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Fort Crailo

Crailo, (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 Bush."

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 tools.

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 1930s.

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 militia.

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 demonstrations.

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.

Visiting Crailo

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.

Specifics on visiting Fort Crailo were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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