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Schenectady County History

schenectady county 1810

(First known map of Schenectady County from 1810)

Schenectady County was incorporated on March 7, 1809 when the Towns of Niskayuna, Duanesberg, Princetown, and the City of Schenectady, all part of Albany County at the time, came together. The Towns of Glenville and Rotterdam were incorporated at later dates and were originally wards within the City.

The name Schenectady is believed to be derived from the Iroquois word Schau-naugh-ta-da, which is translated to "over the pine plains," or "across the pine plains.” It is said it was applied to the place where Schenectady now stands, as being over the plains from Albany.

While Schenectady County was incorporated in 1809, our history goes back much further. In June, 1661, Arndt Van Corlaer and 14 others applied to Governor Stuyvesant for permission to purchase from the Mohawk Tribe the "Great Flat," a tract of land on the lower Mohawk. Permission was granted and the land was bought the following month. The earliest European settlers of Schenectady County came from the Netherlands.

Schenectady County is now comprised of five towns - Duanesburg, Glenville, Niskayuna, Princetown, and Rotterdam, the City of Schenectady, and two Villages – Delanson and Scotia.

Schenectady County’s Governing Bodies

When the first recorded meeting of the Schenectady County Board of Supervisors was called to order on Tuesday, October 3, 1809 the presiding officer was General William North, a leader of the opposition to the formation of the county. The supervisors for the wards and towns were chosen and North represented Duanesburg. Elected moderator, he presided until he left to take his seat in the State Assembly where he was made Speaker. He was the only Speaker of the Assembly from Schenectady County until the late Speaker, Oswald D. Heck, first wielded the gavel in 1937.

Members of the Original Board of Supervisors

WILLIAM NORTH Duanesburg, Moderator

Second Ward
ALEXANDER McMICHAEL Third Ward (now Rotterdam)
JAMES BOYD Fourth Ward (now Glenville)

Over the years, as Schenectady County’s population exploded, the Board of Supervisors expanded to include fourteen wards.

In 1964, The Schenectady County Charter Commission was established, to propose major modifications to the existing County charter. In 1965, Schenectady County residents voted to abolish the former of wards, supervisors, and chairmen, and to create a home rule charter providing: an appointed County Manager; a Board of Representatives elected from districts; elected district attorney, county clerk and sheriff ; appointed medical examiner and other departments; and a clearly defined budgeting program.

On January 1, 1966, the Schenectady County Board of Representatives appointed a county manger at its organizational meeting; the next day Theodore Birbilis took the oath of office as the first Schenectady County Manager. Birbilis was the former county auditor and former finance director for the City of Schenectady.

Over the years since first enacted, Schenectady County’s Charter has undergone many amendments and modifications, as does any governing document. In 1987, The Board of Representatives became the County Legislature. The legislature was originally comprised of fifteen members, and was reduced to thirteen members in 1991 due to shrinking population. In 2001, the Legislature was restored to its present number of fifteen members.

What’s In a Name?

Delanson, formed in 1893, was named for the company responsible for its expansion – the Delaware and Hudson Railroad. The name comes from the first three letters of “Delaware” (Del), the first two of “and” (an), and added the last three letters of “Hudson” (son).

Duanesburg, formed in 1788, is named for the owner of the town’s original patent holder, Hon. Judge James Duane.

Glenville, formed in 1820, was named for the original patentee, Sander Leendertse Glen, who settled there around 1658.

Niskayuna, formed in 1809, derives its name from an Algonkian-Mohawk Indian word “Canastagione,” which was said to refer to “corn fields” or “corn flats.”

Princetown, formed in 1798, was named after John Prince, the then member of Assembly "for the township of Schenectady, in the county of Albany."

Rotterdam, formed in 1820, and is named after the celebrated city of that name in Holland, the native land of its original settlers.

Schenectady – there is much debate over the origins of this unique name. A French-born American lawyer, Peter Stephen Du Ponceau had a command of many different European languages and was also an expert on Indian dialects. In an 1822 letter to George W. Featherstonhaugh, Du Ponceau explained that the name the Dutch picked for the small village they settled on the Mohawk River was probably Sgachnectatich. "It is, in my opinion, entirely Indian without any addition from the Dutch language," Du Ponceau wrote to Featherstonhaugh. He went on to add that "the English, you know, always drop the guttural ‘ch’, which they cannot pronounce; therefore they pronounced the word Scanectati, Skanectady or Schenectady. I have no doubt that this is the true and only true etymology of the famous name of your famous town." Du Ponceau surmised that the name’s origin was from the Onondaga or Mohawk people, and referred to a "Hollander" or "Dutchman," but the standard meaning most often used today is "beyond the pine plains," or some variation of it.

Scotia, formed in 1904, is the Latin word for “Scotland”. It was so named around 1658 by its original settler, Sander Leendertse Glen, after his native land.

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