The Poesten Kill is a mid-sized stream that flows off the Rensselaer Plateau in western Rensselaer County toward the Hudson River. It tumbles through Barbersville Falls and winds its way through the towns of Poestenkill and Brunswick, before reaching the Great Falls above Troy. Below there it’s channeled into a long-abandoned canal (hence Canal Street in Troy) that flows into the Hudson.
In the earliest recorded times, fresh drinking water was acquired from the Poesten Kill and from a spring on Hollow Road in Troy (now Spring Avenue, later the farm of Stephen J. Schuyler).
In 1800, the Patroon (then Stephen Van Rensselaer, the eighth and second to last Patroon of Rensselaerswyck) conveyed the rights to the spring to Dr. Israel Clark, of West Windsor, N. J. Clark built a small reservoir and collected payments for use of the water.
In 1812 the Earthen Conduit Company of Troy was given the rights to pipe the water into the community and two years later they dropped the “Earthen” and used new iron pipes made in Connecticut.
The folks at the Lansingburgh Historical Society relate the following history:
“In the spring of 1833, the construction of a dam and reservoir was begun, which, on their completion in 1834, had a capacity of 448,838 gallons of water, which was distributed through the city by about four miles of pipes. Not long afterward, the second and third reservoirs were constructed, having an aggregate capacity of 1,000,000 gallons. In 1843 and 1853, other reservoirs were constructed on the Piscawen Kill, west and east of Oakwood Avenue. The total cost of the Troy Water Works, on March 1st, 1848, was $160,496.37. There were then 59,497 feet of pipes through which water was supplied the inhabitants.”
Upstream, farther east, the village of Poestenkill also had a spring on what when then Bath Street (now Back Street), at the base of Poole Hill just east of the Liberty Lane bridge. It became a center of sorts for those looking to “take the waters” some time before 1812, when Dr. Matthew Moody erected several bath houses here. The springs must have attracted a large number of visitors, because historians report that “boarding houses for the ill were found around town.”
The spring waters were used to relieve neuralgia or erysipelas, an inflammatory skin condition. Dr. Moody also offered this remedy to be taken along with the mineral baths:
8 oz. Spirit of Nitre ½ oz. Oil of Oreganum
1 oz. gum camphor ½ oz. Spirit of Salammonia
1 oz. Oil of Turpentine 12 oz. alcohol
1 large spoonful laudanum
To be applied with the hand, well rubbed on. Good for man and beast.
In 1814, one or more mill ponds upstream of the village of Poestenkill burst after a heavy two-day rain. The flood swept away the springs and several buildings including a tannery operated by John Beals, seven other buildings, the boarding houses and several bath houses then run by Dr. Moody.
One of the bath houses ended up near a farm downstream and was then used as a summer kitchen by the people who lived there. Another was carried by the flood to a second home where it was connected and used as a bedroom. Also destroyed where the homes of shoemaker Krum, Luther Childs, Dr. Moody, Ellis Foster, and Otis Goold, none of whom rebuilt at the hamlet. (The paper mill on the nearby Wynants Kill was also destroyed in this flood.)
The flood changed the look of the village of Poestenkill. Not just because the older colonial style dwellings were then replaced with federal and Greek revival styles but the environmental surroundings as well. Before the flood the hamlet stood on the north side of the kill. Afterward, it stood on the same spot, but now the kill was to the north, having changed its course.
This essay was drawn from John Warren’s The Poesten Kill: Waterfalls to Waterworks (History Press, 2009) copies of the book are available here.
Read more about the history of floods in Rensselaer County.
Illustration: Joseph Hidley’s townscape of Poestenkill village, dated May 10, 1862; an 1870s map of Poestenkill Village with “sulpher springs” near the bottom right.