Clinton’s Big Ditch and the Rexfords and Knowltons

Clinton’s Big Ditch and the Rexfords and Knowltons

Rexford Knowlton Cemetery historic markerHow much do you know about the Erie Canal? Did you realize that it went right through Rexford and Clifton Park along the Mohawk River? When it was completed in 1825, the canal was considered one of the wonders of the new world and was a sense of intense pride to New York and the nation. The Erie Canal was more than twice as long as any canal in Europe and boasted heroic feats of engineering including dramatic aqueducts like the one built at Rexford.

According to Doris Schaus of the Rexford family, at the time of the planning, Edward Rexford was an acquaintance of Governor Dewitt Clinton and helped, through his political connections, to encourage stopovers and other amenities at his village of Rexford Flats along the canal.

There is no doubt about the amazing influence that the canal had on the lives along its route including the community of Rexford Flats and the Town of Clifton Park. The Rexford family was instrumental in helping to shape the economy, culture, character, and identity of what became our community.

The Rexford House still stands as a monument to our heritage on the southwest corner of Rt. 146 and Riverview Road today. The Knowltons, a family who owned the land where the present-day Edison Club is located, were intermarried with the Rexfords, and together they were buried in a family plot on Riverview Road. Eventually, many of the tombstones were moved to Vale Cemetery in Schenectady.

A new historic marker will be erected in June 2016 at what was the site of the Rexford Flats Cemetery across the road from the Edison Club. At a town board meeting, descendants of these two families, Barbara Scott from Chicago and Jackie Crucien from Pennsylvania, will be gifting the sign to the Town of Clifton Park as a memorial to honor the importance of their families in helping to shape our community of today.

So as you drive by the new marker, be sure to take a look and remember the significance of the Erie Canal and the families of our past in shaping our lives of today.

 

 

Tourist Oriented Directional Signs

Tourist Oriented Directional Signs

DSCN3074 Brand new on the Byway are experimental signs known to traffic engineers as tourism oriented directional (TOD) signs. This set of signs located near the intersection of Riverview Road and Sugar Hill Road are intended to reinforce that the traveler is still on the Mohawk Towpath Byway. The second sign post, further in the distance, is meant to suggest the traveler visit the scenic overlook of Lock 7 Dam.

It is important to the Byway that we have a balance between developments on the byway and maintaining our natural, historic and scenic resources.  This is another example of the need to bring attention to our resources with out over doing the number of signs on the Byway.

We would really like your thoughts on the new signs:

  • Did you know we have a scenic over look at the foot of Sugar Hill Road?
  • Did you know that this is the most western access to the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve?
  • Have you visited the interpretive sign located at the Overlook?
  • Do you know the historic significance of the “young engineer’s cut?”
  • Do these signs contribute to the Byway experience or are they too much?

The signs were purchased as a part of our federally funded interpretive sign project and  installed recently by the Clifton Park Highway Department.

If successful we will also be installing similar signs on the Cohoes Crescent Road to bring attention to the historic military crossing at what is now the site of the Crescent Dam.  Both of these sites are interpreted by local voices on the Byway’s self guided cell phone tour:  Lock 7 Overlook is 649-9990 stop 6  and the Old Military Crossing in stop 11.

 

 

Retreat!

The Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition is a regional partnerships of communities that balances the promotion of local interests with the protection of scenic, historic, recreational, natural, and agricultural recourses.

So begins our Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Business Plan of 2013 – 2014.  Our major objectives are:

  • Inform and Promote the Byway
  • Protect and Enhance Byway Resources
  • Build and Reinforce Partnerships
  • Refine Internal Operations
  • Build Transportation Partnerships

Are these objectives still relevant today?

Please join us on Friday, March 18, 2016, at 9:00 AM at the Halfmoon Town Hall to map out our course to meet our vision for the next five years.  It is hoped that a majority of the Board of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition will be participating.  The public is invited and encouraged to share in this process.

Lunch will be provided as we wrap up the session.

Towpath Trail

TowpathHalfmoon

– photo by Halfmoon crew

Construction on the Towpath Connecting Trail has started!  Town of Halfmoon crews are clearing the path from Canal Road under I-87 Northway Bridges and working west toward Wagers Pond outlet.

Town of Clifton Park crews are working east from the Water Authority Access Road and historic Clutes Dry Dock area approaching Wagers Pond Outlet from the other direction.

The whole point of these efforts is to have clearing complete before the nesting season begins, typically at the beginning of April.

A Google map of the progress is here… [if I can keep up the pace with documentation].  This Project was one of the major recommendations that came in the Mohawk Towpath Byway’s Corridor Management Plan when it was accepted twelve years ago.  Not only will the reconstructed trail join our two municipalities at the remote southern boundary, it  will open up recreational opportunities worthy of a world class recreational destination and will complete one of our principal stories.   It’s the story of the Erie Canal, the Waterway West and the role our communities played in the westward expansion of the country and in the Industrial Revolution.  Wagers Pond Outlet is very close to one of the sites in the Mohawk River that was source of native people’s folklore, but that’s another story for another day.

Protect Our Communities’ Gateways

DSCN0093Gateways to our communities should make a statement that the traveler has arrived, further, that this place is special and unique.

Most of us enter our area once or twice a day using a I-87 Northway exit 7, 8, 8A or 9.  Look around these locations that we take for granted the next time you arrive.  They are really no different or unique than any other gateway to any other commercial center in North America.

Then enter our community on the Byway.  We experience something like entering the door to our home that the family uses.  It is much more intimate and unique.  A good example of this is the entrance to the city of Schenectady on Aqueduct Road.  You have passed through the more rural areas of Niskayuna and enter the well kept urban neighborhood of northern Schenectady.  You have arrived.

The Byway’s newest gateway is Erie Boulevard as travelers enter downtown Schenectady from I-890.  This newly reconstructed entrance to the downtown area has a calming effect on the traveler and exudes the sense and atmosphere that you have arrived at a special place: The City of Innovation and the Mohawk Towpath Byway.

Driving into Niskayuna from Saratoga County.  What do you see?  First of all you may be waiting in a traffic on the bridge with water on either side.  Most likely there is something going on in the Mohawk River that you don’t see at other gateways.  As the light changes you might notice one of the historic stone arches where the historic traveller might have passed either over or through.  Going the other way on Route 146 you are entering a community that has changed only a little in the last hundred years.  Granted you no longer navigate around the McClane Hotel, but the the historic community of Rexford on your left and the old canal store, now the Schenectady Yacht Club, on the right is very much like it was a century and a half ago.DSCN0095

When Rexford’s Stewart’s Shop was constructed a decade ago someone had a bright idea to include a gateway sign the same as all the other gateways to Town that read, “Welcome to Clifton Park, a nice place to live work and play.”  Fortunately, that sign didn’t last to long.  The community wanted something unique leading to the tactful sign that’s there today.  There may be a new store there but the character of the gateway is maintained.

As reconstruction of the Rexford Bridge progresses this spring watch how this gateway evolves.

[Also see the blog entry Gateway Signs posted sometime after the Scenic Conservation Action Plan was adopted.]

Greetings

Greetings

Holiday GreetingsHappy Holidays to the Volunteers that make the Mohawk Towpath Byway what it is today and to all of those who live, work and play within the Byway corridor.  We had a very productive and exciting 2015 as we celebrated our tenth year as one of America’s Byways®.

May we all have a prosperous, exciting and rewarding New Year!  Join in our festivities starting with a Family Moonlight Ski on the evening of January 21, 2016.

Scenic Conservation

As part of the stewardship of the corridor of our Mohawk Towpath Byway we need to continually update the Scenic Conservation Action Plan that we adopted several years ago. This is a living document that guides our vision of what we want the Byway to look like for future generations.  As we see changes happening along the corridor we need to gain a broad public understanding of what we want our communities, our Byway to look like as we hand stewardship off to the next generation.

We are building on accomplishment by our member municipalities including riverfront studies, open space studies, rezoning, refining Master Plans, new proposed projects, and – in some cases – all of the above.  Two  projects currently proposed will have a profound impact on the Byway: the proposed redevelopment of the historic American Locomotive manufacturing (ALCO) site in Schenectady and the proposed expansion of the Colonie Landfill.

Less than a century ago Schenectady was known as the city that lit and moved the world with General Electric at one end of the city and ALCO at the other.  Steam locomotives of all sizes and shapes came from Schenectady and as Diesel electric locomotives slowly replaced steam, ALCO lead the way.

ALCO

American Locomotive Company in the heyday of steam.

Currently the historic site is being repurposed by the Galesi Group as they transform this area to a tourist destination. The process started with a “brownfield” project to remove historic contamination from over a century of heavy manufacturing.  MohawkHarborALCO

A harbor was constructed off the Mohawk River and Erie Canal.  A bike and pedestrian path is funded, a Marriott Hotel is under construction, a major gambling casino is proposed along with residential, commercial and retail space.

Plans are to have David Buicko, one of the principals of the Galesi Group, as a guest speaker at the next meeting of the Mohawk Towpath Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition.  Be there January 21 in Clifton Park.

Canal and towpath between Cohoes and Crescent

The Erie Canal just west of the “widewaters” in the Town of Colonie. The towpath in the foreground became the Cohoes Crescent Road in the 1920s.

Another proposal is to expand the Colonie Landfill footprint further north with operations adjacent to the Cohoes Crescent Road segment of the Byway. Historic photographs show this area in a pastural setting, not that much different than one would see with a well maintained landfill cap.ColonieLanfillProposal

The proposal would extend the life of the landfill another 20 years and create a mountain up to an elevation of over 500 feet dominating the Cohoes Crescent Road (at elevation of about 190 feet) with a landscape compared to that of local ski slopes. Public meetings on the proposal will be required before New York State finalizes a landfill permit.

An important part of either of these projects is to gain community input.

Your opinions and perspectives are important to the Mohawk Towpath Byway, to those who are making decisions about changes within our communities, and to those who will be inheriting our stewardship.  Make sure your voice is heard.