Hoags Corners was a rural industrial complex tucked into a cleft or hollow in the western edge of the Rensselaer Platteau.
My second hometown is a hamlet in eastern Rensselaer County. It is nearly the last place I lived, but we were there longer than any place else - longer even than the place I grew up, Gilbertsville. I had left that village by the time I was 19, more or less, and having moved there at four years of age, that comes to about 15 years, and that in two different houses.
We lived in the same house in Hoags Corner for all of 16 years, and though the experiences were very different, I would have to consider this as much a hometown as any of them.
An early view, circa 1880, of the upper part of the hamlet, revealing several old mills and a mill pond. For a later view of the tall mill in the center, after the flood of 1889, click on the image.
The place had a lot of history - both the 1800 farmhouse we lived in and the hamlet, founded about 1790. It was started for the water power, and the stream - Tsatsawassa - ran through every property down the narrow hollow, including ours. It was looked at as just a trout stream by most people, but for me living in the past took on a real new dimension in that place.
Researching our own house and land, which included the ruins of an old tannery, the site of an old foundry, and two mill dams, got me out on the landscape connecting deeds, maps, and other documents to lines of rocks, bits of foundation, and old stone walls.
The huge tannery had long since vanished, but the foundations and other evidence remained, clinging to the edge of the stream on a narrow bit of land defended by stone walls thrown up long before the Civil War.
The reason so little evidence remained of this once complex industrial center was to be found in the geology of the hollow itself. It was so steep-sided and narrow that floods were frequent and destructive.
An early view, circa 1889, of the lower part of the hamlet, revealing some of the erosion from recent flooding.
The result was a guide for local historians on how to research early rural industrial complexes when no significant architectural remains survive. This was good training for a similar project on the Bennington Battlefield of 1777 a few years later.
Copies may still be available.
But there was another depth of historic association there - the Anti-Rent War of 1844-45. In this community some unique and significant events happened associated with that rebellion of the tenant farmers all around the region against the strangle hold of the old "Patroon" system, where landlords leased parcels in return for rent paid in labor and crops.
The farmers dressed in Indian disguises patterned after the Boston Tea Party, and undertook a sort of rural terrorist campaign to prevent the Sheriff and the agents of the landlords from evicting farmers who refused to, or could not, pay the rents.
This theme was selected for the creation of an annual 4th of July Community Festival, which we named after the doctor who led the rebellion from a small settlement just to the north of Hoags Corners. His real name was Smith Boughton, but his disguised name was "Big Thunder".
This celebration had a parade, costumed reenactments, picnics, a muzzleloader shoot, and lots of traditional summer fun, with an historical overtone. It was something right out of the 19th century, and in an authentic setting. Lots of people came to experience it - a little glimpse of something out of the past.
That festival ran from 1983 to 1993, and there are children out that way to this day who think July 4th is really "Big Thunder Day".
Go to "Hoags Corners: Then & Now"