A Brief Historical Note on the Six Mile Waterworks (Rensselaer Lake)

by John Wolcott

The section of the Pine Bush where the proposed aquatic park would be located is a remaining portion of an early conservation area. This was one of the first tracts, if not the very first, in the state, specifically set aside for forest and water conservation. For this reason there is some additional historical significance attached to it. As most of you probably know, the Six Mile Waterworks on Rensselaer Lake, the property which I am referring to, was acquired by the city in 1850 for municipal water supply purposes. The dam and reservoir, which we see there now, were completed in 1852. It was Albany's sole water source until 1875 and was maintained as a backup emergency source for long after. (view map)

The concern for water, here, however, goes back before this. In the year 1800, a large tract of the Pine Bush including the present Six Mile Waterworks area, was conveyed to the Manor of Rensselaerwyck by Albany according to the Common Council minutes of September 3, 1800, "for Shading the fifth Creek, and the swamp which is the source there of." This conveyance was part of a boundary line agreement and exchange of territories between the City of Albany and the Manor of Rensselaerwyck. This was after many years of dispute over the bounds between the City and the Manor. Since 1686, Albany had run out several different versions of its boundaries as defined in its Charter of that year. None of these versions was the correct one. The Charter describes parallel lines running from two points on the bank of the Hudson River, through the Pine Bush to the Schenectady Patent, of the City boundaries. This also affected the bounds of Rensselaerwyck which Albany then bordered all along its north and south sides. In 1800, the Manor and City agreed upon the 1764 version of these boundaries which was of particular convenience to both parties. The problem was that, this set of city bounds included the headwaters of the Fifth Kill, now called Patroon's Creek. This kill supplied power for the Patroon's Mills lower downstream off Broadway near where Nipper is to be seen now. The problem was solved by the City giving to the Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer, two parcels within Albany to protect the forest around the upper reaches of his mill stream and its tributaries and source. Two tracts within Rensselaerwyck were traded to the City in exchange. (view map of exchange)

Apparently there were, at that time, observations that excessive evaporation resulting from removal of the bordering forest caused a decrease in stream flow, hence the term "shade." This was used in the Common Council minutes quoted above and also on the maps showing the boundaries of the City and of the Conservation area. On this map it reads, "A and B - Tracts to be conveyed to Stephen Van Rensselaer Esquire by the Mayor etc. of Albany for the purpose of preserving wood along the Mill Creek for shading the same.'" The Patroon's brother, Philip Van Rensselaer, became Mayor of Albany in 1799 and this may have made the way easier for the agreement.

Another historic conservation first for this area, occurred in 1914 while the reservoir was still and emergency reserve water source. The Six Mile water works property was the first area ever proposed for a Pine Bush public preserve. This was set forth by Arnold Brunner, architect, and Charles Downing Lay, a landscape architect. This proposal was part of studies prepared for general urban improvement at the request of Mayor James McEwan. They concluded their proposal by suggesting that it be added to and brought up to over 1000 areas. They further wrote that: "The character of the country is wild and unspoiled and almost nothing is necessary except to provide and maintain a few paths and roads. In fact the less done to it the better." Unfortunately, this proposal wasn't acted upon, although a portion of the area later became a City park and is now a part of the Pine Bush preserve.

You can see by this short outline that there is a long history of conservation at this location now under consideration. It has been first for mill power, then drinking water, then natural area and scenic conservation. Any portions, remaining intact, of this historic conservation area should not be further intruded upon. Therefore I believe that the proposed aquatic park under consideration should not be built at Six Mile Waterworks. There are plenty of other places to locate such a feature, like the City land by Hoffman Park, which would be very appropriate.

John Wolcott,
Save the Pine Bush, June 20, 1996


McEneny Tables Water Slide

By Daniel Van Riper and Lynne Jackson

State Assemblyman Jack McEneny did the right thing and sidetracked state approval for a destructive waterslide park that the City of Albany wants to build at Six Mile Waterworks. The site is a city park, part of the Pine Bush Preserve, and a historic conservation area.

In sharp contrast, State Senator Michael Hoblock, who is being challenged for his seat by Neil Breslin this fall, saw to it that approval sailed through the Senate. In the past, Hoblock has called the Pine Bush "useless land" and is one of the principals responsible for the Walmart/Washington Commons retail strip.

Mr. McEneny's action means that the proposal is on hold until next year. Although he originally introduced the measure in the Assembly, he quickly responded to concerns raised by Save the Pine Bush members who contacted his assistant, Joe Galu. Mr. Hoblock apparently refused to consider SPB's position on the issue.
It takes an act of the NYS Legislature to allow the City to use this land for a water slide park. The Common Council already voted 15-0 to ask the Legislature for permission.


Printed July, 1996


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