Brunswick is a town in Rensselaer County, New York, United States that was originally settled in the early 18th century. During its history, it had been part of Albany County, Rensselaerswyck, and Troy, before its incorporation in 1807. It is bordered on the west by the city of Troy; on the north by Schaghticoke and Pittstown; on the east by Grafton; and on the south by Poestenkill and North Greenbush. The population was 11,941 at the 2010 census. The source of the town's name is not certain, though some claim it comes from the source of its first inhabitants from the province of Brunswick-Lüneburg in Germany.
The town was historically agricultural, but began experiencing suburban sprawl in the later decades of the 20th century, which continues currently. Historically, most of the developments have occurred around the town's two major thoroughfares: New York Route 7 and New York Route 2, known locally as Hoosick Road and Brunswick Road, respectively. Brunswick became a popular place to settle in upon the completion of the local highway system in the Capital District, especially the upgrade of Route 7 into a four-lane highway in the 1980s. Brunswick is the official residence of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
The first settlement in Brunswick dates to 1711 to 1715 at Haynersville. Since Haynersville is located just at the current town line with Pittstown, it is currently impossible to be more specific about dates without knowing on which side of the town line various individual farms were.
In the records, Haynersville was first called simply "Hosek Road". This is in reference to the public manor road that went north from the manor along the east side of the Hudson to where Troy now is, and then turned east across the area to Hoosick on the Vermont border, (the latter half of the road is basically today's Route 7, and is still known as Hoosick Road).
The Hoosick Road was a vital link to the then frontier settlement at Hoosick, (settled in 1688), and which formed a link to both Bennington, Vermont and Williamstown. Until the 1790s, the government at Albany claimed Vermont, and its only practical connection to Vermont was by the Hoosick Road.
German Palatines had settled in Livingston's Manor, south of Rensselaer's Manor. Many of these were volunteers during Queen Anne's War in an expedition against Canada in 1711, led locally by Peter Schuyler, "and several finding the country north of them pleasant and desirable, determined, so soon as convenient after their return and discharge, to locate there". Johannes Jung, Job. Adam Freiderich, Georg Shaffer, Phillip Kelmer, Stephen Froelich, Andreas Bergman, Ludowig W. Schmidt, Job. Schneider, were in an initial group prior to 1715, and Coenraet Ham, Jans Witbeck and Hans Jury Kolemer, came in 1715. The last named individual settled within the manor and therefore within the town.
In 1724, there was another campaign against Canada, and which produced a similar exodus of discontented veterans from the Livingston Manor to Brunswick, including Johannes Heener (Hayner), Peter Phillips, Peter Lamp-Man, Johannes Heinrich Conrad, and Olrig and Philip Barnet. Paul Dirk (Derrick) and Peter Ham were the first settlers of Center Brunswick. Paul Derrick's manor farm still stands as the rear section of the farmhouse at 936 Hoosick Road.
Of the earliest church records for the Gilead Lutheran Church, consisting of several dated receipts, the earliest is from 1746. Their first minister, Peter Nicholas Sommer, began his ministry at Haynersville and adjoining areas in 1743.
In the 1740s and 1750s, van Rensselaer as patroon of the manor gave land for the erection of a church, and for the support of a minister at Hosek Road, (Haynersville). Barnett also gives the text of a document from 1769 in the records of the Gilead Lutheran Church "When it had pleased the Almighty and Merciful God in His goodness to plant the Evangelical Lutheran Church in this American part of the world also, and especially in the State of New York, during the reign of Queen Anna, and also in this neighborhood and district called Hosek Road, in Rensselaerwyck, Albany County, then more than twenty years ago, a small body of adherents of the above said Lutheran church, disposed to that end did build and erect a prayer and church House to the Honor of God, and for their convenience, upon that lot of ground which our most worthy Patroon generously gave to promote and perpetuate the service of God and for the better maintenance of our preacher, for which purpose he presented us with a Deed of Gift which We acknowledge with heartfelt thanks towards our Good Lord in Heaven, and that in addition He grants us all hereabouts by His grace that we through the permission of the Government are allowed to carry on our pure Lutheran Church service free and without hindrance." Barnett concludes that 'more than twenty years' before 1769 roughly corresponds to Sommer's appointment as minister, and that sometime between 1743 and 1749, the first church in Brunswick was built. It was referred to as the log church, and was probably a simple structure.
From this beginning there was an increase, but not without conflict. "During the wars of 1745 and 1754 between the English and French, all this region north of Albany was marked by frequent atrocities perpetrated by the Savage allies of the French, and twice at least the majority of the settlers fled from their homes in terror, retiring to Livingston Manor and other points down the river, some of whom never returned." One particularly notorious incident was the burning of Hoosick, outside Brunswick, by the French in August 1754. Matters did not settle until the collapse of the French at Quebec in 1760. "When these troubles were finally at an end, the inducements offered to settlers by the lord of the Manor attracted many emigrants, not only Germans, but Dutch, English, Scotch, Irish and French as well."
Peace also brought the first tavern in the area, run by a John Tillman, followed by a second tavern in 1772, run by Johannes Hayner, Jr., from which Haynersville, (Hayner's Tavern), eventually got its name.
The first store was opened by Conrad Hayner and Peter Loose at Tamarack, and the first grist mill was built by Johann Heinrich Gross, in 1772, on the Quackenkill.
On the of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, drawn in 1767 by John R. Bleecker, there are many names associated with leased parcels, especially in the western part of the town and in Haynersville. The map shows that settlement had mostly been as far east as present day Center Brunswick and Eagle Mills.
By the 1770s, the original log church became inadequate to the needs of the community, as is made clear in this 1789 public plea. "It is about fourteen Years ago, that the said Members of the (Gilead Lutheran) Congregation, whilst the Number of them did increase, so that the Block Meeting House, where they used to serve the Lord, was too small for them, and the said Meeting house was not fit for any Worship, for fear it might brake down and kill them, so that the took a Notion of building a Church, and they begone it in the year 1775. But the disturbance of the War put soon a Stop to it, so that a great many of the said Members were ruin'd & brought to great Distress and Poverty, so that they was oblig'd to leave of building: but now last Year they have begun again, and did their utmost Endeavour to finish the said Church. It was not their Intention in the least at that Time to molest their Neighbours and Fellow Christians with Collections, for it has the appearance last Fall, as if they should have a promising Crop this Harvest, but that Hope is all lost for the most part of the Grane is kill'd with the Frost, and the Rest is destroy'd by the Insects, and now they have such a heavy Debt to pay, which they are not able to discharge out of their own Pokets: So they are obliged to implore all good-minded Christians who has it in their Hearts to promote the kingdom of Christ to assist them and lay some mite for the said Building of the said Church in the Hands of their Fellow Brothers wiiich they have send for that purpose Namely Albertus Simon and Jacob Weager."
Revolutionary War period
For Town of Brunswick in the Revolutionary War, the excerpts from Barnett cover the history "Situated, as it was, near the head of navigation on the Hudson, and on the line traversed by the contending forces between New York City and Canada, (the people of Brunswick) naturally suffered many and grievous annoyances from both sides, but principally from the tories. From the first shock of conflict, east of them, in and around Boston, to the battle of Bennington, in sight from high ground and a few miles on the north-east; and the battles just across the river, between the patriot army and that of Burgoyne; and later, they were in constant dread and danger, many abandoning their homes, where all farm work was virtually given up."
"Emmissaries of the British government came among them, who easily persuaded many of the simple people to side with the royalists, but the majority, principally Germans, espoused the cause of freedom, which made it necessary for such as had joined with the tories to flee the country. This gave rise to the separation of families, the disruption of the harmony hitherto existing in the Church and community, and a deadly enmity which led to acts of violence... When Burgoyne's army approached, and General Schuyler with his forces fell back from Fort Edward to the Islands at the mouth of the Mohawk, the people on this side of the Hudson took refuge in Lansingburgh. Abner Roberts, a member of Gilead and an officer of the Continental army, anxious to visit his home,... and, not apprehending any serious danger, crossed to Lansingburgh and alone rode leisurely away, he had barely leached the top of the hill... when he was ambushed by a band of tories, killed and scalped. Several days afterwards his mutilated remains were found where he had fallen. ... Bald Mountain,... was a favorite resort or rallying point for these predatory bands. From its summit they not only had the advantage of a wide view of the surrounding country, but the valley of the Hudson for miles north and south lay open to observation, the importance of which, in carrying out their nefarious schemes, they truely appreciated and employed."
The present territory of Brunswick was initially a part of the town of Troy. Troy had been organized as a town in 1791. The growing importance of the prospective city, and its requirements led to a separation of Troy from its rural parts: today's Brunswick and Grafton.
The first town meeting was held at the house of Nathan Betts, a local innkeeper, and continued taking place there for another year. The first town supervisor was Flores Bancker, who held the office from 1807 until 1809. The first town clerk was Daniel Wager, who served for one year. The first three justices of the peace were Robert McChesney, Daniel Wagar, and John McManus. In pursuance of laws enacted under the constitution of 1821, justices of the peace were chosen at the general elections or were appointed by the courts. The election of justices at town meetings began in 1831.
The town did not develop quickly under the manorial system. Although agriculturally productive, since residents did not own the land, there was little incentive to develop properties. That changed after the collapse of Rensselaerswyck in the 1840s.
One short term historical figure was Herman Melville, who in 1840 had been residing with his mother in Lansingburgh, but who taught for a half year at a one room schoolhouse in Brunswick.
Little documentation exists on who took part in the War of 1812. There was significantly more interest in fighting during the Civil War, Brunswick having sent more than 125 men to fight during various times of the war.
The main recreational facility of the town is Vanderhyden Lake, an old reservoir for the city of Troy now used for swimming.
The area of Eagle Mills was a significant industrial area during the mid to late 19th century. Many factories sprung up along the banks of the Poesten Kill due to rapids and a waterfall being located in the area. One such enterprise was the Eagle flour mills, which eventually gave the area its name. The building would change hands multiple times before ending up as Millville Manufacturing Company making augers and then Planters' Hoe Company making hoes. Both companies were under the direction of Joseph H. Allen, who was also supervisor of Brunswick from 1856 to 1857 and a justice of the peace in 1861. Allen closed down Planters' in 1862 to serve in the Civil War. He came out of the war a lieutenant colonel, a position that was awarded to him specifically by President Lincoln. Planters' opened up again after his return to the town. He lived in a house on today's Brunswick Road, which still stands.
Late 20th and 21st centuries
Brunswick remained mostly rural into the mid and late 20th century. The 1990s brought about expansion along Hoosick Road, with the addition of a Wal-Mart and Price Chopper, along with subsequent strip malls, in 1996. These openings led to interest by developers to build more housing options within the town, which offers quick access to Troy and, subsequently, Interstate 787 and the greater Capital District. With the new commercial developments, residents wouldn't be required to travel to Troy or other places to shop, offering more reasons to move to the town.
Expanding development and Brunswick Smart Growth
In early 2005, Wal-Mart indicated intentions to build a Supercenter near its current site on Hoosick Road (Route 7), which sparked outcry from a significant portion of the town population. Additionally, in late 2006, the town saw proposals for five large housing developments that would have added 1387 new homes to a town that was only seeing an average of 43 new homes per year. These proposals, along with other development plans, brought about much opposition, mainly from an organization called Brunswick Smart Growth, Inc., which began a campaign against rapid and excessive development.
One of the main issues coming from Brunswick Smart Growth and town residents was concerns regarding overdevelopment of the town in a short period of time; their argument was for "sustainable and positive growth". Many cited the arguable overdevelopment of Clifton Park, a town located roughly to the northeast. Brunswick Smart Growth became noticeable after many residents placed signs on their lawns.
All of these proposed developments were planned to be rezoned to waive the usual requirement that each house sit on at least of land. Additionally, some town residents were upset about the fact that one of the developments, Highland Creek, was made possible by the sale of of land by town supervisor Philip Herrington and his brother Kenneth, a Rensselaer County legislator. Though, to note, the Herrington brothers are successful dairy farmers (owning the largest dairy farm in Rensselaer County) and own a significant amount of farmland in the town; the land of the proposed Highland Creek sits on former farmland.
The issue went so far as two lawsuits against the town. The first was brought about in October 2006 by Brunswick Smart Growth and a few individual town residents. It claimed that one, the town did not offer enough hearings regarding the planned Highland Creek development, and two, that the land on which Highland Creek would be built had not been properly rezoned for the development (it was zoned for agriculture and never rezoned to allow a residential development). The suit was eventually dismissed by Rensselaer County Supreme Court Judge Christian F. Hummel.
A second suit was filed, this time in the State Supreme Court, in November 2007, again by Brunswick Smart Growth and a few individuals. This time, the suit focused on insufficiencies in the town's comprehensive plan. If the comprehensive plan were deemed inadequate, two proposed developments that had already received approval would lose their approval. This suit was dismissed in August 2009. The town reportedly spent more than $38,000 in legal fees during the two lawsuits.
The planned Wal-mart Supercenter was scrapped in 2007, instead the current Wal-mart received an upgrade; and none of the planned developments have yet been built, though this could have much to do with the late-2000s recession.