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2023 marks town’s 350th anniversary

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The coming year promises to bring a slate of celebrations honoring Coeymans on the town’s 350th anniversary. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

RAVENA — The town of Coeymans is gearing up for the birthday bash of a generation.

The town will celebrate the 350th anniversary of its founding this year with a series of events, and there’s no better group to honor that history than the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society.

The organization kicked things off in December with its holiday open house to unveil a long-term series of exhibits celebrating the town’s history, which will be on exhibit through most of 2023. In the summer, a number of celebrations, including a parade, will commemorate the historical milestone, but residents can also visit the historical society’s museum at 15 Mountain Road in Ravena right now to learn about how the town was formed and evolved over the past 350 years.

“You don’t really know who you are if you don’t know where you’ve come from or where you’ve been,” Albany County Legislator Zachary Collins, R-Coeymans, said after visiting the exhibit. “I just had a tour of the museum and it’s amazing. It makes you proud to see where we’ve come from and the history of the town.”

For instance, did you know that the village of Ravena used to be called Coeymans Junction? Or that Coeymans Landing, now known as the hamlet of Coeymans, was the earliest settlement within the town?

In honor of the town’s milestone, John Bonafide, a member of the society’s board of trustees, created a group of panels outlining the town’s history — and how it coincided with national and even world events — going all the way back to 1607 when the Jamestown colony was established in Virginia and then 1609, when Hendrick Hudson sailed past Coeymans to reach what is now Albany.

“The panels start with the 1600s and go all the way to 1999, so 400 years’ worth of history — snippets of history throughout the country and the town, so it intersperses what was happening here with what was happening around the United States and some things from outside the U.S.,” said Joseph Boehlke, president of the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society and the town historian.

The panels document national milestones like when the Mayflower arrived at the Plimouth Bay Colony in 1620, and when “16-year-old Barent Koijemans arrived in New Amsterdam with his father and brothers from Holland” in 1639. The town of Coeymans would later be named after Barent Koijemans, who would have a daughter, Gerritje, with his first wife, Agnietje — Gerritje Koijemans would eventually marry Jacob C. Ten Eyck, whose family still resides in the town.

Barent Koijemans received a patent in 1673 for a 125-square-mile tract of land where he would build the stone “Coeymans Castle” at the corner of what is now Westerlo and First streets.

The panels document more facts about the town and its history over the span of 400 years, ending at the start of the 21st century.

One exhibit at the museum showcases artifacts that were found locally in 2016 when the village was excavating a site, including items that are thousands of years old.

“There were 10,000 items found in the dig and this is a sampling of them,” Boehlke said. “The oldest was 8,000 years old. These items date back to way before people thought there was anyone living here. The survey was done in 2016 when they were putting in new sewer lines for the storm sewer. This discovery delayed the project for some time.”

A new exhibit on display at the museum was curated by Bonafide and focuses on enslavement in Coeymans.

“It talks about a lot of the wealthy landowners in Coeymans during the 17th century who had slaves on their property,” Boehlke said, adding that few people are aware that there were slaves in the town, or, indeed, anywhere in New York state.

A long-term exhibit at the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society looks at the past 350 years of the community’s history. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Another exhibit concentrates on the town during the Revolutionary War.

“In the late 1700s, during the Revolutionary War, they built boats in Coeymans and those boats were used to go down river to West Point to help defeat the British,” Boehlke said. “They were used to block the British from coming up the river.”

The display includes a partial listing of Revolutionary War patriots who were buried in the town.

A historical map of the town shows the boundaries of the Coeymans Patent, which extended from where the town is currently located all the way to Pieter Bronck’s property in modern-day Coxsackie — and includes the town of New Baltimore, which didn’t exist until later on. Originally owned by Barent Koijemans, the property was divided up in 1786.

“The original owners died and they started selling off portions of the property,” Boehlke said.

In a tribute to more modern-day history, another exhibit showcases the town’s centennial celebration, which took the town by storm in 1973.

A display at the museum highlighting the Coeymans of yesterday and the town’s 300th anniversary, celebrated in 1973. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

“In 2023, we are celebrating 350 years,” Boehlke said. “This exhibit is showing what we did at the 300th anniversary — the 300th anniversary was huge. There was a parade with 12,000 spectators — it was a busy place that day.”

The two-hour-long parade featured 15 marching bands. The year of festivities began at the start of 1973, with the major celebrations, including the parade and a ball, taking place during the summer. A variety of celebratory groups were also formed, like the Centennial Belles for the town’s women and The Brothers of the Brush for the men, which had a very unique requirement.

“All the men in the town had to grow some sort of facial hair, either a mustache or a beard, and if they didn’t, they had to get a shaving permit, a permit that allowed you to shave,” Boehlke said. “It was just for fun, but they used it to raise money to support the events that were going on. But pretty much everyone participated and was sporting a mustache or a beard. They would get together and have baseball games and other kinds of events.”

An exhibit on World War II at the museum focuses on the contributions of people in the town during those years and will continue to evolve over the coming years.

“We started this last year with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and this will continue for five years, until the anniversary of the end of World War II,” Boehlke said.

A panel in the war’s exhibit commemorates local residents who died in the conflict. They are: John Biechman, Arthur Bronk, Edward Carhart, Lawrence Deane, Thomas Draper, Theodore Herrmann, Milo Houck, Rueben Kilmer, Kenneth Lawson, Arthur Herbert Lindskoog, Gale Kistler Millett, Joseph Mollelo, James Orsino, Pasquale Pagano, Carmino Pomellitto, Frank Randio, Patrick Randio, Walter Rowe, Robert Shutter, William Shutter, Lawrence Tiberia, Thomas Tracey and Elwood Francis Van Alstyne.

With the community gearing up to celebrate Coeymans’ 350th anniversary in 2023, an exhibit at the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society looks at historic moments, as well as day-to-day life. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Roger Wilber, vice president of the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society, does preservation work for the museum and is now branching out into research, focusing on business in the community.

“Right now, I am building a database of businesses in the town of Coeymans from 1850, which is the earliest I’ve been able to find, to the present,” Wilber said. “When I get that database finished, it will give people a chance to check out genealogy, check businesses, check time periods — it will be very helpful to people who are doing research.”

The 350th anniversary exhibit will be on display for much of the coming year, Wilber said. The year also marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society, he noted.

Village Ambassador Rebecca Shook attended the holiday open house and said remembering history is key. She encouraged residents to visit the exhibit and honor the community’s history.

“It’s important for everyone and for future generations to come and learn more about our village’s culture,” Shook said. “Ravena is the beautiful place that we all call home.”

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