materials but are not currently accessible in any form. Records of newer firms that are part of revitalization efforts, such as some of the high technology firms that began in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s incubator program, have records which they often do not realize are valuable for researchers.

Because records of the recent past are not generally available, the materials surveyed and described in this resource guide add substantially to the body of information available to scholars and others with an interest in the period. When dealing with newer firms that are actively in business there may be some hesitation in providing access to records, particularly for competitive reasons. Access issues were discussed and access notes are provided in the guide. Materials documented in the survey will have a variety of potential uses in terms of immediately adding to the limited information known about post World War II Troy and Rensselaer. They will also be used for RCHS programming at a variety of levels. The results of the survey will be available to any other interested group or individual at the RCHS research library. RCHS also plans to share the results of the survey with the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway in Troy and the City of Rensselaer Historical Society, two organizations that are already involved in this field, and other libraries, town historians and historical societies. In addition, those businesses and organizations that participated in the survey will receive copies of the final report. RCHS plans to mount the guide on its World Wide Web site opening this fall. Finally, it is important to realize that most of these records are still in private or corporate hands. RCHS is committed to working with record holders to help preserve this valuable resource and increase the awareness of their importance today and for years to come.

Stacy Pomeroy Draper, Project Director
Philip B. Eppard, Project Archivist

Ashe Manufacturing Company

Documenting Change: Industry and Business in Troy and Rensselaer County, NY

Historical Note: Ashe Manufacturing was a carding and spinning mill that made woolen cloth and sweaters. It was founded by Patrick Francis Ashe in 1920 and located on Green Street in Rensselaer. After Ashe’s death in 1934, the business was run by his wife and then sold to another mill operator from outside of the area. The mill remained active through World War II and was a major supplier of sweaters and possibly uniform cloth for the United States military. The mill closed in 1948.

Records of Ashe Manufacturing Company have not been located and according to Matthew Ashe, the son of the founder, were presumably discarded. Matthew Ashe has retained some samples of the firm’s products, however.

A Going and Growing Organization: The Hart-Cluett House

A Home of Our Own, 1952-1975

Albert E. Cluett and Caroline Ide Cluett

Albert E. Cluett and Caroline Ide Cluett

In 1948, Albert E. Cluett and his wife, Caroline Ide Cluett, challenged the Historical Society, now 20 years old, to raise sufficient funds to support the operation of their Troy townhouse as a museum. In 1952, the building was turned over to the Society by Mrs. Cluett after a successful campaign was completed. RCHS had a building with great potential as a historic house museum and repository for the county’s historical artifacts and archival materials. Collecting began in earnest. By the mid-1950s, it had become clear to the Trustees that professional help was needed to bring their vision of a museum to reality. In 1957, H. Maxson Holloway, formerly a Curator at the New-York Historical Society and other prestigious museums, was hired as the Society’s first director. Holloway’s immediate plans included the careful acquisition of fine and decorative arts as well as period furnishings to fill the fourteen rooms of the house. The slow process of raising money and acquiring objects continued over a decade. The highlights of this effort were objects and furnishings from the Hart and Cluett families and their descendants, such as the Hart family dining room chairs, circa 1816 and furnishings from the master bedroom of Albert and Caroline Cluett, which were “returned” to the house.

At the same time that the museum collections grew in number, the library and archival collections expanded to include local business records, genealogical information, and personal papers. Educational programs and exhibitions were held in the Hart-Cluett House’s converted carriage house. Upon the death of Max Holloway in 1967, a successor was soon appointed. The second director, Archie Strobie, also trained in the museum profession, hired the Society’s first Curator, Marcia Starkey, in 1968, to catalogue and preserve its diverse and growing collections. In 1970, Breffny Walsh, a graduate of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, became RCHS’s third director and made significant progress for the institution during the next 20 years. One of her first tasks was to guide the organization through its first accreditation by the American Association of Museums in 1972.

While the Hart-Cluett House and the museum collections were growing, other areas of the organization’s mission were also being addressed. Once the house was opened to the public in 1953, a number of other groups met and had programs at the site. In 1954, the Junior League approached RCHS with the idea of using the basement level for a children’s museum. From 1954 to 1959, the Junior Museum operated at RCHS, often using the carriage house space as well. Local artists also met for classes in rooms in the house, as did the Birchkill Arts and Crafts Guild, until the establishment of the Rensselaer County Council for the Arts in the early 1960s. In 1972, the Hudson-Mohawk Industrial Gateway was founded by members of RCHS’s Preservation Committee to focus on the rich industrial history of the area. As historic preservation became an issue in the community and the nation, RCHS took an active position in favor of preserving the built environment. There were many battles to fight as the pressures of suburbanization, the loss of Troy’s heavy industry and beginnings of urban renewal programs became a part of daily life.

“Grüß Gott” Acknowledgements

The Rensselaer County Historical Society would like to thank the following individuals and businesses for their generous support of “Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: The German-American Experience.

Mr. & Mrs. William Engelke
Want Ad Digest

Gönner (Supporter)
Dr. & Mrs. Martin Echt
Karl F. Moschner & Hannelore Wilfert
Dr. Thomas Reimer
Joan G. Sheeran
Mr. & Mrs. Bruce J. Wagner

Erbauer (Builder)
Fred W. Kunz
John E. Hinzelman
Mr. & Mrs. Andy Maier
Christopher Maier & Beth Walsh
Richard G. Permenter
Grassland, Horst Pogge
Pat Henkes Pogge in memory of the Henkes family
Betty Ann (Husser) Ratigan
Dudley & Elizabeth Schneider
Schuhplattler Verein Alpenklang
Charles Thomas, Esq. & Susan Flanigan
Troy German Hall Association

Siedler (Settler)
Badisch American Benefit
Harlan S. Barney, Jr.
Guenther Czakainsky
Daemenverein – Troy German Hall Association
P.W. Goedtel
Fred Kirch, Sr.
Dolores & Karl Kniele
Heinz Kullmann
Bernice Bornt Ledeboer
Ernest E. & Ann Karl Legenbauer
Ursula & Kenneth MacAffer
Bryan Pohlmann
Vernerd Pohlmann
Mr. & Mrs. Walter Pohlmann
Walter H. Speidel

Einwanderer (Immigrant)
William S. Assini
Mark & Rita Backhaus
Mary M. Beierschoder
Eleonore H. Betzwieser
Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Betzwieser
Beukendaal Lodge #915
Don T. Birkmayer
Mr. & Mrs. John Carroll
Elizabeth Kohler Dechene
Mr. & Mrs. Henry Goebel, Jr.
George & Gaby Hamm, Jr.
William L. & Joan Hart
Joanna Kirkpatrick in memory of Frederick Brockman
Dorothy Marschilok
Dr. & Mrs. Edward S. Marschilok
Leo & Beatrice Meichtry
Lotte & James Moore
Mrs. Anna Nirsberger
Roswitha Mueller
Paul & Genevieve Reinhardt
Herbert & Marianna Schmidt
Anton & Roswitha Schwartz
Eva Varady
Larry Vinick
George & Paula Wiesnet
Otto P. Witzleb
Herman Wolfershein & Emily Smith

Andere (Other)
Canstatter Volksfest Verein
Mr. & Mrs. Robert M. Kennedy
Ruth Williams

As of October 20, 1999 German Heritage Project Committee:
Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, Chair
Dr. Thomas Reimer, Exhibit Curator
Don T. Birkmayer
Marie Kennedy
Fred Kunz
Andy Maier
Christopher Maier
Dorothy Marschilok
Helmut Reihs
Paul W. Sulzmann

RCHS would also like to acknowledge the individuals and corporations who donated their services or materials, in part, to the installation of this exhibition:
Roberta Lawrence Graphic Design
Nelson Studios
Troy Pork Store
Fritz Helmbold, Inc.

“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: The German American Experience

This online exhibition is a condensed version of “‘Grüß Gott’ in Rensselaer County: The German American Experience”, which was originally part of the Rensselaer County Historical Society’s Millennium Project in 2000.

Meant to spark community interest and involvement in researching and documenting the history and heritage of a particular ethnic, civic or cultural group, the original exhibition and this online version, were the culmination of many months of extensive research conducted by Dr. Thomas Reimer, Exhibit Curator.

The original exhibition included a historical exhibition at RCHS, a series of oral histories, a cookbook with historical information and recipes, teaching packets from the Times Union, and a number of activities by the ambitious German Heritage Project Committee, chaired by Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, professor emerita of Russell Sage College.

Lords & Peasants

The Dutch West India Company granted land in the upper Hudson Valley to the Van Rensselaer family in 1629. A number of Germans settled in this area beginning in the 1640s. Johann Carstensz from Schleswig and Hans Vos (Fuchs) from Baden are among the early residents of Rensselaerwyck. When the German settlers intermarried with their Holland kinsmen, they quickly vanished as an identifiable group. In addition, English speakers early on subsumed the Netherlanders and the Germans (Deutsch) under the common label of Dutch.

The Golden Century

A second wave of German immigration began in the nineteenth century. Germans represented three percent of Troy’s population between 1870 – 1900 and four and a half percent in the county between 1870 – 1900. Despite these low percentage rates, they created a network of religious, civic and social organizations as well as a number of prosperous businesses.

The Twentieth Century

During World War I, local German-Americans protested the English blockade of food and surgical supplies to Germany and the atrocity propaganda used to justify the British government’s action. The local branch of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) with 900 members boycotted banks that sold Allied War Bonds in 1915. This measure had limited success. From Vienna, the local journalist, Carl Dannhauser, reported about the starving population their and in Germany. On German-American Day in October 1916, over $7,000 was raised to benefit war victims in Germany and Austria-Hungary.

“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: Lords & Peasants

The Dutch West India Company granted land in the upper Hudson Valley to the Van Rensselaer family in 1629. A number of Germans settled in this area beginning in the 1640s. Johann Carstensz from Schleswig and Hans Vos (Fuchs) from Baden are among the early residents of Rensselaerwyck. When the German settlers intermarried with their Holland kinsmen, they quickly vanished as an identifiable group. In addition, English speakers early on subsumed the Netherlanders and the Germans (Deutsch) under the common label of Dutch.

Thousands of Palatine Germans, fleeing from the invading French armies, settled in the upper Hudson Valley in the early eighteenth century. Some became tenants in the scarcely populated East Rensselaerwyck. Their first village, “Hosek Road,” the area known today as Brunswick, was settled by such pioneer families as Johannes Jung, Johann Freidrich, Phillip Kelmer, Ludwig Schmidt, Johann Schneider and Johann Hayner. In the 1750s, the families of Hans Lautmann, Jacob Best, and George Brimmer were residents of the North Petersburgh area. Berlin was inhabited by members of the Gottfried Brimmer and Reuben Bohnenstiehl families while Sand Lake was settled by the Joseph Sipperly and Michael Reichard families.

The French and Indian War in the late eighteenth century brought sorrow to the villages throughout Rensselaerwyck. Like other colonials, Germans served in the militia, paid taxes and many were affected by enemy raids, including the Brimmer family. In 1754, one Brimmer child was killed and two others were kidnapped.

The spiritual center for German families was Gilead Lutheran Church in Brunswick. Under the ministry of Rev. Nicholaus Schwerdtfeger, the parish included a few African-Americans. Many Germans were persecuted for their neutrality during the American Revolution and after the war many, including Rev. Schwerdtfeger, emigrated to Canada.

The influx of settlers from New England after the revolution changed the German villages. At Gilead Lutheran Church Rev. Anton Braun introduced English services and German was abandoned after 1812. This marked the assimilation of the German population. When the New York State Legislature created several townships in 1806 – 1808, three towns Nassau, Brunswick (Braunschweig) and Berlin were named after German cities.

“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: The Golden Century

A second wave of German immigration began in the nineteenth century. Germans represented three percent of Troy’s population between 1870 – 1900 and four and a half percent in the county between 1870 – 1900. Despite these low percentage rates, they created a network of religious, civic and social organizations as well as a number of prosperous businesses.

German Jews founded Anshe Chased, later named B’rith Shalom, in 1852. Trinity Lutheran Church in Castleton, St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in South Troy and Taborton Evangelical Lutheran Church were established in subsequent years. These churches used German in their services for many decades. St. Lawrence established a day school which functioned until 1950. The Troy Turnverein, an athletic club and the Troy Maennerchor, a singing society, were established in the mid-nineteenth century. Germania Hall, located in Troy, was founded as community center in 1889. Businesses such as Stoll’s Brewery in Troy, the Grubb-Kosegarten Action Piano Co. in Nassau, the Goergen lamp factory in Castleton and the Troy Freie Presse, a weekly German newspaper, thrived.

A number of German immigrants served their adopted homeland through military and political service. Local war heroes included John Arts and Joseph Egolf, wounded in combat during the Civil War. Lieutenant Charles Rapp, also active in the Civil War, was later elected alderman in Troy. Other German-Americans politically active in Troy included Robert Patchke, Friedrich Schneider and Andreas Ruff. Christian Peter served as mayor of Castleton for twenty years. The community celebrated from 1902-1916 an annual German Day to commemorate their contributions to American life. A local chapter of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) was founded in 1907 to fight blue laws and later became active in fighting prohibition.

Documentation of the Hart-Cluett House

In 1983, a collection of wooden trunks bearing Betsey Hart’s name on the outsides, were discovered at the Troy Savings Bank. These trunks held virtually all of Mrs. Hart’s bills and financial records for the majority of her years at the House. This unusual, infinitely detailed record provides a thorough understanding of how the Hart family lived in and took care of the house. Coupled with the few personal papers of the family that are known, and a set of photographs of the house’s interior, RCHS has been able to recreate a relatively complete picture of life in the Hart house for the second half of the 19th century.

The Cluett record is not as thorough, although family papers, photographs and reminiscences do exist and the public record of the business activities of the company is extant in the RCHS archives. Many personal items remain in the possession of the family. Recently, a survey, including oral histories, was conducted of the Cluett family by RCHS staff, and this research has been critical to the understanding of how the Cluett families lived in and used the house.

Additional documentation comes from study of the building itself. Careful examination of paint layers, architectural details and changes to the structure due to additions and different uses of spaces, when added to the information from documentary and photographic sources, provides a rare view of the occupation of the house over 125 years by private residents and almost 50 years of museum use. The ability to say with such certainty what was going on in the building at a given time is extremely unusual for most historic house museums and makes the preservation of the Hart-Cluett House even more important. The house, the documents and the collections, when taken as a whole, are of great significance to the study of American life.

“Grüß Gott”: The Twentieth Century

During World War I, local German-Americans protested the English blockade of food and surgical supplies to Germany and the atrocity propaganda used to justify the British government’s action. The local branch of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) with 900 members boycotted banks that sold Allied War Bonds in 1915. This measure had limited success. From Vienna, the local journalist, Carl Dannhauser, reported about the starving population their and in Germany. On German-American Day in October 1916, over $7,000 was raised to benefit war victims in Germany and Austria-Hungary.

On April 2, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany despite considerable public opposition. Just a few months after the United States entered the war, Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, called the public mood a “delirium”. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage, German Shepards became Alsatians and the city of Syracuse banned pinochle, a German card game. The press published calls for mass hangings of “disloyal German-Americans” and some clergymen compared Germans to cholera germs that must be annihilated. Despite this, naturalized Germans collected relief funds for the Red Cross and served in the U.S. Army.

The war, national prohibition beginning in 1919, and the closing of free immigration in 1921 affected German-American organizations. Membership in the societies of Germania Hall increasingly shifted to second generation German-Americans. However, institutions in Rensselaer County survived the war far better than those in Albany, drawing on a larger German population.

After World War II, many of the German churches dissolved. Germania Hall and its inner societies remained the center of German-American social life. The hall’s building at 134 River Street suffered fire damage in 1949 and in 1954 the society built a new hall at its current location, 309 Third Avenue in Lansingburgh. A Ladies Auxiliary was established in 1975 and three years later the Schuhplattlerverein Alpenklang (Bavarian folk dancing society) followed. To celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 1990, Germania Hall published a history of its organization and its inner societies. Today, Germania Hall remains a center of German-American life with traditional German dinners being served on Friday evenings.

In 1985, Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, Professor of German (now emerita) of Russell Sage College founded, together with other first-generation Germans, the German-American Culture Club. The club conducts its monthly meetings in German and programs address culture from literary, musical and culinary presentations to current developments in Germany.

Both organizations look forward to the new Millennium with a heartfelt Grüß Gott to Rensselaer County.

Queen Anne

Architectural Styles in Rensselaer County: 1880s and 1890s

The Queen Anne Style takes its name from the reign of an 18th century English queen and was initially inspired by medieval English country cottages.

This style emphasized functional layouts, so these homes generally have a rambling plan and irregular roof lines. Gables, massive chimneys, dormers and bay windows are all common features of the Queen Anne Style.

These buildings are highly decorative. This effect was often produced by combining colors and textures. For instance, different wall surfaces, such as shingles, clapboards and panels of wood ornament may occur on one building. Extensive use of sawn ornament to accent dormer windows or detail porches also helped to create a decorative effect.

The wealth of Queen Anne details and preference for asymmetrical massing encouraged highly individualistic free-flowing designs.

Queen Anne - One50.jpg

Queen Anne buildings are often irregular in shape with a variety of colors, textured materials and ornamentation used.

Several types of siding materials can be use on one house: brick, masonry, wooden shingles and clapboard.

Windows may be a mixture of sizes and shapes including one-over-one double hung sash, stained glass, round-arched, or the Queen Anne window (see below).

The complex shape can be achieved with the use of dormers, towers, turret roofs, and porches.

Decorated chimney caps and iron cresting can set off the roof.

Queen Anne - One50.jpg

A large pane of glass surrounded by smaller panes, often of colored glass, is a component of the style and referred to as a Queen Anne window.

Walls and siding flare out between floors.

A variety of shingle patterns included the "fish scale" patterns at right.

Turned and carved wooden details were part of the "Eastlake" version of the Queen Anne style.

Decorative Gable

Decorative Gable

A number of Queen Anne style details can be seen in this photo:

  • Triangular pediments and other classical features
  • Decorative shingle patterns
  • Variety of window types including the Queen Anne window
  • "Eastlake" details such as turned wooden spindles


Architectural Styles in Rensselaer County: 1910 - 1940

The sturdy Bungalow is seen throughout Rensselaer County, in city neighborhoods and in the countryside. Its popularity was due in large measure to the fact that it was economical to
build, and therefore was within the reach of a wide home-owning public. The Bungalow’s comfortable floor plan and ubiquitous front porch encouraged an informal life-style that began to take hold in American society after World War I.

Details distinguish the Bungalow structure’s style. Typically, the Bungalow has wide, overhanging gables forming a porch at the front supported by heavy piers. The natural quality of materials is emphasized, such as stone used as cobblestone or as boulders; wood stained in earth tones; shingles and stucco for their textural qualities.

Fifteenth Street, Troy, NY

Fifteenth Street, Troy, NY

Strong cubic volumes.

Horizontal quality to shapes.

Overhanging eaves.

Multiple dormers and porch roof types.

Main Street, Berlin, NY

Main Street, Berlin, NY

Use of horizontal bands of windows

Fifth Avenue, Lansingburgh, NY

Fifth Avenue, Lansingburgh, NY

Variety of materials used for color and texture.

Fifth Avenue, Lansingburgh, NY

Fifth Avenue, Lansingburgh, NY

Bungalows are designed in a variety of styles including Colonial Revival and many internationally-inspired styles.


Architectural Styles in Rensselaer County: 1840s and 1885s

The Italianate Style was inspired by the breezy openness of Italian villas. Abandoning the rigid forms of the Greek Revival Style, Italianate buildings have freer more asymmetrical massing and “romantic” features such as towers, cupolas and bay windows, but unlike Gothic Revival buildings, Italianate buildings have a boxy or square feeling to them.

The style is chiefly distinguished by the heavy use of ornamental brackets, set under wide cornices and under door and window hoods. Mass production of these ornamental brackets and hoods made them readily available and relatively inexpensive. It is not uncommon to find earlier styles which were transformed into Italianate structures during the mid-19th century.

Italianate homes were covered with clapboards and painted in rather deep yellow-green, gray or blue-gray colors. The brackets were usually painted in a strong contrasting color such as pale yellow or dark green. Many colonial and federal style houses were “remodeled” in the late 19th century into Italianate structures. this was done by adding brackets, elongated windows and bay windows.

In houses, look for:

Route 7, NY

Route 7, NY

Houses are often simple, cubic building shapes with hipped roofs. A “hipped” roof is one that slants on all four sides. The eaves of this house are supported by wooden brackets at the cornice line (where the walls meet the roof).

Tall, two-over-two double-hung windows, bay

Porches with carved posts.

Church Street, Hoosick Falls, NY

Church Street, Hoosick Falls, NY

The projecting central bay of this house mimics the tower popular in this style.

Maple Avenue, Troy, NY

Maple Avenue, Troy, NY

The tower of this front-gabled house has a mansard roof and iron cresting.

Castleton, NY

Castleton, NY

A hipped roof with a small central gable is common in some regions. The small tower on the roof is called a cupola.

An important distinguishing feature of the Italianate is the wide, overhanging
eaves supported by large decorated brackets at the cornice line.

Double doors, often arched.

Round-headed windows with curved wooden or brick arches. The window moldings are more prominent than in earlier styles. Some windows have curved or triangular pediments.

Italianate - hoodedwindow.gif

Many extend from the wall and are called "hooded" window moldings.

Bay windows and porches add to the shape of the house.

Vanderbilt Hotel, Stephentown, NY

Vanderbilt Hotel, Stephentown, NY

This commercial building example has a cupola.

In other commercial examples you might also look for cast iron ornamentation in storefronts or over windows

Greek Revival

Architectural Styles in Rensselaer County: 1820s to 1850s

The Greek Revival is often considered the first truly American style. Earlier styles were inspired by English building fashions and frequently built from English pattern books. The Greek Revival style arose out of a young nation’s desire to identify with the ideals of the ancient Greek Republic.

Inspired by the architecture of ancient Greece, buildings in this style are patterned after Greek temples. The triangular gable end which, usually faces the street, is analogous to the temple pediment, while the flat horizontal board which runs along the length of the gable represents the classical entablature.

The exterior surface is generally covered with clapboards. It was common to paint these clapboards in a buff gray or white tones to imitate the stone of Greek temples. Trim elements such as pilasters, cornices and the entablature were often painted in dark green or black. This style was perhaps the most popular building type in upstate New York during the first half of the
19th century. All kinds of buildings were built in this new style: houses, post offices, banks, schools and stores.

Look for:

The shift from Federal to Greek Revival can be seen in the use of wide, heavy trim at eaves, windows and doors. The gable end is often set to face the street.

Route 2, Troy, NY

Route 2, Troy, NY

A classical temple-front with triangular pediment and columns (some examples have wings on either side of the central section).

8th Street, Troy, NY

8th Street, Troy, NY

Set off with a triangular pediment
and corner pilasters.

Hoosick Falls, NY

Hoosick Falls, NY

Emphasized with cornice returns and corner pilasters.

Poestenkill, NY

Poestenkill, NY

Side-gabled, one-and-a-half storied examples often have small windows set in the wide
entablature along roof edge. These are called “frieze” windows because of their location in the entablature. They are also incorrectly referred to as “eyebrow” windows, but these are actually arched windows found in Shingle and later styles.

Windows continue to be double-hung, multipaneled, like this 6/6 ("six over six") example.

The architrave at the top (seen here with dentil molding); the frieze section in the middle; and the cornice at the bottom (seen here on top of the column with lonic capital).

The Greek Revival style returned to an earlier classical mode, and therefore, unlike the Federal style, imitates the post and beam structures of the Greeks who did not have the arch. Greek Revival doorways usually have rectangular transoms and sidelights.

There are some Greek Revival buildings which do have fanlights. These are transitional in style — or the result of a designer’s preferences.

Gothic Revival

Architectural Styles in Rensselaer County: 1840s – 1880s

High Victorian Gothic: c. 1865 – 1880
Late Gothic: c. 1890s – 1930s

Fueled by a romantic yearning for the past, Greek Revival architecture was set aside in exchange for the Gothic Revival Style. As Andrew Jackson Downing, a landscape architect and author of The Architecture of Country Houses (1850) noted, “It is in the solitude and freedom of the family home in the country which constantly preserves the purity of the nation and invigorates its intellectual powers.”

The style, as developed by Downing and others, was rooted in the landscape. A Gothic Revival house rose steeply from the ground, with steeply pitched gables and a sharp roof slope. The gable in the center of the facade was a characteristic feature and usually decorated with carved wood trim. Windows varied in size and shape and were often asymmetrically placed.

“What, then, are the proper characteristics of a rural residence?” asked Downing. “The harmonious union of buildings and scenery…utility…expression of purpose…a style marked by irregularity of form and outlines, a variety of effect and boldness of composition.”


Narrow shapes and ornamentation emphasize the vertical, giving an impression of heigh: steep, pointed gables and dormers with wooden trim called bargeboards, finials (piece projecting up) with pendant (piece projecting down).

Vertical board and batten siding

Vertical board and batten siding

Tall chimneys with decorated caps

Tall chimneys with decorated caps

Buildings can be symmetrical, but are most often asymmetrical and complex in shape. Porches and bay windows add to the change in shape. A bay window extends from the wall and allows more light and air into a room.

Main Street, Berlin, NY

Main Street, Berlin, NY

Windows may have dripstone moldings (middle top and right), pointed arches and tracery.