New Light on an Old Road

New Light on an Old Road

Save the Pine Bush, You can fight City Hall and win!

New Light on an Old Road

by John Wolcott

Save the Pine Bush board member John Wolcott has discovered evidence of a forgotten foot path through the Pine Bush that in the 1600’s and 1700’s ran parallel to the main Albany-Schenectady Road, the Maquas Padt. Here is Part 1 of a two-part article on what John found.

"A Map of the Lines Run Pursant to the Direction
of the arbitrators, as Claimed by the Proprietors under the Patent of Jan
H. Van Baal performed in April 1775, W. Cockburn" Detail of original
map re-drawn by John Wolcott

In a two part article published in the Pine Bush Newsletters of March and May, 1993, I wrote at some length about the former main road through the Pine Bush. Now I will review the highlights of this historic road and add to and modify what I wrote previously. This has been made possible and necessary by a newly located and newly identified old map.

The former main road through the Pine Bush was opened as a wagon track from Beverwyck (Albany’s old name) to Schenectady in 1662. Both the Indian Path and the new road were called "het Maquas Padt" in Dutch (That is to say "The Mohawk Path") from at least, 1660 to about the end of the century. Later in the 17th Century, after the English conquests of New Netherland, our road to Schenectady was officially called The King’s Highway. Actually it was called "a" King’s Highway. This is what most, or all roads between Euro-American settlements in British North America.

As for the newly discovered Map, it is a large map of the land claims of the "Normans Kill People." It is in a collection of court papers in the NYS Archives. It is not filed as listed.

The Map dates from 1775 and was made by a well known and prolific surveyor named William Cockburn.

The Map is among a series of maps and legal papers filed over the years in what might be the longest lasting land law case in New York history. The contest was between the Vedder and LaGrange families of the Normans Kill Valley in what is now the Town of Guilderland and the Manor of Rensselaerwyck. The case lasted from about 1740 until 1789 when it was "settled," except for an additional adjustment in 1807. The land involved included an immense portion of the Pine Bush at the north bounds of the Normans Kill Claim and at the south the areas of Thatcher Park and Clarksville at the south bounds.

The Norman’s Kill Claim is based on a patent to Jan Hendricksen Van Baal issued in 1672. A Mohawk deed is referred to in the patent, but no original of the Indian deed is known to exist.

The map was almost never found either. These Court records were long stored in the basement of the Court of Appeals on Eagle Street in Albany. An archivist who assisted me in my search, said that the Court of Appeals was about to throw these priceless records away several years ago when they were rescued by the History Department of Queens College, Flushing, New York. They were preserved under the care of professor Heskowitz until they then were returned to the State in 1989 when it was deemed safe to.

We have found records of at least three East/West routes through the Pine Bush by 1775. These run generally through the same area where the NYS Thruway can now be seen, as better fitting as the modern descendants of these roads and paths. All the more reason why the Thruway Authority ought to do more for protecting these routes and their original setting.

The single dashed line on the map is labeled "Indian Path." This has the appearance of a kind of divided lane route one for travellers on foot and the other for wagons. The Indian path is presumably older. This newly re-discovered Indian Path may fit in with an unexplained mysterious feature which I came upon a few years ago. It is approximately along the course of the path on the map. For now, however, this feature will not be described nor particularly located. Save the Pine Bush plans to carefully examine this feature with the cooperation of Adrian Burke, a SUNYA archeologist who has been helping us already. If further examination indicates a connection between this unexplained feature and the Indian Path, we will negotiate special protection for it through the Pine Bush Commission, the Pine Bush Ranger, and the local police. Our readers will be kept posted on this. This kind of thing is subject to be vandalized by irresponsible souvenir hunters. I know it’s hard to believe, but Planning Boards, Zoning Boards, Town Boards, the Common Council, and developers aren’t the only vandals to look out for in the Pine Bush.

Read Part II, Printed in the June/July 1998 Newsletter

Printed 3/98

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