Community Theater Helps Area Residents Connect with Local Rural History


In 1839, a rent collector of the VanRensselaer Patroonship was sent up to the Helderberg Hilltowns (known then as “Rensselearwyck”) to collect unpaid rents from area tenant farmers. The farmers resisted the rent collector, sending him back to Albany empty-handed. This sparked an organized movement of tenant farmers against the Dutch leasehold system, starting in the Hilltowns and eventually spreading west to Delaware County and east of the Hudson River into Rensselaer and Columbia Counties. Known as the Anti-Rent Wars of 1839–1845, it is the largest agrarian movement in US history.

Last month the Carey Institute’s Helderberg Brewery, in partnership with local artists, produced the “Anti-Rent Pub Crawl.” An audience of 50 people was led by a tour guide/historical narrator through the hamlet of Rensselaerville.

Along the way they encountered four scenes depicting key events of the Anti-Rent Wars interwoven with live music by Big Thunder and the Anti-Rent Ramblers. The Ramblers performed Anti-Rent ballads and poems set to an original score. Audience members were invited to participate in each scene as anti-renters.

The Anti-Rent Pub Crawl was presented by the Helderberg Brewery’s Hilltowns Alive Agritourism Event Series, with support from Discover Albany and the Carey Institute for Global Good. Travel locally and experience the small businesses, natural beauty and creative culture of rural Albany County.

The series leverages/highlights the rich artistic and agricultural resources of rural Albany County to offer unique, creative placemaking experiences. Creative placemaking is gaining popularity as a strategy for economic development. The Carey Institute’s Sustainable Communities Program will continue exploring opportunities for creative placemaking in the Hilltowns.