Nearly 400 years ago, two men made history on a winding river that has given life and distinction to the area we call home. The river was named after one of them; a lake to the north was named after the other.
And then, 200 years later, a new generation of explorers set sail on the same majestic river led by a man’s invention, except not with the guidance of wind, but with the power of steam.
The historical nuances of Henry Hudson, Samuel de Champlain and Robert Fulton are well known to residents of the Hudson Valley and beyond. However, 2009 will be the year that New York and other neighboring states hold events in honor of these three men.
We’ve been working on this for over a year, said Town of Bethlehem Historian Susan Leath. `We are very excited to commemorate Henry Hudson’s September 1609 arrival in what was to become the town of Bethlehem.`
Bethlehem will be a part of this historic quadricentennial celebration, with many events and plans currently in the works.
The Bethlehem Quadricentennial Planning Committee was formed last spring to help prepare for the commemoration. Albany County Legislator Tom Cotrofeld, a Democrat who represents the 34th District encompassing parts of Delmar, Elsmere and Slingerlands, chairs the committee.
Cotrofeld replaced current town Supervisor Jack Cunningham in the county legislature when Cunningham took office in Bethlehem.
The rest of the committee consists of representatives from the Bethlehem Historical Society, Bethlehem Public Library, Bethlehem Central School District, Historic Cherry Hill, First Reformed Church of Bethlehem, Delmar Reformed Church, Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, The Mansion at Cedar Hill, and Leath.
The year 2009 commemorates the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s and Champlain’s voyages and the 200th anniversary of Fulton’s successful steamboat voyage. With eight miles of Hudson River shoreline, the town’s history has been particularly influenced by Hudson and Fulton, said Leath.
Leath, along with town Planning Board Chairman Parker Mathusa, are spearheading many of the events that the committee is putting together.
`There is a lot of interest in this,` Mathusa said. `According to my calculations, the children in the town of Bethlehem go to 40 different schools. They should all be a part of this celebration.`
Mathusa said students not only from Bethlehem Central would be invited to participate, but also town residents who attend Guilderland, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, Voorheesville, the Albany Academies, Christian Brother’s Academy and other area schools.
Some of the events planned include the dedication of a new memorial at Henry Hudson Park; exhibits about steamboats, ice harvesting and Native Americans at the Bethlehem Historical Association Museum; a religious heritage day; and a display of historic photographs at the town library.
The new memorial will cost around $80,000, according to Mathusa.
Social studies teachers at Bethlehem Central are also planning events, and the quadricentennial committee is working on additional plans, such as history-themed floats at the Memorial Day Parade, and boat and bicycle rides.
The committee holds meetings open to the public on the third Wednesday of every month, and people interested in volunteering or donating money toward the celebration should contact Leath at 439-7470 or [email protected].“