(the name means "crows' wood"), probably built
around 1642, stood at the center of the vast 700,000-acre
estate of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who managed
the first and only successful patroonship established
by authority of the Dutch West India Company, its role
in Dutch life in the Albany region was a major one.
Crailo was likely constructed for
Hendrick Van Rensselaer, the grandson of Killiaen van
Rensselaer, the first patroon of Rensselaerswyck, whose
landholdings encompassed much of present-day Albany
and Rensselaer counties. It was originally built for
protection, with small windows, thick walls, and gunports.
The immense Van Rensselaer estate
was founded in 1630. Van Rensselaer was a wealthy diamond
merchant of Amsterdam, whose agents obtained a vast
tract that extended from the mouth of the Mohawk River
southward for 20 miles along both sides of the Hudson,
and a total width of almost 50 miles. Fort Crailo, headquarters
of this empire, was built on the site of Rensselaer,
known then as "Greenen Bosch"—"Pine
Forest" in Dutch and corrupted later to "Green
Some authorities believe that Fort
Crailo dates from 1642, but others contend that it was
constructed later of material from an earlier house,
or that it stands on the foundation of the 1642 residence
built by Rensselaer's first agent. The State of New
York, however, credits the building to Hendrick Van
Rensselaer, younger brother of the patroon, and dates
it about 1704. It is known that the Van Rensselaer family
occupied the house as early as that year and continued
to live in it until 1871.
"The Land where milk and honey
flow" was how one Dutch promoter of New Netherland
described the rich bounty of the Hudson River Valley.
For it was here that Dutch traders and settlers found
vast resources of timber, fertile farmlands, ample streams
providing water power for grist and sawmills, and a
native population ready to exchange beaver furs for
useful European goods such as woolen blankets and iron
The Dutch, who in the seventeenth
century were trading all over the world, were drawn
to the upper Hudson River Valley by the potential for
profit through this fur trade. They built a substantial
trading post, Fort Orange, at what is now Albany. They
soon began to establish farms and mills throughout the
area, and the population grew slowly but steadily. The
people we call Dutch were actually a very diverse group
of people from throughout Europe and Africa -- so diverse
that one observer reported at least eighteen different
languages spoken in this "Dutch" colony.
In 1740, Col. Johannes Van Rensselaer
added a cross hall and dining room, upstairs rooms,
and the remainder of the ell extending behind the main
building. A grandson of Johannes made other alterations
early in the 19th century. In 1924, a Van Rensselaer
descendant donated the old house to the State of New
York. During restoration, the State eliminated most
of the 19th-century alterations.
The brick structure was remodeled,
first in the Georgian and then the Federal style, later
in the 18th century. It owes its current appearance
to a restoration undertaken by the state in the early
The words to the "Yankey Song"
were originally written by British army surgeon Richard
Shuckburgh in September 1755 at Fort Crailo NY, set
to the "Doodle-doo" song from "The Beggar's
Opera" by John Gay in 1728. The words were composed
as Dr. Shuckburgh cared for the wounded and observed
the rag-tag colonial militia as it returned to Albany
after the victory of William Johnson's army over the
French at the Battle of Lake George. The satirical verses
were meant to entertain the British officers and his
hosts, the Rensselaers, whose daughter Katrina married
Capt. Philip Schuyler who had fought with Johnson's
British regulars and Col. Phineas Lyman's Connecticut
Crailo was the home of the Patriot
family Van Rensselaer during the American Revolution.
Many members of the family played important roles during
the events of 1777 to help bring about the eventual
surrender of Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga.
Crailo today tells the story of the
early Dutch inhabitants of the upper Hudson Valley through
exhibits highlighting archeological finds from the Albany
Fort Orange excavations, special programs, and guided
tours of the museum. Exhibits focus on the day-to-day
lives of the early Dutch settlers. Included are examples
of household objects, games, furniture, weapons, and
building materials. Also on display are artifacts uncovered
during archaeological digs at the site of Fort Orange,
erected in 1624 near Albany to serve as a trading post
for the first Dutch settlers. A restored kitchen in
the basement is used periodically for open-hearth cooking
Many disputes were recorded in the
minutes of local courts, which offer us a chance to
eavesdrop on the private lives of the early Dutch settlers.
These records seem to bear out Pieter Stuyvesant's lament
that "the people here are grown very wild and loose
in their morals." By combining these documentary
references with archeological material recovered from
local Dutch sites and with images of contemporary paintings
illustrating daily activities, Crailo's exhibits outline
the life-style of the early Dutch settlers.
The house now known as Crailo State
Historic Site is an early Dutch home, probably built
by Hendirck Van Rensselaer in 1705. Originally a part
of the vast landholding called Rensselaerswyck, the
area surrounding Crailo had been developed by Dutch
settlers as early as the 1630s. When this property was
inherited by Hendrick, it included the 1,500 acre Crailo
estate, adjacent lands rented to tenant farmers, and
a 60,000-acre tract down the river at Claverack. Hendrick
received these lands in 1704 as his share in the Manor
or Patroonship of Rensselaerswyck.
With each succeeding era, Crailo was
modified to conform to changing styles and needs. In
1762, John Van Rensselaer, Hendrick's son, built the
east wing and completely remodeled the earlier house
at a time when English and Georgian styles were gradually
replacing the traditional Dutch ways in the Albany area.
Between 1783 and 1828, John's son, John Jeremias Van
Rensselaer, installed new mantels, windows and doorways
reflecting the then fashionable federal style. Later
in the nineteenth century, Crailo was used as a boarding
school for boys, a church rectory, and a factory form
making cinder blocks -- each new use of the building
bringing other changes to its decor.
A family descendant, Susan DeLancey
Van Rensselaer Strong, purchased the house in 1899,
and in 1924 donated it to the State of New York for
development as a museum. Between 1929 and 1933 the building
underwent extensive renovation during which its appearance
was again considerably altered.
Today, Crailo State Historic Site
is a museum relating the history and influence of early
Dutch settlement in the Upper Hudson Valley. Through
its exhibits and special programs, Crailo explains how
the rich Dutch colonial traditions have continued to
mark the region for nearly four centuries. Open mid
April thru October, Wednesday thru Saturday 10 to 5,
Sunday 1 to 5.
Mid - April-October: Wednesday-Sunday,
11:00 a.m.-5: 00 p.m. Tours begin on the hour and half-hour.
Last tour begins at 4:00 p.m. Also open on Tuesdays
in June, July, and August. November-March: by appointment
only, Monday-Friday, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.