Helderberg Hilltowns Association

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Thanks to the efforts of John Elberfeld the Helderberg Hilltowns Association now has its own wiki site at http://www.hilltowns.org/. Its major focus on providing lists of:

  • Hilltown Products and Services
  • Hilltown Resources - where to shop in the hilltowns.
  • Hilltown Recreational and Cultural Acivities
  • Recreational and Cultural Resources: Libraries, museums, historical societies, nature centers, parks and wildlife preserves
  • Upcoming events
  • Information on Helderberg Hilltowns projects


Promoting Farms, Trade, Culture and Recreation of the Hilltowns

The Helderberg Hilltowns are home to farms, hiking trails, historic sites and some of the most beautiful views in the Capital Region. Farm stands, such as Newcomb’s, Whipple’s, Fox Creek Farm, Garden of One’s, Morning Fog’s and the Patroon Land Farm’s, provide fresh produce in season. Several of the farms also offer Community Supported Agriculture shares for individuals who would like to support farming and share in its bounty. The Long Path, Thacher Park, Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area, Wolf Creek Falls Preserve, and of course the Huyck Preserve are just a few of the recreation areas that offer opportunities for healthy outdoor fun. The hamlet of Rensselaerville, if you haven’t heard, was recently named one of Seven To Save by the Preservation League of NYS for its remarkable historic architecture. And the Helderbergs were a focus of the Anti-rent Wars of the mid-19th century.

The Helderberg Hilltowns Association is committed to preserving the natural beauty, agricultural productivity, recreational opportunities and historic features of the hilltowns by promoting their economic vitality.

Heritage tourism, agri-tourism and providing recreational destinations for Capital Region residents are major opportunities for the entire Helderberg area. Most recreational land uses are relatively low impact activities, and so are gentle on the environment; by their very nature, they can help preserve the pastoral rural countryside, rolling hills, meandering creeks, waterfalls and forest land. That is, they provide opportunities for sustainable economic development.


Bringing the Hilltowns to life - and life to the Hilltowns:

  • Promoting farms and farm activities.
  • Preserving our precious farmland, and scenic beauty.
  • Promoting the preservation of our historic buildings, sites, and cemeteries.
  • To achieve the above goals, encourage visitors to Head for the Hills - the Helderberg Hilltowns.

“Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide” recommendations:

Dan Driscoll, Town of Knox Planning Board, has been instrumental in getting the association off the ground. It is no coincidence that several years ago Dan helped author a planning guide to protect the Helderberg Escarpment. Now the HHA is promoting the implementation of the following recommendations of the “Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide”:

  • Help farming survive in the area… encourage and promote the sale of locally grown produce through farm markets and local stores.
  • Map existing public trails and develop plans to improve and connect trails; develop a regional trail system interconnected with the Long Path.
  • Publish a tourism map for the area.
  • Inventory historic and cultural sites, such as houses, barns, family cemeteries, stone fences and consider the use of easements, historic districts, and economic incentives to private owners to preserve sites and structures of greatest importance.
  • Tourism related business should be encouraged to respond to the opportunity presented by the thousands of visitors to the Hilltowns each year.
  • Provide recreational opportunities for the Capital District area. Most recreational land uses are relatively low impact activities, and so are gentle on the environment; by their very nature, they help preserve open space; and they provide opportunities for economic development.

These recommendations will be most effective if the individual towns work with one another to apply the recommendations uniformly to the entire Helderberg region. Towns are authorized to cooperate in this way; they need to join together to create comprehensive land-use plans, develop uniform regulations, create inter-town overlay districts, and even contract with each other to administer and enforce land-use regulations.


Membership is open to anyone who shares the goals of the organization.


Since the meeting, we've made some progress in several areas, and info on those have been added to Jane's notes.


Present: Jessica DuVal, John Elberfeld, Roswell Eldridge, Zenie Gladieux, Barb Husek, Chad Jemison & Maya, Dawn Jordan, Tim Lippert, Jack McEneny, Jane McLean, Christine Pollei, Fred Wagner. Zenie facilitated the meeting, Jane acted as scribe.

HELDEBERG MARKET: Sarah submitted a report; Market was on YNN last month, increased visits to website; continues to add new customers; adding two-three new vendors; planning meeting with local farmers to strategize next steps [ex. maximizing four-season farming]

RESEARCHING YOUR HILLTOWN ANCESTORS: 09/25/10, 9:00-11:00, Octagon Barn in Knox; John and Jane reported on event; Zenie will represent HHA; specialists from several groups will be there to add to information-sharing; 10-12 attendees have registered so far; articles beginning to appear in local papers; refreshments will include local ingredients; members asked to spread the word, attend if possible as this is HHA’s first public event [besides our meetings]; Beebe Farm will underwrite costs for event, Russ and Amy Pokorny will provide meeting space at no charge; [mailto: jelberfeld@aol.com John Elberfeld] for more info; Greenville Pioneer newspaper recommended for Westerlo/Rensselaerville

GENEALOGY EVENT: at Berne Roast Beef Dinner: 10/17/10: Dawn has several members from DAR to assist; Berne fire station has internet access; Dawn will follow up with Gerry; John’s PowerPoint presentation from 09/25 can be available.

N.B, update 9/21: Gerry Chartier has had to pull out of the project.

HILLTOWN FALL FESTIVAL: 10/09/10 in Knox, no report.

N.B. 9/21 A flier was emailed to the group under separate cover.

COUPON: discussed ideas for October; contact Zenie or Michelle if interested in advertising; Crosby Farm and Buddhist Center expressed interest; cost approx. $23 to underwrite [500 copies on colored paper], Michelle will underwrite October; Crosby Farm will underwrite November; Huyck will do April 2011. Discussed insertion of flyer in town papers: Dawn will research Berne paper and Chad will research Rensselaerville paper. We need deadline dates for both.

FALL HIKES: Chad reported: Huyck Preserve Trail Day 10/02/10; he will meet with Mohawk-Hudson group; plan: a Fall hike in each town that weekend

TRAILS: Buddhist Center would like help in designing trails for x-c skiers; could HHA have a recreation committee to help with multiuse of trails?

PHASE II: Chad: how do we coordinate the Hilltowns to bring downhill money uphill? Suggested coordinated effort to request line items on all four town budgets; we should be looking at strategic structures to support economic development; Jack reported on rural resources group in state Assembly, incentive grants for consolidation while retaining individual community identities; “the State’s in no position to help anyone” financially; recommended contacting Michelle at Visitor’s Center in Albany about low-impact tours to Hilltowns

LAND MANAGEMENT: Zenie reported on conversation with Melissa Neely, wildlife biologist with DEC; NYS program to help landowners restrict and manage their land for hunting.

LOGO: discussion of submitted logos and slogans; Barb showed photo of sunflower with idea for wording in center.

N.B. 9/21 - several versions of this idea has been emailed to the group under separate cover. The group seems to be leaning toward the simpler visual. The idea would be to use this as a medallion for road markers, trails, involved businesses, etc. The slogan “The Helderbergs- A Great Place to Be!” was deemed too dull. “Head for the Hills!” is still under consideration. Any and all other ideas - please e-mail them to Zenie or send them out directly to the group, so we can get dialogue going on this before the next meeting.


HHA MISSION STATEMENT: Zenie handed out HHA Goals as listed on Albany Hilltowns website:

  • Promote the study and dissemination of the history of the Helderberg Hilltowns and

the genealogy of the people who live there

  • Historic building preservation in the hamlets and countryside of the Hilltowns
  • Preservation of the farmland and scenic beauty of the Hilltowns
  • Promote farms and farm activities
  • Work towards the economic development of the Hilltowns
  • Encourage low-impact tourism as a means of achieving the above goals.
  • Suggestions from around the table for inclusion in the mission: new jobs on the hill,

cultural tourism, day trips, coordinating and developing ideas, schedules and communications. Barb and Tim will draft a mission statement and “toss it out for comment” before next HHA meeting.

HHA WEBPAGE: John will start a simple webpage for HHA with pages available for businesses/organizations; Tim suggested listserves as a fairly easy way to keep information flowing to our “friends”.

N.B. 9/21: Hal Miller had already reserved for us the site HelderbergHilltowns.com, so we’re good to go there. John will be drafting a sample page for use by a business; if the business already has a page, it will include a link to the other website. Part of the functionality should allow us to collect “friends” names for e-mail updates. Zenie will put together a “check list” of products and services offered on the Hill to make things more searchable.

Fall Report

Happy Fall to All!

As an organization we're becoming busier and more visible, and it's going to get even better.

  • Long Path North - A short note from Gerry Chartier gives an update on the idea to connect the Long Path North to future trails on the Buddhist Retreat Center (Tenzin Gyatso Institute) on Game Farm Road. Jonathan & Ryan of the Center, Jon Kusler of the Berne Conservation Board, Mike Willsey of the LPN, and Gerry Chartier walked the DEC forest trails beginning from the shale bank parking area on Irish Hill Road. We "rediscovered" the old roads linking Irish Hill Road to Game Farm Road. There was agreement that the link will be easy to accomplish with a minimal amount of work. This area is extremely scenic, with relatively open mature forest cover with a wetland/stream network, and offers walking and Nordic skiing opportunities. Should we be exploring further either forming a work crew to get going on this or coordinating some other groups to take it on?
  • Genealogy Workshop - On September 25th, John Elberfeld and Jane McLean welcomed about 25 folks to the Octagon Barn (courtesy of Amy and Russ Pokorny) for a morning of feasting on goodies made from local products by Jane and learning about the resources available in this area to search about folks who live, or used to live, on the Hill. Representatives from several of the local resources were present for John's excellent presentation and left clutching copies of his handout. I found it interesting that the representatives from the various organizations seemed unaware of what their neighbors were doing, and what they had available to share. It seemed to me that HHA might well serve as a catalyst for getting these groups together to exchange ideas and information about their resources and collections. The Altamont Enterprise gave us a nice half-page on the meeting in its 10/1 edition, and since that was published, I've gotten a couple of calls from folks off the Hill with information and items to share about the Hilltowns.

Images from "Researching Your Hilltown Ancestors" at the Octagon Barn, Knox, NY - September 25, 2010

Elberfeld and McLean help Hilltowners find their history

By Zenie Gladieux

The Helderberg Hilltowns Association is a new organization for folks interested in the history and genealogy of the Hilltowns of Albany County; the preservation of the historic buildings and farmlands here; and in promoting farms, farming activities, and local tourism in the area.

On Saturday, Sept. 25, the organization held its first program in support of those goals. Presenters John Elberfeld and Jane McLean organized a program, "Researching Your Hilltown Ancestors."

A PowerPoint presentation by Elberfeld showcased his efforts to document the owner of their home in Knox — Charlie Beebe, for whom both farm and road are named. In the course of his search, Elberfeld traced, and documented contact information on many of the sources of historical and genealogical information available to those seeking information on their own families.

Representatives of some of those organizations were present:

— Kathy Stempel of the Berne Free Library, which has local history, several genealogies of prominent local families, and maps and early histories of Albany County;
— Ralph Miller, Berne Town Historian, who has an index to early Albany County deeds and its online genealogical database of about 75,000 names of Hilltown residents at www.BerneHistory.org;
— Marijo Dougherty of the Altamont Museum, which has local photographs and artifacts some that relate to the Hilltowns;
— Ann Wemple of the Guilderland Public Library, which has a good collection of books on genealogy in general and access for members to online genealogical databases;
— The Knox Historical Society, which has scrapbooks of clippings with massive amounts of family data; and
— The Old Stone Fort in Schoharie, which has many items relating to Hilltowns history and families.

All participants brought materials from their files and there were several computers available for access to online sources. The online archives of The Altamont Enterprise (http://historicnewspapers.guilpl.org) were noted as a wonderful source of obituaries and contemporary information about family life. And the Helderberg Hilltowns website at www.AlbanyHilltowns.com has, in addition to links to many other sites, pictures of buildings and people from the Hilltowns' past and biographies of 1,348 of those people at a site that is growing daily as researchers and family historians continue to share their findings.

To showcase some of the local products available from Hill- towns farmers, McLean prepared a brunch for attendees made primarily from local ingredients, with several kinds of muffins made with blueberries, maple syrup, honey, corn, sausage — and a big bowl of applesauce from local apples.

Participants in the seminar left filled with knowledge and good food, eager to begin or continue their quest to add to our knowledge of the Hilltowns and its people.

For more information on genealogical resources, please call John Elberfeld at 872-2082, or e-mail him at jelberfeld@aol. corn.

For more information about the organization, please call me, Zenie Gladieux, at 894-8589, or e-mail at zenie@wildblue.net.

Editor's note: Zenie Gladieux is the Chairwoman of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association.

  • More images from "Researching Your Hilltown Ancestors" - Octagon Barn, Knox, NY - September 25, 2010:


  • "Hilltowns Market Day" - the location would rotate weekly from spring through Christmas among the four hilltowns: Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville. In this weakened economy, lots of hill town folks would be glad to raise a few extra vegetables to earn some extra money, bake some cakes and pies, put up some canned fruits and vegetables for sale. Extra money in the local pockets, and the city folk would love it.
  • Visitor brochures and maps
- Farms and farm activities.
- Natural areas and trails.
- Historic buildings, sites and cemeteries.
- Drive-it-yourself tours.
  • Historic Preservation:
- Begin the long process of making an inventory of historic homes in the hill towns with the goal of someday having a historic district in every hamlet and a plaque on every home.
- Inventory of historic cemeteries.
- Inventory of historic mill, factory, and dam sites.
  • Trails - Create a trail committee to consider extending trails to connect existing nature preserves.


- The Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station has an extensive trail network. Over the next two fall seasons a new six-mile foot trail will be created in the northern 1,200 acres of the Huyck Preserve, Rensselaerville. This trail will connect the current trail system with the State’s Long Path in Partridge Run NYS Wildlife Management Area, Berne.
- There is a great idea to connect the Long Path North to future trails on the Tenzin Gyatso Institute Buddhist Retreat Center on Game Farm Road. Last Friday, Sept. 24 Jonathan & Ryan of the Center, Jon Kusler of the Berne Conservation Board, Mike Willsey of the LPN, and Gerry Chartier walked the DEC forest trails beginning from the shale bank parking area on Irish Hill Road. They "rediscovered" the old roads linking Irish Hill Road to Game Farm Road. There was agreement that the link will be easy to accomplish with a minimal amount of work. This area is extremely scenic, with relatively open mature forest cover with a wetland/stream network, and offers walking and Nordic skiing opportunities. Should we be exploring further either forming a work crew to get going on this or coordinating some other groups to take it on?
  • Scenic byway - create a designated scenic byway. Imagine a loop from 85 and Delaware Ave (Rt. 443) that could run through Westerlo, Rensselaerville, Berne and Knox and ends up at Thatcher Park. This is the kind of low impact visitors that could support economic vitality along the route in a coordinated way and encourage the community to sustain the "scenic" and "open space" character of the rural landscape in the hilltowns. (Thanks to Chad Jemison for this idea).
  • Promote local prodcuce - Create a committee to support local farms by promoting the buying of local produce.

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