Last of the Mahican Lands, history along the Hudson River
Last of the Mahican Land
Last of the Mahican Land
Along the riverfront directly across from downtown Albany, NY is the small city of Rensselaer. If you were standing at the foot of the Hudson River Walkway bridge you would instantly notice the tree covered property directly on the other side of the water. It was once an island yet over time the land was filled in changing the view forever.
This land once belonged to the Mahican people. Try to envision downtown Albany in it's once native state. Four hundred years ago Albany New York was a forest of Red Pine. The banks of the river were shaded pine flats with thousands of trees five to eight hundred years old. A bay existed with long narrow islands that framed the entrance to the bay. One island extending north and one island with a tiny companion island extended to the south part of the natural bay. Centuries later, these islands became the via duct for the Erie Canal.
Rensselaer and Albany belonged to a confederacy of Algonquin people. They called themselves the Mahicans. One of the tribes of this group were called the Moenemie. Translation of the word suggests mo means large and namie means fish. In other words, they were the large fish people that lived along the river. The river that flowed both ways and lead to the sea was their life blood. They called this river the Mohicannituck. Mahican war chief fortresses dotted the many islands along the crystal blue river. The forest was full of deer, moose, minks and many other forest game. Another island protected the banks of what is now the City of Rensselaer. It extended for about a mile with a river flowing between the island and the main land on the east shore. A Mahican castle stood on the island and a large stockaded town was home to a Mahican stronghold around the time Hudson arrived. The castle most likely stood to the north bank of the island where a small creek carved out a smaller island of it's own.
In the 1580's another people came to this land and it's river. They were the Hodenessaunee. They were a threat to the Mahican people. Wars took place between them. The expanding territory of this new group was only a harbinger of what was yet to come in 1609. The infamous Henry Hudson sailed out of the mouth of this river with a trail of blood behind him. The fairy tail voyage taught to youngsters often conceals the details. Hudson's crew gave the natives alcohol and exploited their land and people. A group of natives who were accused of stealing off the ship were murdered. When one young native man clung to the side of the Halfmoon during an ordeal the cook cut off his hand and he bled to death in the river. By 1618 a Dutch Fort was built and the land and forest rang from the clamoring of axes as trees were cut down by the thousands.
In 1626 war broke out between the Mohican and the Hodenessaunee whom the Mahican referred to as the Iroquois, or evil snakes. Many indentured workers from Europe were shipped down state to New Amserdam. Many of them were Palentine German refugees that came from tent cities in London's port. The war was intense. In 1628 the Mahicans were pressed to give up their land to the Dutch and a contract for sale was signed turning the land over from Chief Narrannemmit to the Van Rensselaer's.
The Mahican castles were lost to time. Today a highway covers the once natural river inlet. The islands are all filled in. Part of Corning Preserve is made up of some of the original islands. On the Rensselaer, side a small piece of an island still stands mostly untouched. This last remaining piece of Mahican island land is now being threatened by developement. A business group wants to make a high rise condo/ hotel in this place right on the riverfront opposite Corning Preserve.
This east side river island once lived on by the native people was turned over to the railroads during the early part of the 19th century. A track lofted a bridge to the island and back again serving as a turn around. Eventually the railroad company filled the island in. Today, Amtrak holds title to half of the island on the east side.
The other half of the island has never really been developed. The southern most tip was dredged for gravel and is now covered with highway and a few building however a large part is still vacant. The small Rensselaer High School stood on this part but, has been torn down. The land has been sold to developers. Rumor has it that they want to build a 24 story building there. The land has never had large buildings on it with deep cellars. So much will be lost without further historical investigation. I suspect that many artifacts could be recovered if our state cared enough to do it. My plan is to have a Mahican National Park made by connecting these last tracts of land together and creating one large money making tourist attraction. The former site of Doane Stuart School that was in Albany is a perfect location for a park home base main attraction. It sports a large peak in the Norman'skill and two deep gorges.To me that would be the best use for both place places. I am asking all to write to Gov. Cuomo in support of my proposal. If we do not act this last piece of Mahican culture in Rensselaer will be lost forever.That is a high price to pay for a bad business idea. So, find the time to call the Governor and let us try to make a difference. By Joanne Kathleen Farrell author of Liberty For The Lion Shield.
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