Amsterdam City Historian Robert von Hasseln has big plans — including a historical dinner, restaurant week and a coloring book — for the 125th anniversary of the creation of the city of Amsterdam.
Customarily, historically-minded Amsterdamians celebrate anniversaries linked to the date when the name of the settlement at the confluence of the North Chuctanunda Creek and Mohawk River was changed to Amsterdam.
Albert Vedder, who had fought in the American Revolution, built a gristmill and sawmill along the Chuctanunda around 1783. The settlement that grew there was first called Vedder’s Mills and, in 1794, was renamed Veddersburg. Some people though started calling the hamlet “Amsterdam,” the same name as the surrounding township, which had been created in 1793.
The name was officially changed to Amsterdam at a meeting at town Supervisor James Allen’s inn on what is now Route 30. Allen supposedly cast the tie-breaking vote. But there is no official record of the meeting, and historians place the date anywhere between 1804 and 1810.
Amsterdam celebrated its centennial in 1910 but more recent observances, including the 1954 sesquicentennial and 2004 bicentennial, used 1804 as the name-change year.
Amsterdam incorporated as a village in 1831. By the 1880s, reliable rail transportation helped carpet and knitting mills grow. In part to fight crime with a larger police force, city business and civic leaders lobbied Albany to make the village a city.
The Legislature passed an enabling law in 1884 but Gov. Grover Cleveland refused to sign it, saying the Amsterdam charter needed more work.
The Board of Trade, predecessor of the current Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, continued to lobby Albany the next year for a city charter. Cleveland left the state for his first term as president and the Amsterdam charter was signed into law by Gov. David Hill. It took effect April 16, 1885. Three years later, the city annexed the Erie Canal settlement of Port Jackson south of the Mohawk River.
Von Hasseln said the city did celebrate the centennial of the city charter in 1985, with 100 events planned for 100 days. Unfortunately, not all those events took place.
For the 125th city charter anniversary, von Hasseln wants to create a memorable year at no cost to taxpayers, seeking private donations or staying within the existing city budget.
He has located the original charter in the state archives in Albany and plans to have a copy framed and formally presented to the mayor and Common Council this month. The copy of the charter would then be displayed at City Hall.
Von Hasseln hopes to schedule a civic dinner to re-create the feel of the old Board of Trade dinners. City officials would be encouraged to dress in Victorian attire to represent their 1885 predecessors.
Another idea is to have a birthday observance at the Amsterdam Housing Authority’s elderly housing complex with the oldest resident joining the mayor in cutting a city birthday cake. Oral history interviews would be conducted with the residents.
As other Capital Region cities have done, von Hasseln said, Amsterdam could have a restaurant week with eateries offering special dinners for $18.85 or $12.50. An “A is for Amsterdam” coloring book could be prepared for elementary school students if a corporate sponsor is found.
Images from the new picture history, “Amsterdam,” by von Hasseln and Gerald Snyder will be put on display at the Walter Elwood Museum. It’s hoped to reopen the local history room at the Amsterdam Free Library.
As part of music programs at Riverlink Park this summer, von Hasseln said, there could be a performance of excerpts from Maria Riccio Bryce’s “Amsterdam Oratorio,” last performed in 2001.