A Brief History of Our Two Towns
Evidence of early man as far back as 8000 years has been found in Clifton Park and Halfmoon. In the seventeenth century, Native Americans, including Mohicans and Mohawks, were present along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. They raised corn on the Mohawk River plain, calling the area Canastigione, for “corn flats.”
European settlers moved north from Albany and Schenectady to establish farms and homes in the Halfmoon and Clifton Park area in the mid-1600s. A ferry operated by Cornelius Claes Vandenburgh and later known as the Dunsbach Ferry was shuttling back and forth across the river by about 1710.
In 1727, Nicholas Fort began a rope ferry to the west along the river. A third ferry operated at what became known as Vischer's Ferry later in the century.
After the French and Indian War, available farmland drew settlers from more populated areas to Halfmoon and Clifton Park. Halfmoon, originally a town of Albany County, became a “mother” town in Saratoga County in 1791. Clifton Park was split off from Halfmoon in 1828, retaining the name of the early Clifton Park Land Patent. The first town meeting was held in Groom’s Tavern.
In 1829 the Saratoga-Waterford Turnpike was planned to stretch from Waterford through Halfmoon, north to Jonesville, Ballston Spa and on to Saratoga. A remnant between Clifton Park Village and Jonesville still survives as Plank Road. Taverns provided food and shelter for travelers and became the focus of social life. In the 1820s the first Supervisor of the Town of Clifton Park, Ephraim Stevens, operated a hotel at Stevens Corners, later known as Clifton Park Village. The Clifton Park-Halfmoon town line now divides the building.
The Erie Canal was once known as “the eighth wonder of the world” because of its marvels of engineering. When it opened in 1825, aqueducts at Crescent and Rexford brought the canal across the Mohawk River through 13 miles of Saratoga County. The Crescent Aqueduct was the longest in the original Erie Canal system at 1,188 feet; 26 piers held the canal above the surface of the river.
The path leading north to Montreal along the Hudson was a key road during the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. The route gained renewed importance when the same legislation authorizing the Erie Canal established the Champlain Canal, which opened on September 27, 1823. Both canals were replaced in 1917 by the New York State Barge Canal. It connected the Hudson to the Mohawk River at Waterford. A dam built at Crescent raised the elevation of the river by 28 feet, inundating most of the hamlets of Crescent and Fort’s Ferry.
Halfmoon and Clifton Park were primarily agricultural until the mid-twentieth century. One-room schools were established at crossroads and in hamlets. In 1950, the 22 remaining schools were incorporated into the Shenendehowa Central Schools. Churches representing a variety of faiths such as Quaker, Methodist, Episcopal, Dutch Reformed, Baptist, and Catholic sprang up throughout both towns and were the centers of social life.
Farming was a necessary way of life for most families. Large dairy farms led to a need for ice and the ice harvesting industry developed. Clifton Park was well-known for its large apple orchards. John Macintosh, a onetime resident of Clifton Park, is well-known as the discoverer and propagator in Canada of an apple he called the “Macintosh Red.”
Anthony Mills, located in Halfmoon, boasted prize-winning baking powder which it supplied to the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, along with other spices and flavorings. Both towns had many mills--sawmills, grist mills, cider mills, woolen mills, and even a plaster mill. Fine molding sand was mined throughout Clifton Park and Halfmoon to supply the cast iron industry.
In the 20th century, Route 9 and the Northway, with their bridges across the Mohawk, took the place of canals and rivers as transportation corridors. As in earlier days these transportation routes led to the further development of the surrounding areas. In the 1960s, Robert Van Patten initiated the first housing developments off the Northway —“bedroom” communities for people working in Albany and other cities. The first “shopping mall” was built at the corner of 146 and Vischer Ferry Road.