In the early 1800s, fists flew in Bangall; in the 1900s, cars flew on the hamlet’s Main Street

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

Guilderland Center’s churches were not only important in the hamlet for their religious services and organizations such as Sunday School and women’s groups, but also for the socializing that was provided for the community when they held many fundraising events. St Mark’s had socials featuring homemade ice cream on Saturdays in the summer while the Helderberg Reformed Church was famous for its clam bakes. Here church members bake clams, potatoes and corn at the rear of the church.

Countless vehicles pass through Guilderland Center daily, unlike centuries ago when small numbers of Native Americans hunted and fished in this area for the abundant wildlife that abounded along the Black Creek. Change began in the early 18th Century when Palatine Germans on their way to Schoharie trekked along what was likely a Native American trail paralleling the creek.

Within a few years, colonists began to settle along the creek and as early as 1734 it is estimated the earliest section of what is now known as the Freeman House was built. Nearby, the original trail became a narrow dirt road.

A 1767 map of the West Manor of Rensselaerwyck illustrated the road with a dwelling labeled “Robt. Freeman.” This was the beginning of what would become Guilderland Center.

By1788, Barent Mynderse, his family, and probably enslaved people had moved into the house and began to farm the lands that went with it. Census records beginning in 1790 show three or four enslaved persons living and working there.

A Revolutionary War veteran, Mynderse had been awarded freehold ownership instead of being forced to lease the land and pay rent to the Van Rensselaers. The house and sizable farm remained in the Mynderse family until the1860s when it was sold to James Crounse. He and later his son farmed the land into the 20th Century.

On adjoining property, Barent’s son Nicholas constructed what is today known as the Mynderse-Frederick House in 1802, operating it as a store and tavern. A young man of promise, Nicholas was elected the first town supervisor in 1803 when Guilderland was established as a separate town.

A year later, as a member of the Federalist Party, he was elected to the New York State Assembly. Sadly, this promising young man died before his two-year term of office ended in 1805.

It is not clear what happened to the store and tavern next, but probably the Mynderse family continued to operate it or they leased it out to someone else. Eventually, it was sold to Michael Frederick and remained in his family until 1941.


19th Century

In the meantime, during the early years of the 19th Century, other farms, houses, and taverns were established along what had become known as the Schoharie Road, passing through the tiny community. At some point during these early years, it became known as “Bangall,” based on old tales.

Supposedly some men, fueled by alcohol, got into a brawl when one is supposed to have cried out, “Don’t stop now, let’s bang them all!!!” Or was it the story of a political dispute that became more and more angry; fists began flying, and afterward, one of the fighting men is said to have exclaimed, “Well, this bangs all.”

By 1831, the population of the little hamlet had grown sizable enough for the United States Post Office to set up the third post office in Guilderland, giving it the name Guilderland Centre, a spelling that lasted until officially changed to “Center” in 1893.

Informally the name Bangall lingered on with the implication that Guilderland Center was a pretty wild place. The 1886 Howell & Tenney History of Albany County noted the Centre was also known as Bangall, “so called from the influences of rum, horse racing and rough manners so prevalent there.”

As late as 1950, a feature story about Guilderland Center in an Albany newspaper was headlined, “Bangall, as the Name Hints, Was a 2-Fisted Place Where Horses Went Fast and Mule Whiskey Faster.”

Improvement came to the rutted dirt Schoharie road, passing through Guilderland Center, when in the 1840s investors had the road planked, renaming it the Albany-Schoharie Turnpike, connecting the Western Turnpike with Schoharie.

Even though tolls were now charged, traffic increased and a regular stagecoach connecting Albany and Schoharie was scheduled. A new hotel and tavern named Centre House was built on the site of what is now the entrance to modern-day Park Guilderland.

The Beers Map of 1866 gave a detailed picture of Guilderland Centre showing someone named W. McMiller operating the Centre House, while M.H. Frederick was operating the Mynderse-Frederick House as a “hotel.” There were two blacksmiths, three stores, a shoe shop, a tailor, a saloon, and a school as well as dwellings.

The 1860s brought change. Once the Albany-Susquehanna Railroad began operation, The Albany-Schoharie Turnpike quickly went out of business and Guilderland Center’s main street became a quiet, local street. A new cobblestone school house was erected.

By the end of the decade, Michael Frederick was definitely in charge of the Centre House, later turning it over to his son William. At the eastern end of the community, the Saratoga & Hudson Railroad was constructed. But it quickly became bankrupt and had little effect on the village.

A welcome addition to the village in 1872 was the building of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church next to the Cobblestone School. A parsonage was erected adjacent to St. Marks. After St. Mark’s closed, it eventually became Centrepoint Church.

Back at the eastern end of the village, the roadbed of the defunct Saratoga & Hudson Railroad became part of the route of the newly constructed New York, West Shore & Buffalo Railroad connecting Weehawken, New Jersey, and Buffalo.

Designed to compete with the New York Central Railroad, eventually the line would become the West Shore Division of the New York Central Railroad. Today the CSX tracks follow the same path through Guilderland Center as these early railroads.

The West Shore brought rapid commercial development to the eastern edge of the hamlet. Soon a small railroad depot was erected and a feed mill was put up. A hay press went into operation, giving farmers the opportunity to earn money selling excess hay. Travelers were served by a new hotel built near the tracks.

A second church was built in 1896 when new churches were erected in Altamont and Guilderland Center, this one retaining the name Helderberg Reformed Church. New houses had been added to the main street and from 1888 to 1899 a cigar factory operated there, replaced by a paint shop when it closed. The building remains today containing apartments.

There were two general stores; the Republican one was operated by Philip Petinger while the Democratic owners of the second were the Van Wormer brothers.

Each served as a village post office, depending on the President’s party, as he made postmaster appointments as his privilege, a tradition lasting until Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office. Even then, the post office continued in the general store in Guilderland Center until the 1960s.


20th Century

A third hotel called Fowler’s Hotel also operated on the main street a few doors west of the Centre House. Otherwise Main Street, as it was called then, had an intermingling of houses and businesses plus three farms. When, in 1901, new owner Seymour Borst purchased the Centre House, the exterior was “modernized,” but it continued to be operated as a tavern and hotel.

In 1915, Philip Petinger and his wife donated a sizable building on Main Street to the town of Guilderland, which may have once been the stables and meeting room for Fowler’s Hotel across the street.

Becoming known as “Town Hall,” it was used for the town’s tiny highway department and after 1918 the fire station for the new Guilderland Center Fire Department. Upstairs was a large meeting room used for political caucuses and as a polling place.

It was put to great use as a community gathering place for all sorts of events. The building was eventually taken down in 1958.

The formation of the Guilderland Fire Department in 1918 was a welcome event not only for Guilderland Center, but for the surrounding area, which was also much in need of fire protection as well. Firemen were called out by the clang of a sledge hammer crashing against a suspended locomotive ring, hanging today in front of the department’s modern firehouse on School Road.

The automotive age immediately led to the first complaints of reckless, speedy driving through the hamlet. Petinger’s store, noting profits to be made, installed the first primitive gas pump in front. The rush to ride in cars led to the decline in rail traffic, which in turn led to passenger service being discontinued on the West Shore by the mid 1920s.

By 1941, the old Cobblestone School was considered inadequate for educating the hamlet’s children with the result students began to be bussed to Voorheesville’s central schools. Guilderland Center students eventually returned to Guilderland after the district had centralized in 1950 and constructed new schools.

Automobile death rates due to collisions at grade-level crossings between cars and trains had become a serious problem, the statistics including a double fatality at the Guilderland Center crossing in 1919 leading to state legislation requiring rail lines to erect overpasses or underpasses at busy crossings.

In Guilderland Center, overpasses were put up in 1927 on what is now Route 146 and at Frenchs Mills Road, now closed. The Route 146 overpass was to the west of the original grade-level road, now dead-end Wagner Road.

Gone were the little West Shore station, the hay press, the hotel and feed mill, the last two having burned in 1926 and 1927.

With international tensions rising in the late 1930s, the federal government quietly began buying up farmland in the vicinity of the railroad tracks stretching toward New Scotland, using eminent domain if necessary.

The plan was to construct a great center for receiving armaments, then reshipping them to coastal ports to be sent overseas for Roosevelt’s Lend Lease program. Formally named the Voorheesville Holding and Reconsignment Center, locally known as the Army Depot, it began operation in late 1941.

Once the United States entered World War II, over 5,000 workers were employed there. Even after the war’s end, the depot continued in operation through the Korean War until finally closing in 1962.

By 1969, it reopened as the Northeastern Industrial Park, which continues in operation to this day.

The community was almost burned by a wind-driven wild fire in 1947. At the western edge of the hamlet, Fruitdale Farm lost 1,000 fruit trees, barns, and equipment, but between the many firefighters who turned out and the water available from the Black Creek, the hamlet was saved.

The early 1950s brought construction of a new community hall and firehouse on what is now called School Road. After the town’s highway department was moved to its present location, the Old Town Hall was demolished in 1958, replaced by a residence.

In 1954, the new Guilderland Junior-Senior High School and the district’s bus garage opened, hence the name School Road.

Huge change was coming in 1969 when Fortunato Realty Company of Long Island purchased Joseph C. Banks’ tavern, originally the Centre House, with 32 acres, announcing they planned to develop a large apartment complex in the midst of Guilderland Center.

With construction underway in 1972, they next proposed a strip mall in front of the apartments. In the meantime, on the opposite corner, Empie’s Store, which once had been Petinger’s, was demolished to be replaced by a gas station.

At this time, the town of Guilderland acquired the historic Mynderse-Frederick House, opening it to the public and as a site for meetings of the newly formed historical society and garden Club. St. Mark’s closed, but is today Centrepoint Church.

Coming in 1985, was the reconstruction of the railroad overpass and a relocation of the entrance to Northeastern Industrial Park from Depot Road to Van Buren Boulevard off of Route 146. The next year brought great loss to the community when an arsonist caused the destruction of the historic Helderberg Reformed Church, replaced by the congregation with a modern church.

Today, except for the endless traffic, the community still retains the air of a country village with the difference that the population has grown and no longer is everyone acquainted with everyone else as they would have been long ago.