Kiwanis Club of the Helderbergs Members in County Redistrict Debate

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Kiwanis Club of the Helderbergs - Hilltowners unite: Residents of Berne, Knox, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo descended on Albany Tuesday to the the county's re-districting committee that the don't want to be split among three different legislative districts. They stood behind their current representative, Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, far right, front row, who told the committee that separating the Hilltowns would seriously impact their identity. - Altamont Enterprise - May 19, 2011

Kiwanis members who participated and are included in the picture are Zenie Gladieux, Anna Wolfe, Russ and Amy Pokorny, Mike Hammond, John Elberfeld (and his wife, Jane McLean). On May 19, Al Raymond and his wife, and Helen Lounsbury and her husband Pat were present. Kiwanian John Elberfeld had the letter below published in the Altamont Enterprise on the topic of redistricting. Many of the other participants were members or friends of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association. Dawn Jordan of HHA, pictured next to Sandy Gordon, was the organizer behind the protests. Zenie Gladieux, John Elberfeld, Jane McLean, Amy Pokorny, and Anna Wolfe are active members of HHA.

Kiwanis Club of the Helderbergs - John Elberfeld's Letter to the Editor - Altamont Enterprise - May 19, 2011

Geology is destiny, the Hilltowns share an identity

To the Editor:

As a resident of Knox, an officer in the Knox Historical Society, and an active member of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association, I have some thoughts on the proposed plan for redrawing the district lines for the Albany County Legislature.

Splitting Knox and splitting Berne between two districts is not productive, and the Hilltowns of Berne, Knox, Rensselaerville, and as much of Westerlo as possible should be united in one district.

Part of my duties in the Helderberg Hilltown Association was to present a talk on “Researching Your Hilltown Ancestors” last fall. About 40 history and genealogy buffs from the four Hilltowns (Berne, Knox, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo) gathered together and we discussed how much we had in common. All four towns have historians, historical societies, and museums. We plan to work together in the future to help each other preserve the history of the Hilltowns.

Founding families of the towns intermarried, creating a bond for many of the current Hilltown residents. The web site dedicated to the history and genealogy of the four Hilltowns,, has thousands of articles and pictures proving the Hilltowns have a rich and shared heritage.

Last month, I did a similar presentation for the Guilderland Historical Society. The program chairman suggested I give a history of the Hilltowns — because she had lived in Guilderland for 20 years and had been to Rensselaerville only twice and had never been to Westerlo.

In my presentation, I explained how the four Hilltowns had once been a single entity in the Rensselaerwyck Manor. As the population in the area grew, Westerlo broke off from Rensselaerville, and then Berne separated, and in 1822 Knox broke off from Berne. The little town of Knox covers 41.8 square miles, almost twice the area of the city of Albany.

Because the Guilderland residents knew little about the Hilltowns, I spent time convincing them that we Hilltowners did more than sit on our porches and play banjos, and concoct ways to bamboozle flatlanders from off Hill who wander too far from their homes.

On the other hand, Hilltowners know the residents on the other side of the escarpment have special concerns, like when the sewers will be flushed, the accuracy of their water bills, the cost of trash pickup, changes to the bus schedules, sidewalk repairs, broken street lights, and so on.

Where I live in Knox, I don’t have to worry about any of those things.

Geology is destiny. Living above the escarpment is whole different world. I worry about my septic tank overflowing, will my well pump last another winter, and will my generator get me through the next power outage. And how to tell [Albany County legislator] Sandy Gordon that one of his cows escaped and is mowing and fertilizing my neighbor’s lawn for free.

In the 1800s, the residents of the Hilltowns banded together and waged an Anti-Rent War against the Rensselaer patroon, the sheriff, the army, and the Albany political machine for the right to own their land.

We bring that same spirit of unity and cooperation as we fight to maintain the integrity of the Hilltowns, but don’t worry — Hilltowners haven’t tarred and feathered anyone for quite some time.

John Elberfeld


Altamont Enterprise - May 19, 2011