Some Kinderhook History


The village of Kinderhook, New York is an old Dutch village that was settled in the 1600s, shortly after Henry Hudson voyaged up the river that now bears his name. Early inhabitants settled around what is now Stuyvesant Landing and gradually moved inland. The town originally stretched from the Hudson River to what is now the town of Chatham. Kinderhook means "Children's Corner" in Dutch and still retains its colonial Dutch atmosphere.

Research indicates that on September 15, 1609 the explorer Henry Hudson and the crew of the Half Moon met the Mohicans in this area for the first time, and the history of the Mohican Nation was changed forever. Another good source of information on the culture, various tribes, education, history, geography, and links to other webpages is the Native American Site established by Lisa Mitten, a former librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, who describes herself as a "Mohawk urban Indian."

Kinderhook is steeped in history. Washington Irving wrote his classic story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" while staying at Lindenwald, the home of Martin Van Buren. The Van Alen House, built in 1737, is just north of Lindenwald on route 9H. The house is now a museum, along with the original Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse adjoining it, quite faithfully described by Irving. A fascinating account of the early history of the Kinderhook area was published by the Village in 1976 for the Bicentennial.

Martin Van Buren

[President Martin Van Buren]
Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) is another notable local person. He was born on December 5th in a house that was located at 36 Hudson Street, where an historical marker now stands. His father, who had fought in the war for Independence, was a tavern keeper and farmer. Martin attended village schools until age 14 when he started to read law with a local attorney, Mr. Sylvester. He then moved to New York City to pursue further legal studies. MVB roadside marker
   
MVB's Lindenwald After his years in public service, including Governor of New York State and the Eighth President of the United States (1837-41), he retired to his estate Lindenwald, now a National Historic Site two miles south of the village. Van Buren, who contributed greatly to the establishment of the two party system in this country, resided here for the last 21 years of his life.
   
Beset by respiratory difficulties for many months, Martin Van Buren died on July 24th and was buried next to his wife Hannah in the village cemetery on Albany Avenue. MVB family plot
 
Columbia County Museum Many historic houses and sites are maintained by the Columbia County Historic Society, whose museum and headquarters are located at 7 Albany Avenue.
 
There is extensive background information at the Martin Van Buren history site, the White House website, and the Presidents of the US site. President Van Buren
The Village developed a Walking Tour of the Historic District in 1976 for the Bicentennial.
Special insights into Kinderhook Village can be found in the collection of Personal Reminiscences.
Another local notable is Martin H. Glynn of the neighboring village of Valatie, who was also Governor of New York.

The Origins of "O.K."

There are many stories regarding the origins of the expression "O.K." One relates to the many apple orchards in the county. Back in the 1700s, apples from this area were packed in crates marked "Old Kinderhook." There is even one on display in one of the eateries on the village square. Apparently people started referring to them as "O.K." apples. Gradually the term was taken to mean a description of the apples' "good quality" rather than their location of origin!

According to John Ciardi in A Browser's Dictionary: A Compendium of Curious Expressions and Intriguing Facts the expression "O.K." was used in the 1820's when

"...Boston wits took to playing a waggish game of 'murdering the King's English,' and in that game O.K. became fixed as the abbreviation for Orl Korreck. The game had played itself out by 1840, but the [Democrats] remembered it."

"Martin Van Buren, a native of Kinderhook, NY, was popularly known as Old Kinderhook, or O.K. In support of Van Buren's 1840 campaign for reelection, the New York Equal Rights Democrats ... formed the O.K. Democratic Club. The cry "O.K.," indicating enthusiastic approval of Old Kinderhook, soon began to resound at rallies, and the letters O.K. became common on placards and in political cartoons."

"Foreign coverage of the campaign, which included reproductions of the cartoons, soon spread OK or O.K. through Europe and Latin America as a formula of approval. From that start, for reasons anyone is free to theorize, O.K. spread to become naturalized into practically every language on earth. O.K. is the most widely diffused word form in history, rivaled only by Coca-Cola. ...When Van Buren was crushingly defeated by William Henry Harrison, the [Democrats] let it be known that O.K. stood for Orful Kalamity and Orrible Katastrophe."


A great deal of additional material is available from the following sources:

Ralph Duck, "History of Kinderhook"
Piwonka and Blackburn, "Architectural History of Columbia County"
Donald S. Johnson, "Charting the Sea of Darkness: The Four Voyages of Henry Hudson" 1995
Collier's "A History of Old Kinderhook" 1914

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Kinderhook Connection