Clifton Park was transformed by waterways, highways

John Scherer in the history room of the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public LibraryJohn Scherer in the history room of the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library
John Scherer in the history room of the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library

John Scherer in the history room of the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library

BY Molly Congdon
Gazette Reporter
CLIFTON PARK — John Scherer, Clifton Park’s town historian since 1978, sat at the long wooden, glass-topped table within the history room of the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library.
Sepia-toned images and hand-written documents rested underneath the glass, and the walls surrounding the table were full of treasures of yore.
“History is important to everyone,” Scherer said. “It gives them a sense of belonging.”
White settlement of what is now Clifton Park dates all the way back to the Dutch era, in the 1600s.
The origins of the town’s name stem go to the Clifton Park Land Patent of 1708, which was granted to land speculators and included most of the land in present-day Clifton Park. The word “Clifton” literally means “place on a cliff,” which is likely derived from all of the cliffs along the river. It seemed only natural that the town would officially take the name in 1828.
Scherer was a historian by profession, but retired five years ago from the New York State Museum after a 42 year run. “History’s in my blood,” he said. “I know all of the people who lived here 110 years ago, but I don’t know the names of those who live here now.”
Clifton Park was always full of farms and hamlets; agriculture was a huge part of the community for many years. Another major industry of the area until the 1960s was the mining of molding sand, which was used to make cast iron.
According to Scherer, the town’s development can be told through the theme of transportation. The earliest settlements were established near the river. “It was the Thruway of the time,” he explained.
The opening of the Erie Canal in the southern part of Clifton Park played a role as well, making Rexford one of the boomtowns, attracting blacksmiths and industrious settlers.
“Then the next phase of development was because of the turnpikes, Route 9 north.” Scherer said.
The final phase of transportation, however, occurred in 1958 when the Northway opened to traffic. This was when Robert Van bought four farms to create a suburban area full of nice homes for people to live and commute easily to Albany, starting its transition from farming to a residential community.
“It’s hard to say what my favorite part of the town’s history is,” Scherer said. “I really like the tangible parts — the building and artifacts; the things that people before me had also seen, the evidence of the past.”