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The Past Informs the Future

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Written by Brenda Shufelt

The image "Penfield 1799..." is from the Penfield map at the Columbia County Historical Society done in 1799.

This month we focus on how the power of water has been harnessed throughout Claverack's history and how that informs plans for our former Town Hall site.

The Present: The Town of Claverack recently moved from its site on Route 217 & Roxbury Road to temporary offices in the old Claverack Library at Routes 23B and 9H. The Town Board is considering several sites for the new Town Hall including the site of the former Town Hall, which has important historic roots in Philmont/Mellenville’s long mill history. If we build on the 217 & Roxbury site the Town also will consider whether a new building should be constructed on that site or whether the current building can be rehabbed.

This project has become a major focus area for our Climate Smart Claverack Committee. Whatever iteration our Town, including the public through their input, decides upon we will be supporting this process to ensure our new Town Hall will be a hallmark of green building. From our research so far we are confident that this is the perfect time for a truly Climate Smart building. There is a lot of grant funding for green building at this time and the work of the Climate Smart Committee to achieve Bronze certification actually opens the Town up to many of those grants.

The image "from Bird's Eye...." is from a map of that title done in 1881.

With the site at Route 217 and Roxbury Road, utilizing hydropower is (literally!) a natural choice. One visit to the dam, in the back of the current town hall/garage building, makes it clear that there is a great potential for hydropower. In fact, an engineer visited the site with John Bradley, chair of the Climate Smart Committee, and stated that they are quite positive that hydropower can be harnessed from the dam directly behind the building. The potential for hydropower on the Town land, which abuts the Columbia Land Conservancy’s High Falls Trail, is very exciting.

Let’s look at the history to see how it can inform our present:

The Past: A series of “mill privileges” along Agawamuck Creek were given or sold to early settlers. Dams could then be built providing waterpower for grist, saw, and fulling mills. The old town hall site began in 1798 as a gristmill owned by Samuel Ten Broeck and William Philip. In 1849 it became a paper mill. The dam, and its potential for contemporary hydropower, remains to this day. In 1869 the Rogers Paper Mill was rebuilt after a fire. Paper mill businesses ran on this site until another fire in 1946. This time, the building was destroyed. Herbert Harder purchased the site and rebuilt the former boiler room as a garage. In 1962 the Town of Claverack purchased the site. The current building boasts an industrial archeologist's dream: the wall of the historic boiler room remains intact as well as a wall in the side of the creek with buttresses built to withstand a flood if High Falls Dam broke. There are also the ruins of the paper mill on the bank of the creek and much of the dam and some of the walkway over it remain.

The Future: The Climate Smart Committee has researched possible hydropower use for a new Town Hall AND the possibility of a Town Hall Park on part of the 2-acre parcel. This would preserve some of the paper mill remains to highlight Philmont's industrial history and would serve as a connector to the Columbia Land Conservancy's High Falls Conservation Area! Additionally, these green building/public space factors increase the possibility of state or federal funding and eligibility for grants.

To learn more about the Town Hall site's history you can check out Looking for Work: Industrial Archeology in Columbia County, New York : The Emergence and Growth of Local Industry as Revealed in Surviving Sites and Structures by Peter H. Stott from your local library.

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