The Village of Kinderhook 1609 – 1976 ©
The American Revolution Bicentennial Administration designated Kinderhook Village a “Bicentennial Community” in January 1976. The Kinderhook Village Bicentennial Committee published a brochure in commemoration of our Nation’s 200th Birthday on July 4, 1976. This publication was reprinted in 1981, and is copyrighted by the Village of Kinderhook, New York © 1976.
Kinderhook 1609 – 1976
by Frank L. Amoroso
The story of Kinderhook harks back to the early days of New World exploration by the Dutch. In 1609 when Hendrick Hudson sailed up the river which bears his name today, it is probable that the most northerly anchorage of the Half Moon was in Kinderhook waters. (As a matter of perspective, it must be remembered that many of the historic references to Kinderhook are not attributable to Kinderhook Village exclusively, but apply to the larger area encompassing the northwestern corner of Columbia County, including, but not limited to, the Town of Kinderhook [and the present-day Town of Stuyvesant, which was divided out of the original Town of Kinderhook around the turn of this century. -ed.]) While at anchor the Dutch ship aroused the curiosity of Mohican children who assembled to view the strange vessel. Thus Hudson denominated this place “Kinderhoeck”, Dutch for Children’s Corner. Appearing on Dutch maps as early as 1614, the name Kinderhook still survives and is therefore the oldest in the State.
The Mohicans who inhabited this area were a tribe of the Lenni-Lenapes which means Original People. These Indians thrived on the abundant game and rich soil and exercised control over a vast area. This dominance ceased prior to the arrival of the Dutch when a number of lesser tribes united to defeat them. The Dutch, recognizing that peace among the Indians was essential to the establishment of profitable fur trade, joined in a belt of peace at Nordman’s Kill in 1617. As a result of this peace, the Mohicans were further subjugated. When their humiliation became intolerable, the Mohicans revolted.
The Indian war lasted for three years until 1628, when on the verge of ultimate victory, the Mohicans were lured into a trap on Roger’s Island and were totally
defeated. The conquered tribe fled across the Taghkanic hills. Although they returned a few years later, the Mohicans never regained prominence and the tribe immortalized by James Fennimore Cooper gradually died out.
Seeking to encourage colonization, the Dutch government in 1629 authorized the title of patroon to anyone who would settle a colony of over fifty people. A patroon received a grant of land and was vested with all the poser and privileges of feudal lords. Another method of fostering settlement at this time was the issuance of land patents which were grants of land usually conditioned on payment of an annual quit- rent.
Around 1640 the territory along the Hudson River south of Fort Orange (Albany) was settled. Inhabited by energetic, persevering people, the Kinderhook area developed rapidly. These settlers possessed a wide variety of skills and brought money, building materials, cattle, and simple farming implements. In addition to capitalizing on the area’s agricultural wealth, many farmers became traders, with particular emphasis on fur. They prospered and soon a nucleus of homes was scattered along the ridge above Kinderhook Creek in and near the present Village. This progress was hardly disturbed in 1664 when the Dutch surrendered the colony to the English.
Five years later, the government at Albany granted permission to the patentees of the Kinderhook area to elect two “fence-viewers” to supervise the roads and remedy disputes between landowners. In 1686 the Royal Governor granted the Great Kinderhook Patent which reaffirmed prior patents and organized these tracts into one township. Interestingly, one of the original thirty-one patentees was Martin Van Buren’s great grandfather. Among the parcels covered by the Patent was the present site of the Village which had originally been conveyed by the Mohican Chief Emikee.
The Dutch settlers depended primarily on the river and lesser waterways for transporting goods and, aside from a rough-hewn wagon-way providing access to the river, relied on Indian trails for land travel. As traffic increased, these trails widened into bridle paths and cow lanes, and around 1670 a rudimentary network of roads existed in and around the Village. By 1685 the area was serviced by semi-weekly postal riders travelling between New York and Albany along the post road which passed through Kinderhook.
About this time many areas of the northeast became embroiled in conflicts with the Indians and the French. Fortunately, the Kinderhook area was practically free from bloodshed due to its location within the neutral ground which had been established by treaty after the Queen Anne War (1702-1713), designating the area west of the Housatonic River as neutral. Local inhabitants also believed this river was the eastern boundary of New York State, a belief which was to cause much strife.
Throughout the 1700’s, there was prolonged trouble over the Massachusetts boundary line, with New Englanders claiming the Hudson River as their eastern [probably should read western -ed.] boundary and New Yorkers claiming control over land extending into Connecticut. This antagonism was further inflamed by the cultural disparity between the primarily Dutch New Yorkers and the English New Englanders. Many Kinderhook freeholders claimed title to land in the disputed area and vigorously opposed the incursions from the east. During the 1760’s and early 1770’s Kinderhook inhabitants were also threatened by the claims of powerful landowners in the Livingston and Van Renssalaer families. These controversies slowed this area’s agricultural development and by 1763 the Village had fifteen homes and the Dutch Reformed Church.
In 1772, the English King interceded in the border dispute in favor of the New Englanders by creating the Kinderhook District and the King’s District. However, final settlement of the boundary line did not occur until after the Revolution when the U.S. Congress established the present border in 1789.
The outbreak of the Revolutionary War found the Village, as well as most of the State, with sharply divided sympathies. In 1775, the division was so great that dual elections, one Tory and one Patriot, were held in the Village to elect representatives to the County Committee of Correspondence. Outside agitators further encouraged enmity between these groups and both sides frequently resorted to acts of violence. The protection of Patriot lives and property was entrusted to Committees of Safety. By the spring of 1777 Tory hostility was so great that General Gates ordered Continental troops here. Despite these instances of Loyalist partiality, many sons of Kinderhook rendered honorable service during our nation’s fight for independence.
During the Revolutionary War, the Kinderhook area was the site of several historic events. In the winter of 1775-76 Colonel Henry Knox transported a vital shipment of artillery from the recently captured Fort Ticonderoga to the beleaguered City of Boston. Using ox and horse-drawn sledges, Knox led his hardy band through the frozen countryside, stopping only to rest and to replenish their supplies. One of the areas traversed by Knox was the Town of Kinderhook. Our Village was the overnight resting place of Colonel Benedict Arnold in the spring of 1777 while he was convalescing from wounds received during the victory of Bemis Heights. When the redcoat army was captured by the Americans under General Phillips in 1777, the English General Burgoyne was entertained in the Village. Similarly, the American General Montgomery dined here while on his way to the ill-fated attack on Quebec.
After the Revolution was son, the area was slow to adjust to the disruption and dislocation the war had caused. Many prominent estates changed hands, either because the owners had fled to Canada or the land had been confiscated outright. In
addition, there was increased settlement in Kinderhook by New Englanders. Most importantly, however, the post-Revolutionary period was one of major civic reorganization.
In 1786 Columbia County was formed in the division of Old Albany County. The County was originally comprised of seven towns whose supervisors established a County government.
Two years later the Town of Kinderhook was organized in the District which had been formed in 1772. The fact that the first town records were kept in Dutch is indicative of the strength of this area’s Dutch heritage. Indeed, Dutch was spoken in Kinderhook well into the 19th century.
It was during this period of transition that turnpikes stretching in all directions were built. In 1785 the first stagecoach company between Albany and New York was chartered to run weekly coaches over the post road passing through Kinderhook. The turn of the century brought steamboat travel and helped set the stage for a period of extensive development in the Village.
The first half of the 19th century witnessed the zenith of Kinderhook’s cultural and economic development. Apparently, the differences between the Dutch residents and the New Englanders had been resolved by this time, for records show that they joined forces to create a vibrant, prosperous community. The Village’s first newspaper,
the Kinderhook Herald, debuted in 1825. One year previous, the Columbia Academy was formally organized as a school to prepare students for the rigors of college. With a curriculum steeped in classical studies, the institution was hailed as a “pioneer organization of its kind and a model for other institutions of learning”.
Being situated on a plain which was “as a garden and abounded in agricultural wealth”, Kinderhook derived much of its prosperity from the land. Aside from an extensive wagon-making industry, the lack of water power prevented the Village from sustaining large manufacturing industries. Nevertheless, Kinderhook Creek was noted as one of the best in the country for fine mill sites and generated a great deal of industry in neighboring areas. Due to its location on the old post road and the excellent highways which traversed it in all directions, the Village became a major commercial center. Goods and produce from the surrounding area passed through here on their way to the river where they were easily shipped to New York markets via sloops plying the Hudson.
The considerable prosperity which resulted acted as a magnet to all manner of business and in 1836 Kinderhook was described as “one of the most important
business places in the County.” At the height of its success, the Village of Kinderhook incorporated in 1838.
The phenomenal growth of the Village during this period is readily apparent by a comparison of the number of houses. In 1813 the Village had “20 or 30 dwellings”. By 1843, the number had grown to “86, distributed upon seven streets.” Seven years later there were about 200 residences housing 1400 people. The Village’s growth continued until about mid-century.
Throughout the latter part of the 19th century, Kinderhook’s prominence as a commercial and economic center declined. The principal reason was the construction of rail lines in the 1850’s and 1860’s in other nearby areas, resulting in the establishment of commercial and industrial enterprises away from Kinderhook. In 1880 a major fire decimated the south side of the square and business district. Fortunately the Village was able to thrive on its agricultural resources and was spared the transformation which usually accompanies intensive industrial development.
Throughout its history, the Village of Kinderhook has graced the State and the Nation with many prominent people. One of Kinderhook’s leading citizens was Peter VanNess who had commanded a regiment in the defeat of Burgoyne in 1777 and went on to become Kinderhook’s first judge. Judge VanNess constructed the house which he called Kleinrood and which Martin Van Buren later occupied and renamed “Lindenwald”. At this house, the VanNess children were tutored by a young writer whose name was Washington Irving.
During his stay in Kinderhook, Irving wrote Rip Van Winkle and garnered material for the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Although the latter story was set in Tarrytown (possibly because he was writing for a New York City audience), the principal characters were based on local Kinderhook folk. Letters subsequently written by Washington Irving attest to the fact that Ichabod Crane was patterned after Jesse Merwin who taught at the local schoolhouse.
One of Peter VanNess’ sons was William P. VanNess whose main claim to fame is that, as Aaron Burr’s personal friend, he communicated Burr’s challenge to Alexander Hamilton and acted as his second at the fateful duel. According to local legend, VanNess gave Burr refuge in a secret sealed room at Lindenwald after he killed Hamilton.
By far the most outstanding native son was Martin Van Buren. He was born on December 5, 1782, the son of an innkeeper and farmer. After studying law, he entered public life and among the offices he held were County Surrogate, State Senator, U.S.
Senator, Governor of New York, Secretary of State, and Vice President to Andrew Jackson.
His greatest achievement, however, was his election to the Presidency in 1836. Among the significant accomplishments of Van Buren’s administration (1836-40) was the creation of the independent treasury system. The expression “OK” was coined by Van Buren’s supporters during the campaign of 1836 when their rallying cry was “OK” or “Old Kinderhook”. Van Buren was the 8th President and the first to be born in the independent United States. After his tenure as President, Van Buren retired to Lindenwald, a country estate south of the Village. He died there in 1862 and was buried in the Village cemetery.
Although Lindenwald passed to the Van Buren family after the President died, it was lost by his son John while gambling. The winner was a New York City financier named Lawrence Jerome who brought his family, including his daughter Jenny, to live at Lindenwald. Jenny Jerome, of course, was Winston Churchill’s mother.
Today [that is to say 1976 -ed.] the Village of Kinderhook retains a 19th century ambience which is refreshing in its authenticity and visual attractiveness. The central area of the Village is comprised of an exceptionally well-preserved collection of 18th and 19th century architecture. With the adoption of a 1971 Zoning Law, an Historical District was designated to preserve the beauty of the older structures. In 1974 the United States Department of the Interior accepted this section into the National Register of Historic Places. By virtue of this designation, owners of buildings in the District are eligible for certain restoration incentives and the exteriors of approximately 250 buildings are protected from alteration unless the modification meets with Planning Board approval. These measures will insure the Village’s unique character.
Still governed by the Charter granted in 1838, the Village is presided over by a Board comprised of a Mayor and four Trustees who are elected to two-year terms. Village elections are held on the third Tuesday in March in the Village office. All Village residents who are 18 years of age and over are eligible to vote.
The Board of Trustees is assisted in its task by the Village Planning Board which suggests new legislation, oversees the subdivision of land, and acts as the Architectural Review Board for the Historical District. Its five members are appointed by the Trustees for a term of five years.
The Village’s Zoning Law is administered by the Building Inspector who is appointed by the Board of Trustees. Any proposed exterior improvements or change of building use should be brought to his attention to determine the necessity for a building permit or variance. He may be contacted through the Village Office which is open regularly and staffed by our Village Clerk. Copies of the Zoning Law are available from the Village Clerk for a nominal fee.
Matters invoking the interpretation of the Zoning Law are handled by the Zoning Board of Appeals. This Board consists of five members appointed to five-year terms and is charged with considering applications for variances and special use permits.
All in all, the Village of Kinderhook captures the vitality and progress of an agrarian Dutch village which has been transformed into a modern residential community striving to meet the challenges of the future.
–Frank L. Amoroso, Esq.