Formed from a portion of Albany County by legislature action April 4, 1786, Columbia County is bounded on the north by Rensselaer, on the south by Dutchess, on the east by a small portion of Dutchess County and on the west by the Hudson River.
As a result of an act passed March 24, 1772, the area now Columbia County was divided into districts: Kinderhook in the northwest, Kings in the northeast; Claverack, in the central portion; and Livingston Manor in the southern. The district of Germantown was formed from part of Livingston Manor April 1, 1775, and that of Hillsdale from Claverack, March 26, 1782. Another division of the area was the city of Hudson, incorporated as such, April 22, 1785.
Settlement of the area began around the middle of the 17th century when the Dutch, plus a few Swedes, appeared in the Kinderhook area. In 1681, Governor Andros granted land in the Chatham center area to a group of Van Alen, Van Alstyne, and Huck families. An old stone building erected by these for use as a fort still stands.
The Dutch must also have appeared in the Claverack area at a very early date for the Van Rensselaers erected their “Lower Manor House” east of the present village, in 1685, and Claverack Landing was known to the Captains of old river sloops by 1680.
The Germans from the Rhineland, more commonly known as the Palatines, more than 1,100 of whom were settled in what is now Germantown, in the autumn of 1710 form another element that has left a lasting imprint, culturally and physically, upon the area. These people had been brought here to manufacture naval stores for the Crown. Failure of this undertaking, and other causes, brought about the breakup of the colony and spread of the people throughout a wide area.
The Clermont, now consisting of some 11,000 acres can claim the first public school established in New York State, this in 1791. Clermont Post Office, one of the first one hundred to be established, functioned until 1957 when the area was taken over by Germantown and Hudson.
Considerable iron mining and processing was carried on in the area at one time. Forges and workings were located in and about present day Ancram, Copake, Taghkanic, and other areas. An extensive operation at a later day was located at Linlithgo.
Influx from New England was general and took place all along what later became the eastern boundary of the county. One settlement was made by a group of New Englanders from Nantucket, Providence, and other localities. These people were for the most part mariners and merchantmen who had suffered at the hands of the British Navy in the Revolution and were looking for a safe inland haven as a base of operations. These people purchased land in and about Claverack Landing. Their attempt proved highly successful and resulted in the founding of the city of Hudson, incorporated 1785, and active as a whaling port until about 1845.
During the Revolution men from the area fought at Saratoga, in the Highlands, and also other places. There was also a goodly bit of Tory activity here, one of the worst instances of Tory activity was the Van Ness murder, at which time a gang of Tories seized and shot Abraham Van Ness, a young patriot home on leave with his folks who lived in the Malden Bridge area.
During the winter of 1775-76, Henry Knox and his men passed through the area, en route to deliver the cannon captured at Fort Ticonderoga to General Washington who used them to force the British to evacuate Boston.
Farming, general dairy, and fruit were at one time the prime industries of the area, and still figure largely in the county’s economy. A large portion of this at present, however, can now be classed as residential.
The county today is divided into eighteen townships. Included within the county is one city, Hudson; four incorporated villages, Chatham, Kinderhook, Philmont, and Valatie; and a number of villages and hamlets.