Nassau has experienced three distinct periods of development: the initial “discovery” and earliest settlement, the late 18th/early 19th Century development of an established village center and the turn of the 20th Century period of industrial growth.
The earliest inhabitants were Native Americans. The sheltered areas of low, marshy flats along the Valatie Kill was called Ontekekomack by the Indians. A trail extended north toward Burden Lake and south to larger Indian villages along the Kinderhook Creek. A spring of clear, fresh water flowed from the present village center. While the Hudson River Valley witnessed settlement by the Dutch, development of interior land was slow. Never in large numbers, the Dutch farmers were more attracted to the richer lowlands nearer the river than the less desirable areas father inland. Consequently, settlements of lands along the upper Kinderhook and Valatie Kill were a result of westward expansion by New England settlers from the east.
Much of Nassau’s early development is credited to Jonathan Hoag, who along with Moses Vail operated commercial interests and mills in the village. Many of Nassau’s oldest structures date from 1780-1820 and are a result of this initial growth period.
With the establishment of mills, shops and homesteads, Nassau began to develop into a living community of diversified economic stand. No longer tied solely to agriculture, the village hosted a number of business enterprises producing goods for a wider market. New structures were built adjacent to earlier properties, as farmland gave way to homes and shops. The expansion on Elm Street and many of Nassau’s Greek Revival structures date from this period.
With the end of the 19th Century, Nassau saw another burst of growth. Perhaps the “golden age” for the village, this period saw the expansion of factories, a railroad line linking Hudson and Albany and the home of the Rensselaer County Fair. Prior to this period, the area between Malden and Chatham Streets lay empty. Homes, boarding houses and shops were built to accommodate the growing needs of Nassau.
As Nassau enters the 21st Century, most of the usable land has been developed. Unlike many other villages in the area, a remarkable number of original structures remain. These homes, shops and public buildings speak of Nassau’s past, her periods of expansion and the people who made it possible. Today’s generation is charged with the stewardship for future generations. Through the efforts of today, we may enrich the lives of tomorrow.
Contributed by Kurt Vincent, Village Historian and Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission