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In the early 1900's, travelers rode the train for hours to play along the shores of Kinderhook Lake. Getting to the lake in New York's Berkshires requires much less effort today, but its lure is just as strong as it was then. Kinderhook Lake in the Capital-Saratoga region calls visitors and residents alike to enjoy the clean, clear water, abundant fish and rich history of Columbia County.
In 1609 Henry Hudson made his way up the Hudson River. He saw a group of Mohican Indian children playing on the shore and named the spot Kinderhoeck or "Children's Corner." Several communities sprouted in the area, including Niverville originally known as Kinderhook Station. The first house in Niverville was built in 1707 by Louren Lourenson Van Alen. Seeing the need for lumber for additional buildings, in 1710 Van Alen built a sawmill on the Valatie Kill, a stream at the outlet of Kinderhook Lake. An iron forge followed in 1786, and in 1810 John Niver built a gristmill and earthen dam raising water levels on Kinderhook Lake. Niver and his cousin John M. emigrated from Germany in the 1800's and in 1848 built Niver Mansion which still stands today. Niverville was named after the cousins.
Electric Park opened in 1901 on the shores of Kinderhook Lake. Admission to the park was free for roundtrip ticket holders (40 cents) on the Albany and Hudson Railway. All other visitors paid ten cents for admission to the park. The Albany and Hudson Railway Company owned Electric Park and the third rail was actually used to power the park's lights and some of the attractions. There were two Ferris wheels - a steam powered one outside the park that visitors could ride for five cents and an electric one inside the park included with park admission.
A carousel on an island in Kinderhook Lake lured visitors to the lake. A bridge led to the island and there was also a bridge that crossed the lake. Young men escorted their dates to the middle of the bridge then made it sway from side to side eliciting squeals of mock terror and delight. Squeals could also be heard coming from the wooden slide known as the "chute to chute," which could be traveled by floating carts in the summer and toboggans in the winter. The roller coaster rose over the surface of the lake. The supports for the coaster were sunk through holes in the frozen lake and can still be seen sticking out of the water today. In the winter ice was cut from the lake and stored in the park's icehouse for summer use. Electric Park included a dance hall, vaudeville theater shooting gallery, bowling alley and restaurant. It was in a "dry part" of the county, however, and residents joked that fathers would drop their families at the park and "go fishing for beer." There were six saloons around Kinderhook Lake and rented boats carried people to "rest areas" on islands in the lake.
The biggest attraction in all of Electric Park, however, was the lake itself. Visitors could rent wooden platforms to erect tents and spend the day sunbathing, swimming or fishing. Electric Park closed during World War I. It never really came back to its former popularity, but the lake is more popular than ever. Some Electric Park buildings became homes and over the years private residences and vacation rentals were tucked in among the tree lined shore. The Kinderhook Lake Improvement Association (KLIA) was formed in the 1930's to keep the lake clean and stock it with fish. Its role expanded in 1949 when the dam built in the 1700's failed dropping Kinderhook Lake to its original water levels. Members of KLIA came together in 1953 to create the Kinderhook Lake Corporation (KLC) with the goal of purchasing the bottom of the lake and rebuilding the dam. KLC manages the lake and water levels today which fluctuate slightly depending on spring rains and snowmelt. KLIA maintains a public boat launch for car top boats and a private launch for property owners. The lake is full of pan fish and white perch, and there is great largemouth bass fishing.
Nearby the communities of Kinderhook, Valatie, Chatham and Niverville have any amenities a visitor might need. All the villages also have rich histories with buildings and visual reminders from the Dutch settlers that founded them. Driving or strolling down the charming streets is a fantastic way to spend a day, and there are shops, restaurants and historic inns. For visitors that want to extend their stay, there is real estate available for sale. The Omi International Arts Center is a short drive from Kinderhook Lake. Established in 1998 the Fields Sculpture Park occupies 100 of the Arts Center's 300 acres and has a variety of outdoor sculpture. There is also a visitor center and gallery.
With its interesting history, cool water and abundant fish, Kinderhook Lake is the perfect place to make memories. Add the rolling hills and legendary Catskills and Kinderhook Lake becomes a place to return to again and again.
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