Native Americans used a ladder to traverse the cliffs of the Helderberg Escarpment. It was later rebuilt as a tourist attraction, as seen is this postcard.
continued According to Albright’s book, the original cliff face that once held the ladder was demolished to make room for a road. A replica was later built of wood for tourists to visit.
At one point, 24 miles worth of land in the Helderbergs was owned by the Van Rensselaer family. The region’s Anti-Rent Wars were sparked when farmers, believing they were being charged too much for use of the land, rebelled against the family. Eventually, much of the land was donated as a preserve in 1914 by Emma Treadwell Thacher, the widow of Albany Mayor John Boyd Thacher.
To research the book, Albright used his own collection and sources from the state library but he was still coming up short with material. He could not find a photo of Thatcher and even Albany City Hall didn’t have a copy.
“It turns out when (John Boyd Thacher) died in 1909, apparently (Emma) left everything to her nephew,” said Albright. “He moved to Los Angeles and married a young Hollywood starlet of the time. Who knows what she did with the stuff after he died? It was probably sold or dumped and the mansion was turned over to the Altamont Fire Department to burn as a fire exercise.”
Materials were eventually found with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which once oversaw the states parks.
“The information had never been transferred over,” Albright said.
The book was finally published in September of 2011, soon after it was learned the park would not close. However, on Saturday, April 28, the state will hold a public meeting to discuss the future “master plan” of the park at the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center.
“We just wanted people to see the images because they were so wonderful… they showed a time when things were simpler and I think people don’t realize the history and what they have in their own back yards,” said Albright.
Albright will give a talk about the book to the Bethlehem Historical Association on Thursday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Cedar Hill School House in Selkirk. All are welcome to attend.