About Cambridge New York
“Cambridge Corner East Main and Union Street showing Carpenter’s Store, Ackley Store and Hall, Drug Store – All burned one evening”.
The earliest settlement in the valley of the Owl Kill came about as a result of the efforts of a Scotsman, Cadwallader Colden, sometime Surveyor-General, President of the Provincial Council and acting Governor of the Province of New York. In 1761, Golden was involved in the purchase of the Cambridge patent on the east side of the Hudson River north of Rensselaerwyck; lands which soon came into the possession of six persons, one of whom was Colden’s son. The provisions of the charter included the election of public officials by all freeholders and required that one family for each 1,000 acres must be settled in outright ownership within three years. Two hundred acres of land were set aside to support a minister and schoolmaster. The foundation of a democratic society of independent landowners was thus laid.
“Stores, etc. -(North side) near Union House — E. Main St. The “seed room” house – old mill clothing store, Alson McCellan & Harper’s Stores”
In 1763, the French and Indian War came to an end. With the removal of the threat of raids, the unoccupied territory north of Rensselaerwyck became attractive to settlers. Little is known about the first settlements due to the turmoil which prevailed because of the Revolution and also because of the long territorial dispute between New York and Vermont, each of which claimed the land between the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers. Apparently, the first settlements and also subsequent waves of settlement were made by persons of Scottish and/or Irish descent. This ethnic background is illustrated graphically by examining the history of area churches. Among the first to be organized were the United Presbyterian Church (1785) and the First United Presbyterian Church (1793). These two churches together comprised 1,900 members in 1878 and their preachers were regularly Scottish or Irish. At this time, the Methodists, Roman Catholics, Baptists and Episcopalians together numbered only 450 persons.
West Main Cambridge NY 1900s
During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the area of the present village gradually coalesced as a grouping of three crossroads hamlets known as Cambridge, North White Creek and Dorr’s Corners, surrounded by rich stream valley farms. The hamlets were settled, not because of any potential for mills, for the Owl Kill provided no water power here, but rather to provide services such as hostelries, stores and churches. Cambridge developed because of its roads.
One of the finest Federal style dwellings which remains in Washington County, the Dorr-Randall House (151 East Main) was built in 1779 for a prominent physician. The high architectural quality of this house with its intricate wood details indicates an owner of means and cultural attainments. About 20 residences remain from this post-Revolutionary period, some quite substantial.
Washington Academy ~ Cambridge, NY 1909
An early undertaking was the organization of an academy in 1800 which had 629 pupils by 1821. The academy building no longer exists, but the old boarding house which housed students has been converted into apartments (128 West Main).
Throughout the nineteenth century, the three hamlets were conveniently located, in relation to transportation arteries such as the turnpikes, the canal and later, the railroads. The building of the Northern Turnpike through Cambridge hamlet around 1800 (now Union Street) connected the area with Lansingburgh to the south and Burlington to the north. The introduction of sheep raising in 1809 and flax in 1812 brought important activities related to the growth of textile and other mills at nearby centers such as Schaghticoke, Pumpkin Hook, Hoosick Falls, Bennington and North Adams. The rich agricultural lands in the valley of the Owl Kill were ringed by these thriving upland industrial centers to which Cambridge was connected by roads.
Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Railroad Station ~ Cambridge, NY 1920s
In 1825, the building of the Champlain Canal brought Cambridge within reach of even cheaper transportation for its surplus products. However, it remained for the Troy and Rutland Railroad, built in 1852, to provide the impetus for the creation of a true local mercantile center. After a station was established in the center most hamlet, North White Creek, development accelerated. In 1866, the three hamlets were incorporated as the village of Cambridge. The atlas of that date shows a village with much the same configuration as present-day Cambridge.
The prevalence of homes with mid-century characteristics (approximately 60 in the district) confirms this railroad period growth. The Baptist Church was built in 1844 (3 West Main) and the Methodist Church of 1838 rebuilt in 1661 (47 East Main). Some manufacturing commenced using steam power.
However, it was during the last quarter of the nineteenth century that most of Cambridge’s finest buildings were constructed in answer to the economic stimulus provided by the establishment of the largest seed company in the world. The Rice Seed Company warehouse (15 West Main) was built in 1879 on a site reclaimed from swampland. The brick office building was completed in 1895. Two hundred persons were employed at the turn of the century. Associated with the seed company is the home of Jerome B. Rice (16 West Main), a building whose classical grandeur dwarfs every other residence in the village. During this period, Cambridge’s importance is illustrated by the building of the opera house (25 East Main) which is remarkably intact even to the original drop curtains; the Cambridge Hotel, still in operation; the railroad station; many fine commercial buildings (40 East Main, 13 West Main); and numerous elegant residences. St. Luke’s Church (4 St. Luke’s Place), originally constructed, in 1866, received a completely new interior and windows, all by Tiffany.
During the twentieth century, changes took place which altered Cambridge’s relationship to vital transportation networks. The railroad ceased passenger operation in the 1930’s; canal use dwindled; the Adirondack Northway was constructed. Dairy farming and potatoes had begun to supplant sheep raising as early as the 1850’s, although flax was still an important crop in 1872. The seed company finally closed in 1976. Recently, the seed company property was purchased by a group of local businessmen which is attempting to rent the space. Another group has plans to reopen the old opera house for entertainment.
The Village of Cambridge was incorporated in 1866, combining the hamlets of Cambridge and North White Creek. About one-third of the Village is in the Town of Cambridge, and two-thirds in the town of White Creek.
The Village was a quiet rural community until 1855, when the Albany & Rutland Railroad connected it to Rutland VT, to the north and New York’s Capital District to the South. The Jerome B. Rice Seed Co. developed by Civil War veteran Jerome B. Rice, Sr. was a major employer and at one time was the second-largest seed company in the nation.
The Cambridge Fair held from the late 19th century until World War II, drew thousands annually on special excursion trains. The Washington County Fair in nearby Easton, one of the largest agricultural fairs in the northeast is it’s descendant.
The village today is still home to a Victorian train hotel, The Cambridge Hotel, a Victorian era Opera House, Hubbard Hall, plus many other businesses housed in historic buildings. Agriculture continues to thrive in the area, including many dairy farms, organic meat and vegetable producers plus fiber and fruit growers.
The Cambridge Central School District (CCS) is a rural district of approximately 1,000 students in a single school building partitioned into an elementary school for grades preK-6, and a high school for grades 7-12. The district serves a 100-square mile territory including parts of eight different towns.