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Brief History of Waterford
The area at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers was inhabited by native Americans for thousands of years before the arrival of Henry Hudson on the Half Moon in 1609. In the 17th century, Dutch traders and trappers from the Manor of Rensselaerwyck first settled in Waterford, originally known as Halfmoon. When the Dutch arrived, Peebles Island was the site of a village of Mahicans, a tribe which remained involved in local trade and warfare through the eighteenth century. During the colonial wars of the 18th century, Waterford played an important military role for the British and Americans, as the main military supply road led directly across the ford between Haver (Peebles) Island, and the Battery, following the road that is now Second Street. During the American Revolution, fortifications were placed on Peebles Island to slow General Burgoyne’s approach to Albany, and the islands in the mouth of the Mohawk were occupied by military encampments.
The Village of Waterford was incorporated in 1794, taking its name from the fording place in the Mohawk River. Waterford (and Lansingburgh, on the east bank) lay at the head of sloop navigation on the Hudson River, and prospered from that trade. In the 1790s, local residents made several major investments to improve river access, including substantial dredging projects and construction of a 244-foot pier to reach the deepest part of the river. The limitations of river transport were overcome in the 1820s when the opening of the Champlain and Erie Canals provided a route west to Buffalo and the Great Lakes and north to Whitehall, Lake Champlain, and Canada. At Waterford, sloop freight could be loaded onto canal barges for transport north, and with the installation of the Waterford sidecut lock connecting the Hudson River to the Champlain Canal, Waterford became a major gateway to the canal system. With the presence of water for both power and transportation, the Hudson-Mohawk region became one of the birthplaces of the American Industrial Revolution. Industry flourished with the introduction of power canals like Waterford's King’s Canal, which opened in the 1830s and played host to numerous factories along the Fourth Branch of the Mohawk. Industry continues to thrive in Waterford today, but no longer relies on waterpower as the main source of energy.
Construction of the Waterford Flight of Locks in 1915 as part of the New York State Barge Canal System (Erie Branch) assured Waterford’s role in canal transport through the 20th century. Today, the canal system is used mostly for recreation. The Waterford waterfront annually plays host to hundreds of boaters exploring the rivers and canals.
The history of Waterford is preserved and taught at the Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center. The history of Waterford can also be found in the 1957 book The History of Waterford New York by Sydney Hammersley.