CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — For anyone driving through town at 40 miles per hour the blur of well-kept suburban homes, heavily-used shopping areas, and vacant former farm fields can obscure the larger picture.
But if one was to abandon the car and take a stroll through one of the town’s historic hamlets or neighborhoods it would put the entire community in a new perspective. The walk would take on more significance if it was led by the town historian.
Thankfully, after a year of forced hibernation town historian John Scherer has returned to presenting his popular history walks. The first of three scheduled presentations was presented May 15 and took participants through the Vischer Ferry Historic District.
Scherer’s one-hour walk drew a dozen people happy to be outside in the company of others without their masks (optional but no one wore one) and eager to learn about the community’s history, its architecture, and a few tidbits about the early residents.
Vischer Ferry is a small community in the southern part of town at the intersection of Riverview Road and Vischer Ferry Road. It is made up of about 20 houses, a historic church, a fire station and a renovated general store. Riverview Road is its main street.
After collecting his group in the parking area of the local fire station, Scherer brought them down Ferry Drive to the site of the original ferry that gave the hamlet its name. The primitive late 18th-century ferry took wagons, carriages, livestock and pedestrians across the Mohawk River between Clifton Park and Niskayuna for many years.
“There were no turnpikes at this time, no buses, or railroads so people traveled on the river,” Scherer said. “That’s why all your settlements are along the Hudson and Mohawk rivers.
Shortly after Eldert Vischer established the ferry in 1790 a nearby stream was damned up and a grist mill was built. Because of the ferry and the mill, the area became a settlement and a tavern was built in 1797. That was followed by a general store and before long a community began to develop around the businesses.
“When the Erie Canal was built in 1825 the small community exploded in population,” Scherer said.
Scherer recalled his 1975 interview with the last lock tender for lock 19, John Woodin. Woodin’s father and grandfather were also lock tenders. In describing the early days of the community they told the boy that once the canal was dug one could walk down the community’s main street and you could hear was the clanging of hammers.
Walking back along Ferry Drive Scherer began pointing out the architectural features on the street’s two homes.
A small brick building at the rear of a much larger brick home is actually the oldest home in Clifton Park. According to Scherer the small brick building was built by Eldert Vischer’s father, Nicholas, after he came to the area from Schenectady around 1735.
“It’s just one room with a loft above,” Scherer said. “It’s nice that we still have the house today.”
Walking east along Riverview Road Scherer pointed out the Vischer Ferry General Store and the fire station across the street. Pointing to the fire station, he noted that the Clifton Park Historic Preservation Commission had worked with the architect on a renovation to help the building blend into the community.
“There was a hotel on that spot from 1897 to 1947,” Scherer said. “When it burned down the volunteer fire company was formed. A group of local men got together and swore they would not lose another good gin mill to fire.”
As the group moved eastward down Riverview Road Scherer pointed out the individual Greek Revival style homes.
“Why did people build Greek Revival,” he asked rhetorically, “because our country was young. People looked at themselves as the inheritors of a new nation.”
As the group continued farther along the road Scherer pointed out the homes that had mixed the Greek Revival style with the Gothic Revival of the 1840s. He pointed out what had once been a local schoolhouse and noted its recessed front door with its two separate entrances into the main room.
“One entrance was for the boys and the other was for the girls,” Scherer said.
The community’s old harness shop was noted as was the local funeral parlor. Both are now private homes.
“This was a working-class community,” Scherer said several times.
One of the tour’s participants had a special interest in the hamlet. Katherine Trimarco is a Vischer descendant.
“I didn’t grow up here and being a Vischer I love to hear about the family,” she said. “My second great grandfather William Vischer moved west from Grooms Corners. I came today because I wanted to see where he once walked around.”
Scherer will make two presentations in the next month. At 2 p.m. May 23 he will present a historical overview of the Town of Clifton Park at the Historic Grooms Tavern. And, at 10 a.m. June 12 he will give a walking tour of the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. Both are free and open to the public.