"Targeting" Our History
by Don Rittner

Here we go again. Big corporate vanilla box store to demolish local history. How many times do we need to read this headline before people get fed up and start electing people that appreciate their heritage instead of the almighty buck?

In case you missed it, Target (Dayton-Hudson Corp from Minneapolis), the nation's No. 3 discount retailer plans on demolishing an important historic home in East Greenbush, although it relates to the little hamlet of Defreestville or Blooming Grove of the Town of North Greenbush. Seems like the local politicos in both towns have no problem with that.

Nigro Companies wants to build a Target store on the NW corner of the intersection of Route 4 and Third Avenue Ext, part of which is occupied by a brick house that has been there for 162 years, and until recently used by LaCorte Companies, Inc. The Defreest/Church house, a Greek Revival period house of 1834 or 1840 is scheduled to be demolished soon if the developer has his way. The house is eligible for the National Register although no one seems to have nominated it. The building has been in use and in good shape (renovated in 1995) so you can't use the argument that it's falling down. Nope, the plain simple reason is the developer didn't give one iota to the significance of the building. It's in the way of their plan, plain and simple. While the house has been remodeled, much of the original interior seems to be intact.

According to local historians, the house was used as a rent collecting office during the Anti-Rent Wars by Colonel Walter S. Church, who purchased the property from the sons of Stephen Van Rensselaer, the last patroon, and tried to continue the tradition of collecting ground rents from the tenants. The Anti Rent wars of the 1860's put an end to the old land feudal system that was started back in 1630 by Kiliaen Van Rensselaer.

Church was a copperhead, (pro Confederate during the Civil War) and moved to Albany after the war and was very influential in local democratic politics. He became a colonel in charge of the local militia and purchased a number of the farm leaseholds from Van Rensselaer. The on going rent wars were then directed at him (as opposed to Van Rensselaer). Ironically, he used his own troops to enforce his private rent debts. We know that in Albany County his troops were met by resistance from the Calico Indians (the anti renters dressed in costume) and probably happened here as well.

Before Church owned the site it was the farm of Cornelius VanJeveren in 1788, and later a brick house, now the 'target', was built and became owned by the Defreest family, probably descendants of David or Philip DeFreest from Albany, namesake of DeFreestville.

There is opposition to loosing this important piece of the town's history but you know how that goes. I have been told that members of the town's historical society (or town historian) were told they could write a letter but not speak at a hearing! The site is next to the Shoppes at Greenbush and the Rensselaer County shopping center. So, one of the few remaining historic buildings in East Greenbush will disappear for a Target store. You realize that when the Target store disappears in a few years, the town will be stuck with a large vanilla box unable to rent since these boxes are designed specifically for their needs only.

I have also been told that the developers are saying the radius of the turn around if they left the house would take extra minutes for an emergency vehicle to enter. Now there's a stretch of the imagination.

It seems the town is bent on demolishing this historic building. It's sad that a community is so hard up that it will do anything for a developer including wiping out its own history. When Crossgates bullied their way into Albany and Guilderland they still had to preserve a very important endangered Karner Blue Butterfly locale that is still surviving, not to mention cough up $300,000 for land acquisition. Rotterdam Mall in Schenectady County had to preserve right next to its main door entrance the Veeder family cemetery. If these two local malls can preserve some of the important natural and human history of their community, what is the problem with East Greenbush? Not only can the town and developer save the building, they have an opportunity to turn it into a visitors center or small museum about the anti rent war. Why not try to be a partner in saving the town's history instead of becoming a villain by destroying it?