Native Peoples grew crops along the Mohawk River where flood waters almost annually brought in new soils and nutrients producing rich, productive soils to grow corn. This includes riverfront locations in Colonie, Clifton Park (especially the area now known as the Preserve), Niskayuna, and Glenville. Along the intermittent creek that feeds “Buttermilk Falls” west of Riverview Orchards there are mortars in the rock where it is believed that Native Peoples ground the corn.
Early European settlers settled and farmed these areas learning from the Native Peoples.
Clifton Park started out the twentieth century as a farming community. Our young country burned wood for energy so that much of our riverside landscape had few mature trees. Most everyone raised crops or livestock for sale or for their own use. The other main industry in Town was the mining of molding sand. Trains at the Elnora station, and canal boats at Vischer Ferry transported this sand to various foundries for the production of cast iron.
After World War II, a new breed of resident began to make Clifton Park their home. People who worked at General Electric in Schenectady moved to the country. They lived in Clifton Park, but they worked in Schenectady. The automobile and good roads encouraged this commuter lifestyle. By the early 1950s most every family had a car. Some local residents also found employment in industries located in Troy, Watervliet and Schenectady. Many became part-time farmers, raising various crops and transporting them to market in trucks.
For the first half of the twentieth century the population in Clifton Park had been about 2000, but from 1940 to 1960 that population doubled to 4,512. By 1970 the population had jumped to 14,867, undoubtedly due to the completion of the Northway (Route 87) in 1959 enabling an easy commute to Albany. Today the population of Clifton Park is nearly 40,000.
Although it is apparent that subdivisions now outnumber farms, a number of active farms are still a presence not far from the Byway in Clifton Park. Bowman Orchards on Sugar Hill Road is one of the town’s oldest working farms. William Shepherd (1761-1814) established it in about 1785. Margaret Macintosh (1761-1850), the wife of William Shepherd, was the sister of John Macintosh who later settled in Canada and propagated the MacIntosh apple. The Macintosh’s lived on a neighboring farm. How appropriate that the old Shepherd farm is now an apple orchard.
Riverview Orchards, another early farm along the Byway also produces apples and sells other farm produce, and King Crest Farm on Grooms Road, Grooms Corners is another early farm that is still being farmed. The owners, raise potatoes, beef cattle, and hay. The farm was established by Nicholas Vischer (1771-1841), and his wife, Catherine Van Vranken (1778-1843) in 1801.
Today Clifton Park’s agricultural heritage, and the remaining farms are celebrated with an annual celebration, “Farm Fest,” usually held the second or third weekend in September.
[Most of the materials for this article is contributed by John Scherer and will be used in an interpretive kiosk to be located at Mohawk Landing.]