Rensselaer is a city in Rensselaer County, New York, located along the Hudson River directly opposite Albany, New York. As of the 2010 U.S. census, the population was about 9,400 people. In the year 1920, it was about 10,840. The name is from Kiliaen van Rensselaer, the original landowner of the region in New Netherland. Rensselaer is on the west border of the county. Earliest settlement occurred as early as 1628. This town has a rich industrial history stretching back to the 19th century, when it became a major railroad junction. It is still important in railroading as the location of the 14th busiest AMTRAK station in the country. It was one of the earliest locations of the dye industry in the United States, and the first American location for the production of aspirin.
Early settlement and growth
The natives of the area called it Petuquapoern and Juscum catick, and the Dutch claimed the land in 1609 based on Henry Hudson's exploration of the Hudson River. Later the area was called De Laet's Burg in honor of one of the directors of the Dutch West India Co. Settlement occurred at least as early as 1628. By 1642 there was a brewery and many farms, also a ferry was established by Hendrick Albertsen running from the mouth of Beaver Creek in Beverwyck (Albany) to the future Rensselaer. Greenbush (originally t'Greyn Bos in Dutch) was the earliest settlement from Dutch times. The hamlet of East Albany was part of the village of Greenbush. The second hamlet that would be incorporated was Bath (also Bath-on-Hudson), which was laid out in 1795 and settled even earlier, it was incorporated as a village prior to 1874.
The hamlet of Greenbush was a tract of land about one square mile in size, and is that portion of the city between Partition and Mill Street. This was purchased in May 1810 by William Akin, Titus Goodman and John Dickinson from Stephen Van Rensselaer and Stephen N. Bayard, assignees of John J. Van Rensselaer. The village was later incorporated in 1815. A new charter was granted in 1828, which was amended in 1854, and again in 1863, and a new charter in 1871. In 1897, Greenbush was chartered as a city, and its name was changed to Rensselaer. Its limits were extended in 1902 by the annexation of the village of Bath and the western part of the town of East Greenbush.
Industrialization and modernization
In the 19th century Rensselaer became the site of the Boston and Albany Railroad's (B&A) passenger depot, shops, freight houses, round house, and coach yard. It was the site of transfers between trains of the New York Central and the B&A. A ferry transported people to and from the Van Rensselaer Island and downtown Albany at Maiden Lane. In 1871 the Maiden Lane Bridge was built replacing the ferry. In 1903 the channel that separated the island from the mainland was filled in with sand dredged from the bottom of the Hudson River. When the NY Central and the B&A merged in 1900 the island's activities became less important, though a new round house and coach yard was built even as many buildings were demolished.
In 1932 next to the BASF plant, the Port of Albany-Rensselaer was built, mostly in neighboring Albany, but also with in the southern part of Rensselaer. The docks on the Rensselaer side were built in the 1970s.
The 1960s were a major time of change for the city of Rensselaer. In 1967 the current Dunn Memorial Bridge was built between Albany and Rensselaer. Though the bridge was to continue east through Rensselaer, with the South Mall Arterial connecting with Interstate 90 at Exit 8, this extension never materialized. In 1968 the Amtrak station in Albany (Union Station) was relocated to Rensselaer; and the Maiden Lane Bridge and all the railroad associated buildings were demolished when in 1969 the Rensselaer City School high/middle school campus was built north of Quackenderry Creek.
In the 2000s (decade), another wave of development has been occurring in Rensselaer. The Rensselaer City School campus had planned to redevelop as a mixed-use waterfront community, the developers (U.W. Marx Construction) gave the school land that had recently been annexed from a neighboring town, now in the northern section of the city, and built a new school campus. The new school replaced the Rensselaer Middle High School and Van Rensselaer Elementary, formerly Van Rensselaer High, as a K-12 facility. Doane Stuart occupies the former elementary school. Much to the delight of many alumni, the high school has been demolished, although the football field was left in for some time. The redevelopment of the waterfront property is named de Laet's Landing in honor of Johan de Laet. There has yet to be any breaking ground. The entrance to the site and parking lot is now a gated off clearing on the banks beside the Hudson, with a view of the Albany Skyline in the back. In 2002 the current Albany-Rensselaer station replaced the adjacent 1968 and 1980 stations, which have been demolished since. Today's station was built with three tracks (a fourth was planned, but eliminated due to cost) and the station has had fewer than preferable tracks since. In January 2007, it was announced that a fourth track would be built, allowing freight trains to bypass the station and reduce delays. These plans, too, have yet to see any action.