MR. RIGGS—Inasmuch as the State of New-York was originally settled by the Dutch, or Hollanders, and although many of their descendants are commingled with other people and speak a different language, yet, at this present time, there are still a great many who are regular descendants of the original Dutch settlers, who hold a predilection and reverence for their pristine language, and manners and customs of their original ancestors, and who might at the same time be pleased to have their recollection awakened to some old and by-gone reminiscences.—I have therefore collated from history and official and ancient documents, a few facts and placed them in synoptical form and chronological order; and if it should meet your approbation to have them published through the medium of your paper, they are at your service:
1609. Henry Hudson discovered the North River and explored it as far as Whale island, in the neighborhood of the present city of Troy; and it is supposed that on his return home, he disposed of his discovery to the Dutch government.
Schenectady Cabinet, or Freedom’s Centinel. June 30, 1846: 2 col 6.
BODILY EXERCISE—SWIMMING.—The time has arrived when, after much writing and arguing upon the subject, it is generally conceded to be the duty of every parent to use their utmost endeavors to secure to their children a mental training according to the extent of their abilities. […]
Then, too, we have a noble river running past our very doors, whereon the muscles might be made to wax strong, and the body to grow beautiful if it were used. Let those who like not cricket playing, try the River. If parents would encourage their young to exercise their talents now wasted, in rowing upon the majestic Hudson, in contests between boat and boat—in fact once in a while let us have a Regatta match between Union Bridge and Whale Island—it would not only benefit the participants but be pleasing to the observers.
Lansingburgh Democrat. July 26, 1855: 2 col 4.
Regatta at Waterford.—The match on the Hudson, between the “Alida,” belonging to John E. Bonce, of Waterford, and the “W. H. Haskell,” belonging to Chas. H. Hills, took place Wednesday at 5 o’clock, from the Waterford Bridge to a stake boat, around which they were to pass in returning, near Whale Island. Stakes $25 a side. The match was won by the Alida, which came in some thirty yards ahead of her competitor. Time, thirty-seven minutes. Distances, about four miles.
Atlas and Argus [Albany]. September 2, 1859: 3 col 1.
☞ LANSINGBURGH. […] —At the recent sale of the property of D[avid] Brainerd King, late of Waterford, deceased, Whale Island, in the Hudson at the lower end of the village, was sold to D[aniel] B[romley] King, his brother, for $25,000.
Troy Daily Whig. March 29, 1866: 3 col 3.
☞ WHALE ISLAND—THE GRAND STAND OF THE REGATTA—A TRADITION OF THE HUDSON.—The little spot of earth in the Hudson which is to furnish standing room for the guests and “one dollar” spectators of the coming regatta, has long been known to the older inhabitants as Whale Island. There is a tradition that, in the early colonial days preceding the Revolution, a medium sized whale ventured up the Hudson, extending his travels to the Point Rock, opposite Waterford, but that, while descending, the waters suddenly receded, (there was no Troy dam then,) leaving his Cetacean majesty upon dry ground; that being unable to “stand drouth,” he died there, and his bones and carcass, joining with the alluvial deposits, formed the little island which now appears as a monument to his memory. For years it has been diminishing in size, and we are informed that its owner, Daniel B. King, of Waterford, feels so little interest in real estate in the Hudson, that he is willing that it should entirely disappear. A few years since, during one of the heavy Spring freshets, some of the trees (with which the island was then covered) were washed out and fell across the channel of the river, and blockading the ice, threw the waters back so far that the large dam in the Mohawk, owned at that time by D. Brainerd King, was lifted from its foundations, involving a cost of some thousands of dollars to its owner for repairs. Mr. King thereupon purchased the island, cut away the trees, broke the surface of the banks, and left it to the mercy of the stream, which has since been gradually washing it away, and we are informed that it is already reduced to one half of its original size. After the death of D. Brainard King, the property was sold by his executors to Daniel B. King, the present owner, for $25. He has dedicated it to the same fate that had been prepared for it by his brother, and the citizens along the river must be prepared to see it eventually disappear. Since its purchase by the elder King, it has never caused any injury to King’s Canal, and it is probable that no farther reduction of its proportions will ever be needed. The water power which its destruction was intended to subserve is a very valuable interest, carrying a number of large mills and manufacturing establishments in Waterford.
Troy Daily Times. October 5, 1867: 3 col 2
Immense piles of snow to the north of us, threaten to completely inundate Waterford, and Whale Island.
“Lansingburgh.” Troy Daily Whig. March 10, 1869: 3 col 2.
☞ THE FRESHET—RAILROAD BRIDGES WASHED AWAY—TRAINS DELAYED. […] The water in the river opposite Lansingburgh is higher than ever before at this season. Several canal boats lying at the docks are washed high and dry, and most of the storehouses are completely inundated. George B. Allen & Son lost some cord wood which was piled on the dock at the foot of North street. Whale Island is completely covered, as is also a large portion of Van Schaick’s Island.
Troy Daily Whig. April 21, 1869: 3 col 1.
LANSINGBURGH.—The dorsal fins of Whale Island are now visible to the naked eye.
Troy Daily Press. April 27, 1869: 3 col 2.
—The little spot of land in the river known as Whale Island has entirely disappeared, only one little stick like a struggling arm appearing above the water. We remember when it was a good sized corn field.
“City Notes.” Troy Daily Times. April 22, 1870: 3 col 2.
☞ LANSINGBURGH—DISAPPEARANCE OF WHALE ISLAND.—Our gardeners are beginning to clean up, and tree planting is the order of the day. […] Whale Island has entirely disappeared. There is not a vestige of it left, and the waters of the Hudson now flow as placidly and smoothly over the spot as though an island had never grown corn in their midst.
Troy Daily Whig. April 20, 1872: 4 col 3.
—Never before since the building of the state dam has the water in the Hudson river opposite the upper part of the city been so low as it is at present. Portions of the once famous Whale island are to be seen above the water near the first Mohawk sprout, which has not before been possible since the island was submerged some years ago.
Troy Daily Times. August 14, 1880: 3 col 2.
—A claim for $3,000 has been presented to the state board of claims by Lina W. Benjamin. The claimant says the rising of the river washed away 15,000 yards of gravel from Whale island, near Lansingburgh, and owned by Mr. Benjamin.
“Freshet Facts.” Troy Daily Times. November 10, 1885: 3 col 5.
—Whale island is growing larger as the water in the river lowers.
Lansingburgh Courier. June 22, 1893: 3 col 1.
An ice gorge was formed in the Hudson at Whale island, opposite [One Hundred] Third street, Lansingburgh, Saturday night about 9 o’clock, and the waters were set back for some distance. Considerable apprehension was felt by property owners along First avenue, but after the river had touched high water mark the gorge broke and the rising was checked. The flooding of cellars and the floating away of wood piles placed too near the banks were the chief damage. A wagon box belonging to Brooker Brothers was taken down stream, and workmen were busy keeping a large pile of laths and wood from sailing away.
Troy Daily Times. March 2, 1896: 3 col 4.
Reminiscences of Old Landmark Once Prominent in Hudson River—Formerly Famous As Bathing Place—How It Caused Loss of Best Race.
The sight of the state dredge at work in the river about opposite the foot of Sixth Street recalls to older residents the time about thirty years ago when there was an island in the vicinity. It was known as Whale Island and did not entirely disappear until the early part of the eighties. The island was about 500 feet long and fifty feet wide and rose above the surface of the water five or six feet in the centre, tapering toward the ends.
For years it was cultivated by Joseph King, father of Stephen and Marshall King, famous Haymaker baseball players. The elder King lived to be 105 years old and was known to nearly every inhabitant of the old village of Lansingburgh. He is remembered as a man of short stature, thickly set in build, stooping as he walked, swarthy as an Indian and with the features of one. He was taciturn until pressed to talk, but when once interested was found to be full of reminiscences of the river and its early history. He raised produce of almost every description on the island, and, rowing it ashore in his scow, sold it from house to house.
In those days the island was a favorite bathing place for the men and boys of the lower part of the village, as it had a good beach on each side, with a soil of fine gravel and sand, and the bathers were able to wade out a distance of ten or fifteen feet. Many of the men of to-day learned to swim there. Under the attacks of the ice, pushing seaward during the spring freshets, and other forces of nature it began to disintegrate along in the middle seventies and year by year grew smaller until at last it became a thing of the past, living only in the memory of those who had seen it. For several years a small patch of the island, appearing like a sand bar, was visible for a short period when the water in the river was extremely low, but it is at least twenty years since a vestige of it has been seen. There has always been shallow water at the point where the island formerly existed, but the operations of the dredge have deepened the channel somewhat. For what was so small a body of land Whale Island has an unusual number of interesting associations.
It is recorded that in colonial days one of three whales that started up the river reached the island, where it became stranded and died. The stench of the decomposing body pervaded the atmosephere for a long distance and a long time. It was from that incident that the island derived its name. The other two whales ran aground further down the river and also died.
The shallow water at the point where the island was once so prominent was the cause on one occasion in the early eighties of the defeat of the crack four-oared crew of the old Filley Boat Club of Lansingburgh. The shallow spot had been staked and marked with flags, but in the excitement of the race the bow oarsman of the Filleys lost his bearings until it was too late and the shell scraped along the edge of the submerged piece of land until it almost came to a standstill. The Filleys were rowing against the four of the Hudson River Club of Poughkeepsie and at the time of the accident were two lengths ahead. Behind the crews on a tugboat were the Filley rooters cheering frantically over an anticipated victory, but doomed to a disappointment all the more grievous for the reason that with the race half over their crew had almost surely demonstrated its superiority. Before the boat had cleared the island the Hudson Rivers had passed the Filleys and, although the latter made a gallant effort to recover the lost ground, they could not put their boat on an even keel again nor regain their [swing?]. They crossed the finish line a length behind. Subsequently they defeated the Hudson Rivers with ease. The Filley crew was at that time the champion of the amateurs of the northern Hudson. The oarsmen were the late John H. Hawkins of Lansingburgh, Clarence F. McMurray of this city, the late Frank H. Morrison of Brooklyn, who spent his summers in Lansingburgh, and William R. Church, who was then a civil engineer in the employ of the Ludlow Valve Works.
Troy Times. November 22, 1912: 20 cols 1-2.
An important record of the heritage of the Capital Region, the de Hooges Memorandum Book contains documentation of the legal and financial affairs of the patroonship while Antonie de Hooges served as principal business manager of the colony. This important document, which details business and other transaction in the Dutch settlement, is now online and accessible via the [New Netherlands Institute] NNI’s new website. Formerly at great risk, the manuscript was largely unavailable for study and research because of damage suffered by the manuscript over time and in the 1911 Capitol fire.
The book features a record of one of the most unusual and notable events in the history of the New Netherland colony – the sighting of a white whale in the Hudson River near Fort Orange, now the City of Albany. Many have speculated on the impact the event might have had on author Herman Melville, who could trace his ancestry back to New Netherland through the Gansevoort family in the maternal line.
For more about the above-mentioned story, see “The White Whale” linked below:
“The White Whale.” New Netherland Institute. http://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/additional-resources/dutch-treats/the-white-whale/