The name Niskayuna is said to be derived from the Connestigione Indians who occupied the locality at the coming of the Dutch in about 1642, twenty years before Arendt van Curler founded Schenectady. The name, meaning “extensive corn flats,” evolved from the original “Canastagione.” What we now know as Niskayuna was once part of a much larger area. When the first settlers arrived here in the 1600s, these Indians occupied land on both sides of the Mohawk River including the current hamlets of Alplaus and Rexford and an area reaching as far east as Latham Corners in the Town of Watervliet (now Colonie) and the Stockade area of the City of Schenectady.
When the County of Schenectady was carved from Albany County on March 6, 1809, much of Niskayuna’s original area was ceded to other towns. Niskayuna, with just 681 residents, became one of the five towns and one city that comprised the new County of Schenectady. Adjustments to its western boundary made in the early 20th century decreased the Town’s area to its current 15.1 square miles.
In 1664, Harmon Vedder built the first home erected in Niskayuna. In 1687, the Van Antwerp Farm emerged at what is now 1727 Van Antwerp Road. In 1746, one of a line of blockhouses, ranging from Fort Massachusetts to Fort Hunter was built in Niskayuna by Governor George Clinton. In 1835, the Craig Hotel was built on Aqueduct Road.
In 1799, the Albany-Schenectady Turnpike (now Route 5) was built through Niskayuna and tolls were still being collected in 1886. The route of the Turnpike was laid out by surveyor Lawrence Vrooman, who became Niskayuna’s first Town Supervisor in 1809.
When built in 1805, a bridge across the Mohawk River at Rexford was known as Alexander’s Bridge, and two mills built by the same person were called Alexander’s Mills, the earliest name for the center of what grew to become a hamlet. As of 1822, the Erie Canal crossed the river into Niskayuna at Alexander’s Mills on an aqueduct 748 feet long and 25 feet above the stream. From that time onward, the hamlet became known as Aqueduct. There were two locks on the Canal between Schenectady and the hamlet of Rexford in the Saratoga County town of Clifton Park.
In 1843, the Troy and Schenectady Railroad was built along the Mohawk River with a station in the Aqueduct hamlet and another, still standing, in the Niskayuna hamlet. Halfway between these was the Rosendale hamlet opposite Niska Isle. In 1975 the Town acquired the Railroad’s abandoned right-of-way and converted it into a hike and bike trail.
In 1886 the Edison Machine works was founded in nearby Schenectady when Thomas Edison bought the abandoned buildings of the McQueen Locomotive Works from the descendants of Niskayuna resident Charles Stanford and moved his factory from New York City to Schenectady. The electrical industry was born in Schenectady and led to a dramatic increase in population in the City and in the Town of Niskayuna.
The Reformed Church of Niskayuna, organized about 1750, moved a short distance to its current location on Troy Road near the Colonie border in 1852. It is one of two Niskayuna sites listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. The other is the George Westinghouse Jones home on the corner of Troy Road and St. David’s Lane, now the education center of the First Baptist Church.~[Editorial note: A third was added in 2010, a former one-room schoolhouse and later Grange Hall on Rosendale Road. The building is now owned by the Town of Niskayuna.]
In 1762, John Duncan (1722–1791) acquired an estate of about 800 acres of Niskayuna land in an area now known as Stanford Heights, named after the 1859 owners of part of that acreage. The Stanfords were the parents of Governor Leland Stanford of California and State Senator Charles Stanford of Schenectady. Duncan’s first home on the property was called The Hermitage, but it burned down in 1790. In about 1817 a second home, 100 yards to the north, was built by Hermanus Schuyler who later became Town Supervisor. Called Locust Grove by the senior Stanfords, the Stanford Mansion now sits on only 12.4 acres, all that is left of Duncan’s original 800. The property became the Ingersoll Memorial Home for the aged from 1922 until 2008 when the institution moved to a new and larger home on Consaul
Prominent in the town 150 or more years ago were families whose names are still used to designate streets and places in Schenectady County: Bradt, Burger, Clute, Consaul, Craig, Cregier, Glen, Green, Groot, Lansing, Maxon, Mesick, Pearse, Reist, Scheckelman, Schoolcraft, Schopmeier / Shopmyer, Spoor, Stanford, Van Antwerp, Van Vranken, Vedder / Veeder, Viele, Vrooman / Vroman, Wemple, Winne, and Zenner.
Public transportation linked Niskayuna to areas to the north and east. By 1920, trolleys from Schenectady made their way up Union Street, once called Niskayuna Street, out the Troy Road to the east past many “stops” to Troy. Trolleys also ran along Van Vranken Avenue and up the newly created Grand Boulevard to Van Antwerp Road. They also ran along Aqueduct Road crossing the Mohawk River into Rexford and then north to Saratoga Springs.
The crossroads of Niskayuna, very close to the geographic center of the town, is the intersection of two streets that are each named for a clergyman whose first name was Eliphalet: Nott Street and Balltown Road. Nott Street was named for Rev. Eliphalet Nott (1773-1866), a clergyman, inventor, and president of Union College for 62 years. In 1785, a few miles north of Niskayuna, Rev. Eliphalet Ball (c. 1727-1797), a third cousin of George Washington, founded Ball’s Town, known as Ballston in Saratoga County. The road south from there, Ball’s Town Road, soon became “Balltown Road.” It comes into Niskayuna at the Rexford Bridge, crosses Nott Street and then Union Street, and continues past the Stanford Mansion to State Street.
After many years of meeting in an upstairs room of a fire station, the town government moved to a new building of its own on Balltown Road in 1950. With two further expansions it served the town for 44 years until a much larger Town Hall was completed on an extension of Nott Street in 1995.
Niskayuna is home to several institutions that have long and distinguished histories of their own: television station CBS6 (formerly WRGB), the Grand Boulevard Fire Company, the Mohawk Golf Club, Bellevue Woman’s Care Hospital, the Schenectady Curling Club, General Electric’s Global Research Laboratory, the research laboratory of Schenectady International, and the Knolls Atomic Power laboratory.
In 1962, Niskayuna became a town of the First Class, a formal state designation, and then in 1975, attained a status of still higher autonomy, that of Suburban Town. Niskayuna now offers all of the services of a city, and with its population of 20,295 according to the 2000 census, the town is more populous than 35 of New York State’s cities and is still growing.
Edwin D. Reilly, Jr., President, Schenectady County Historical Society
Supervisor, Town of Niskayuna, 1970-1979; 1989-1997.
Francis Taormina, retired Niskayuna Central School District administrator