Cohoes is an incorporated city located at the northeast corner of Albany County in the US state of New York. It is called the "Spindle City" because of the importance of textile production to its growth. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 16,168. The name was believed to have arisen from a Mohawk expression, "Ga-ha-oose", referring to the Cohoes Falls and meaning "Place of the Falling Canoe," an interpretation originated by Horatio Gates Spafford in his 1823 publication "A Gazetteer of the State of New York". Later historians posited that the name is derived from the Algonquian "Cohos," which is a place name based on a word meaning 'pine tree'.
The majority of the city was once part of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, a Dutch colonial feudal system; however the land north of a line crossing the Cohoes Falls (today Manor Avenue) was outside of the Manor and was owned by the Van Olohde family between 1725 and 1750. Rensselaerswyck was established by Killiaen Van Rensselaer, the patroon and a Dutch merchant. In 1632 he had an agent of his pace off an enormous triangle-shaped area around the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, from the Peebles Island northwest to the Cohoes Falls and south to today's Watervliet; this area was the core of the future city of Cohoes. Starting in the 1690s the Patroon began to issue leases for the area of Cohoes, though he did reserve for himself a strip below the Cohoes Falls for the future site of mills.
Though the area wasn't immediately heavily settled it was well known for many reasons. The main was geographic, with the Cohoes Falls being the centerpiece. One of the earliest descriptions of the falls was in 1642 by Johannes Megapolensis, the first dominie (Reverend) of Beverwyck. Another early description was in 1656 by Adriaen van der Donck in his Description of New Netherland. In the early-to-mid 17th century a whale had found itself stranded in the Mohawk River on an island just below the Cohoes Falls, it was impossible for the Dutch settlers of the area to remove the carcass and as it rotted the river became slick for three weeks from the rotting carcass and one commented that "the air was infected with its stench... perceptible for two miles to leeward"; around 1646 this island came to be known as Whale Island due to this occurrence.
During the various French and Indian Wars during the mid-18th century Van Schaick Island became the site of a military road that came from Albany north along the islands at the mouth of the Mohawk River. These islands allowed for easier fords across the various mouths of the Mohawk and access to Waterford and points north. The islands would be the site of many military encampments during both the French and Indian Wars and the US Revolutionary War. The Van Schaick Mansion on Van Schaick Island was built in the 1730s and was one of the sites used as a military headquarters by the Americans under General Philip Schuyler and General Horatio Gates. Van Schaick Island was the first part of Cohoes to be settled and farmed, it was formerly known as Cohoes Island and Anthony's Island.
Until the Revolutionary war Cohoes was a small quiet hamlet with isolated farms. After the Revolution things slowly began to pick up, and Cohoes was linked to the larger settlements of Lansingburg and Albany. In 1795 the first bridge across the Mohawk River was constructed at Cohoes. It was 900 feet long, 24 feet wide, 15 feet high and sat on 13 stone piers. It cost $12,000 to build and was a toll bridge. This bridge increased the importance of Cohoes, as it became one of the main routes north. It was rebuilt in 1806 by the Cohoes Bridge Company and tolls increased. The Erie and Champlain Canals were begun in 1817, and the section in Cohoes finished in 1823, and had a significant impact in Cohoes. Cohoes was even known as Juncta because of this. Every farm in Cohoes was crossed by one or both of the canals, and Cohoes was the site of the junction of the two canals. Even with the canals and the bridge bringing easier access to larger markets, Cohoes was a sleepy place to be in prior to 1831. The nearest post office was at Waterford and fresh meat and groceries were a luxury hard to come by in Cohoes. A post office in Cohoes was finally built in 1831.
In 1811 the Cohoes Manufacturing Company, owned entirely by men from Lansingburg, was incorporated and began a factory for making screws. This would be the first use of large industry in Cohoes and the harnessing of the Mohawk River and Cohoes Falls for power.
In 1831, a dam was constructed on the Mohawk River above the city's waterfall by the new Cohoes Company. It was soon swept away by ice, and a new one was built the following year. Two canals from the dam provided power for industry. Originally ironworks were the main industry calling Cohoes home; in this it was similar to Troy, Menands, and West Troy. Daniel Simmons' Simmons Axe Company was famous throughout the United States, and the Cohoes Iron Foundry was a large business enterprise in the 1830s. Cotton, however, would be the future of Cohoes. It had a small start in the 1820s when the only cotton mill in Albany County was located in Cohoes. Egberts and Bailey was the first factory to use knitting machinery run by power thanks to the Cohoes Company's power canals. This provided power to make the community a leading textile center with the establishment in 1836 of the Harmony Manufacturing Company, later famous as Harmony Mills. Cohoes became a mill town, and to an extent a company town. During the 1870s the mills were enormously profitable because of the Erie Canal, which flowed past them at that time. Mill #3, at over long, has been considered the longest continuous textile mill in the country at the time. In 1848, Cohoes was incorporated as a village within the town of Watervliet, and in 1869 chartered as a city.
Around the start of the 20th century, daredevil Bobby Leach practiced going over the Cohoes Falls in a barrel before he performed the same stunt at Niagara. Cohoes residents watched this feat from the lawn or the porch of The Cataract House, the Victorian hotel at the corner of North Mohawk and School Streets, site of the present School Street Power Station.