The Historian is appointed by the Mayor and serves at his pleasure and for the same term. The Historian position is mandated by state law. The incumbent will answer  inquiries about history, work as a consultant to other city departments, encourage the preservation of records and objects related to the history of the city, promote the history of the city, serve as a resource person for the city, when appropriate recommend nominations to the state and national registers of historic places, consult and teach as needed, perform research on history as possible, write and publish material on city history, supervise the Rensselaer City History Center and other duties as assigned by the Mayor.

The current Historian is Victor Bartorsky and he may be reached at (518) 694-3126.  Victor’s email address is [email protected]; and hours are by appointment only.

The Rensselaer City History Center is located on the second floor of City Hall.

History of the City

In the year 1609, Henry Hudson established a Dutch claim to the river valley that would bear his name, and there by enabling, thirty years later, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a prosperous diamond merchant from Hasselt, Holland, to purchase 700,000 acres along both sides of the river and to establish a Manor of Rensselaerswyck.

By 1632, the first east bank settlement, being among the earliest in America and known as DeLaet’s Burg, gathered at the foot of DeLaet’s Mill Creek and Waterfalls. And by the year 1655, DeLaet’s Burg would come to be known as “t’Greyn Bos” or green woods and later Greenbush and continue to grow around one of Kiliaen’s younger son’s home, Crailo, such that, by 1815 it was incorporated as the Village of Greenbush.

The first American railroads found it necessary to link new western lands to the established east, and thus in 1866, the Livingston Avenue, (Albany) bridge was completed, directly joining the shores of the Hudson at East Albany, thereby encouraging development of the lands north of Greenbush. 

During the last decade of the 19th Century, a period of unparalleled American growth and affluence, the Rensselaer County Village of Greenbush and East Albany prospered to the extent that their boundaries became less meaningful and their citizens sought a more efficient means of governing.

Grown and prosperity in adjacent municipalities, demonstrated by the erection of the Town of Colonies, and the proposed incorporation of the city of Watervliet, from the Village of West Troy, the Centennial of the State Capital and construction of the new Capitol Building at Albany and the completion of the Rensselaer County Court House in Troy, encouraged in three Villages to reform and seek a unified municipal structure.

During the 120th Session of the New York State Legislature, at the Old Capitol in Albany, Assemblyman George Anderson of Castleton, in consultation with certain Village officials introduced on the 18th day of February, 1897, in the House of Assembly, “An Act to Incorporate the City of Rensselaer”.

Governor Frank S. Black of Troy did sign and enact on the 23rd day of April, 1897, Chapter 359 and thereby grant to the people a law erecting a new municipality to be known as the “City of Rensselaer”.
The first meeting of the Common Council of the City of Rensselaer was held on Tuesday evening April 27, 1897.

Charles S. Allen, Mayor of the City of Rensselaer called the special session the Common Council for the transitions of general business for Tuesday night April 27th, 1897 at 8:30 p.m.

To the Honorable Board of Common Council of the City of Rensselaer:

Gentlemen, I have the honor to open the first meeting of the Common Council with a gavel which was loaned to me by Mr. Agustus B. Kiernan his gavel has a history with it. It was presented to the father of Mr. Kiernan by Speaker James W. Heusted May 15, 1876. It was used in closing the final session in the Old Capitol and in calling to order the first session in the new Capitol and now used in opening the first session of the Common Council of this our new City of Rensselaer.

The City of Rensselaer at one time was Three Villages: Greenbush, East Albany and Bath.

Greenbush at a Glance:

Hudson River (west); train tracks, Wendell Street, High Street (north and east; Port of Rensselaer (south)

Circa 1630 settlement within the Dutch colony of New Netherlands: 
De Laet’s Burg

Official founding:
1815; absorbed by the City of Rensselaer in 1897

Historical Interest:
Major local and national significance as one of the oldest European settlements and sites of industry in the original 13 colonies; Major interest in being the first American site for manufacturing aspiring; Crailo State Historic Site;

Architectural Variety:
Significant; circa 1740-1920


A Hudson River (west); Washington Avenue and peripheral street (north); Quackenderry Creek gorge (east); Catherine Street vicinity (south)

An 18th Century sulphur spring spa

Official Foundings:
1820; absorbed by the City of Rensselaer in 1897

Historical Interest:
Significant locally, and possibly nationally, due to the sophisticated nature of the sulphur spring spa.

Architectural Variety: 
Significant; circa 1780-circa 1940


Catherine Street (north); Hudson River (west); Quackenderry Creek, Summit Street, etc. (east); Wendell Street, railroad tracks (south) 

Development began after the creation in 1841 of a western terminus for the Western (later Boston & Albany) Railroad on Van Rensselaer Island. It was overseen by the government of Greenbush until absorbed by the City of Rensselaer in 1897.

Historical Interest: 
One of the most important rail centers in the United States in the mid-19th Century architecture.

Information taken from: Three Village, One City Book
By Douglas L. Sinclair (published, 1992) 

This area was part of the Rensselaerwyck manor, established in 1630. The first known European resident is known to have been here by 1630. Rensselaer was originally called Greenbush which means pine trees. In 1686 the County of Albany was formed which included this area. In 1791 the County of Rensselaer was set apart from Albany. In the same year, the Town of Rensselaerwyck was established with the named changed in 1792 to the Town of Greenbush. The Village of Greenbush within the Township of Greenbush was incorporated in 1815. In 1897, Greenbush was chartered as a city and its name was changed to Rensselaer. Its city limits were extended in 1902 by the annexation of the Village of Bath on the Hudson and part of the western part of the town of East Greenbush. In 1932 the Port of Rensselaer was built. This area has had industrial activity for over 375 years. Rensselaer has been one of the most important railroad centers on the continent.

Rensselaer is home to historic Crailo, the only New York State Historic Site devoted to Dutch culture. Rensselaer (then known as Greenbush) was the birthplace (1844) of famed African American sculptress, Edmonia Lewis.

The Rensselaer City History Research Center is under the direction of the City of Rensselaer Historian. It is open to the public.  It was formed by donations, purchases and loans from the City of Rensselaer Historical Society. There have been various and generous donations. Funding has come from the City of Rensselaer, Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, New York State Department of Education, and private sources.
The following is a synopsis of the holdings of the Rensselaer City History Center.

Published Histories

The collection includes the published histories for Rensselaer County and area. There is a copy of Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County (with a separate index) in both printed and searchable CD format, Landmarks of Rensselaer County (with separate index), The Valley of the Hudson by Nelson Green, and Troy and Rensselaer County (with a separate index) by Hayner are also included as is The Capital Region of New York State by Kimball and the Hudson and Mohawk Valley by C. Reynolds.  Histories of Albany city and county are also in the collection. There are books on the Hudson River and regional history. The books: Three Villages /One City and Rensselaer Past and Present are especially about the City of Rensselaer. Copies of these last two books may be purchased at the Rensselaer City Clerk's Office. Rensselaer's Railroads by Ernie Mann has been published by Acadia Press and is available at bookstores and the internet.

Click on link below for BATH-ON-THE -HUDSON-THE EARLY YEARS One of a number of historical collections of F.T. Tompson, H. M. Whish and J.M. Fraser concerning the City of Rensselaer, New York and dedicated to the CITY OF RENSSELAER HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Bath on the Hudson-The Early Years:

Manuscript materials

There are included the records of Rensselaer Mother’s Club 1930-2008, receipts and bills from Stewart’s Drug Store 1911-1921, diary of a railroad worker, store account book., Benjamin Akin papers late 18th century to 1860s. The Sullivan Funeral Home records and Rings Fire Co. records are here to be found. The collection includes materials from the Kiwanis and the Shakespearean Society. There are scattered materials relating to city activities such as sewer planning documents and Bath village tax records. There are also the records of the Eastland Park Association and the family papers of the Thatcher family.

Published genealogy material

Considerable genealogy information can be found in The Capital, and the Yearbooks of the Albany Dutch Settlers society. There are also CD's of births and vital records.

School Records

The records of the Boards of Educations of the various schools and districts are in manuscript form and begin in 1814.  There are also programs, newsletters, some report cards, reports and miscellaneous school materials. Yearbooks from both Rensselaer High School and St. John’s Academy are present.

Other published material

Other published materials include newspapers: The Eagle, Transcript, Independent, Rensselaer County Review, Greenbush Area News as well as the complete run of the Beacon and other scattered newspapers of the 19th century. The papers of the New Netherlands Project and printed materials about New York State history, Dutch colonial history, Native American history, genealogy, American history, biography are represented.

Other items

There are included dissertations, maps, scrapbooks, and many other items. There are over 700 hundred historic photographs, many of which have been copied and hung on the walls at City Hall. Also to found is a cd of the Records of the Town of Greenbush beginning in the 18th century. Also found are county histories from neighboring counties as well as information from Albany City and county.

Church records

Copies of Church records are available for the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Unitarian and Congregational Churches.  Additional material on these and other churches includes programs and and manuscripts.

Fraternal and community organizational records

Copies of the records of the Masonic lodge beginning in 1816 are included. Records of the Oddfellows beginning in 1848 are in the collection.  Additional material from fraternal, political and community organizations can be found in the files.

City Directories

Rensselaer was often included in the City Directories of Albany. The collection contains such directories for the years 1861-2002.

Vertical files

The vertical files are arranged alphabetically by subject and include various subjects related to the city. There is considerable information about the fire companies and the railroads in the files.


The microfilm collection includes microfilm of New York State Census 1855, 65, 75, 1905, 1915. Several newspapers are also on microfilm. There is also a film of a Greenbush Town Justice records and a Schodack 18th century store. There are CDs contain colonial records, genealogy, history etc.

Additional Sources

Click here to view historic photographs

The City Clerk has records related to the City of Rensselaer, Bath on the Hudson and Greenbush. These include official minutes, births, deaths, marriages, and government operations. There are also records in the Treasurers and Assessors office. Other depositories include Rensselaer County Historical Society, Rensselaer County Clerk’s Office, New York State Library and Archives, Albany Institute of History and art, and others.


Click for the Walter Miller Diary 1869-1889

Click here to View the History Center pamphlet

Some web sites:

Crailo Historic Site

Edmonia Lewis Web Page

Rensselaer County Historical Society

Rensselaer Dye Industry

Bath on the Hudson Blog

Rensselaer Co. Genealogy (WebGen)