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.