History of the Land
The area was originally inhabited by the Mohican Indian tribe until it was bought by the Dutch jeweler and merchant Kiliaen van Rensselaer. In approximately 1630, Killian Van Rensselaer was granted authority by the Dutch West India Company to develop Rensselaerswyck. The patroonship, initially granted for the west side of the Hudson River, gradually expanded during the 1600’s to include most of what is now Rensselaer and Albany Counties outside the City of Albany. Rensselaerswyck was the only one of the early patroonships which survived and prospered through the English colonial period into the early years of the American Republic.
The patroonship was a quasi—feudal land development scheme. Settlers leased their land for settlement and productive use from the patroon who retained ownership. In exchange for the lease, the settler was obligated to pay the patroon who retained ownership. In exchange for the lease, the settler was obligated to pay the patroon an annual rent. David DeFreest and his three sons, Phillip, Martin, and Jacob, all became settlers of the Van Rensselaer Patroon. All three sons raised huge families, were leaders of the community and became patriots in the Revolution. The hamlet of Defreestville, located in the Town of North Greenbush, was names after the family.
The anti-rent was of the early 19th century expressed the revolt of independent local American farmers to the perpetual obligation to a wealthy landowner. In response to the anti-rent controversy, the New York State legislature forces an end to the lease holding by 1850.
By the early 1900’s the property of the descendants of the Phillip DeFreest had passes into the Jordan family, which continued to occupy and farm the land until 1940. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) acquired this land in 1969. The original pans of RPI, to move their campus to the site, were abandoned when additional land became available near their present location in the city of Troy. After considering a number of possible uses for the land, RPI announced plans to develop it into a high-technology park in 1981.
The DeFreest Homestead
Historians speculate that Philip DeFreest built his home about the time of his marriage in 1740. It is possible that the frame portion was constructed by Phillip’s father, David, as early as 1720. The DeFreest House, currently the Technology Park main office, is strategically located on a wooded triangle of land overlooking a stream and Hudson River Valley. Within its walls and foundations are priceless clues to the lives and personalities of the early Dutch settlers of the Valley.
The DeFreest homestead was one of the early Rensselaers Wick fames and is a rare surviving example of 18th century Dutch architecture of the region. This building (along with the a companion homestead – the David DeFreest house – which is privately owned on nearby land) retains many of the elements of its original construction, which dates from a period when each and every building was an induvial production of elements laboriously made by hand.
The main portion of the house is a gambrel-roofed structure, one and a half stories high, of brick laid up in Flemish bond. The rear wing is a gable-roofed addition, also one and a half stories in height. Both the gambrel-roofed design and a number of architectural details, such as the exposed knee brace, smooth planed beams and ceiling planks, rooflines that are flush with the gable ends, plain wrought iron beam anchors and some splayed brick lintels, were characteristics of homes in the Hudson Valley during this period. Of particular note is the use of small hand-made, unevenly fired bricks, which provide outstanding testimony to the individual labor which went into the building materials as well as construction. The excellent condition of these materials and house itself speak well for the workmanship of the Phillip DeFreest family.
There are also two known cemeteries in the park that can help us piece together the history of the people who lived on this land. One located in close proximity to the DeFreest house and the other located near 400 Jordan road.
The DeFreest house, along with the adjoining land passed from the DeFreest family to the Jordan family, which continued to use it as a residence until 1940. By the time RPI took ownership of the DeFreest/Jordan property, the building had been vacant for a number of years. In 1977, through the efforts of RPI and local historical societies, the Phillip DeFreest homestead ( and the nearby David DeFreest homestead) were listed on the “National Register of Historic Places.”