Olden Time - Chapter
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin. From the book entitled, "Ye Olden Time, as compiled from the Coxsackie News of 1889" written by Robert Henry Van Bergen, together with notations by Rev. Delber W. Clark, and edited by Francis A. Hallenbeck, 1935
Another Great Benefit lost to Coxsackie
The establishment of a Botanical garden in this town, by a gentleman from abroad, was another enterprise much discussed in the early part of the century. This gentleman sought a location in our village, and this enterprise, too, proved a miserable failure. A detailed account of the undertaking, and a short history of the principal projector, may not now be very interesting to many of us, but yet, as a part of the common history of the town, it has its value. And if the writer of these articles, may sometimes be tempted to diverge or digress from strictly local matter, as in this case, he trusts that any digression in this way will be overlooked.
It seems that early in the century, Amos Eaton a self-educated man, particularly well versed in the natural sciences, geology, botany and mineralogy, and who was a civil engineer and surveyor as well, emigrated from Massachusetts into New York State, and located near Troy. There were at that period but few men in our state who had made the study of natural science a specialty and Amos Eaton and Lewis C. Beck, of Albany, were pioneers in that department of study and investigation. Amos Eaton in fact published the first works on botany and mineralogy, used as text books in the schools of our State, and being thus prominent he early attracted the notice of Stephen Van Rensselaer, the first Patroon of Albany, a gentleman remarkable for his efforts in many directions, to advance the education of the masses. Eaton, with limited resources only at his command, conceived very soon after his arrival in New York State, in furtherance of his love for botanical pursuits, the establishment of a botanical garden. He came to Coxsackie in pursuit of a location for that enterprise, but for some reason his attention was directed down the river, and he located in the valley of the Catskills on some land well adapted to his purpose.
But at last he was unable, having only small capital, to meet his liabilities; and in devising ways and means to replenish his exchequer he was guilty of some underground work, which made him criminally liable. He was pursued by the authorities, indicted, tried and convicted, and landed in State prison for some two years. The grandfather of the writer, was one of the grand jury which indicted him. Upon his liberation, the Patroon of Albany, well knowing the attainment and value of the man, employed him, with a number of assistants, to traverse a belt of the State of New York, having the Erie canal for its central line. The Patroon paid all expenses and supplied all the appliances while the work was in progress. Their main work was to make a geological and mineralogical survey of that section of the state, to examine the location and position of rocks and minerals, the quality of soils in reference to their adaptation to agricultural or other purposes, to examine quarries and mines, and the processes for working them; in fact to gather up all that appeared to be available and valuable for public lectures, on natural and experimental science, before such audiences as they might extemporize during the progress of their labors.
This expedition was very useful and very successful in developing the resources of that part of the State. The Patroon was of course abundantly well satisfied with the results, and at once resolved to continue the work, employing for the purpose of Eaton and Beck, of Albany, to make an agricultural and mineralogical survey of the counties of Albany and Rensselaer. They were engaged in that work during the open seasons of two years, and the result of their labors was published in book form, all of course at the cost of Van Rensselaer. During all this time, the Patroon, who had great foresight in planning, as well as great industry and perseverance in the executions of his undertakings, had been revolving in his mind several schemes for the education of his numerous tenantry, who were for the most part deprived of and sadly in need of that measure of education which today the common schools of the State supply to all, the rich and the poor alike. He employed teachers selected from his tenants, supposed or known to be better qualified than the average man or woman. He soon found that the teacher was, in the discharge of his duties, really making more progress than his pupils. In furtherance of the Patroon’s benevolent design in the general application of science to the common affairs of life, he organized the Rensselaer school in the year 1824 which was afterwards, in the year 1826 incorporated.
The basic principle, in his mind, was that every pupil should every day perform the duties of teachers, and thus fully illustrate the law of "increase by impartation." The school was located midway between Troy and Lansingburg, and placed under the entire control of Amos Eaton. The site and building and all the necessary mathematical and astronomical instruments were provided by the Patroon, he guaranteeing as well the salaries of the teachers, and the running expenses of every name and nature. He continued this outlay for about fifteen years, and up to a few years of his death, at an expense of many thousand of dollars.
In the year 1830, the school was located in the city of Troy, and was thereafter known as the "Rensselaer Institute", and the "Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute," at Troy, is, today, the outgrowth of the "Rensselaer School."
Prof. Eaton called to his aid in the course of his management and professional duties, from time to time, several gentlemen graduates of the institution, who, today, as geologists, mineralogists, botanists and civil engineers, are among the first in the profession.
The lamented Prof. Cook, of Rutger’s College, a very valued friend, was a pupil and afterwards an assistant when the writer of this, about the year 1840, was a member of the Institute.
Eaton was a practical man, a good educator, and died in the year 1844. Multitudes of men all over the United States, will cheerfully acknowledge the value of his services as teacher, instructor and friend.
Now perhaps, all this is foreign to the object of these writings, but it serves the purpose to call the attention of our citizens to the importance of inviting and nursing new enterprises within our reach.
Who today can properly estimate the value of Coxsackie’s growth if a Botanical garden, with all the county buildings, had been here located nearly one hundred years ago?
R. H. Van Bergen, June 27, 1891