Knower House

Benjamin Knower was a prominent banker and businessman in the Altamont area.  It is believed that Knower came out to the village that would bear his name for 47 years in about 1800.  It was at about this time that he built the Knower House, which would have been considered a veritable mansion in its day.  Knower was actually a hatter by trade.  Knower was said to have created a waterproofing method for beaver-skin hats.  However, near as anyone can tell, Knower’s “secret process” for waterproofing simply involved him dunking the hats in the Bozenkill Creek that ran behind his house.

Knower served as the third president of the Mechanics and Farmers’ Bank of Albany.  He was active in the bank’s management from 1817-1834, a total of 17 years.  Knower also served as the Secretary of the Treasury of the State of New York from 1821 until 1824.  Knower was well-respected in the business community by his contemporaries.  One man, Gordon A. Worth had this to say about him in his work “Random Recollections”:

“There was still another class, not less active nor less important, in a business point of view.  I allude to a then comparatively new or recently established body of mechanics of which Benjamin Knower was confessedly at the head.  Mr. Knower was indeed a man of strong mind and persevering energy of character.  Through his influence the charter of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank was obtained and the mechanics of the city of Albany rose in consideration and respect, personal and political, to a length which they had never before reached.”

Knower’s financial acumen was, in fact, instrumental in the building of the Erie Canal.  Benjamin Knower contributed generously to the fund that was collected to help defray the expenses of both building the canal and staging the huge celebration in Albany that was planned for when the first boat travelled across the state from Buffalo and was locked down into the Hudson River.  On July 1, 1825, Knower took part in another major event.  In his old age, America’s Revolutionary War ally Gilbert du Mortier, Marquise de La Fayette revisited the country he helped liberate.  When La Fayette visited Albany, Knower was among the men he had dinner with.  The village (or, at least the post office) was named Knowersville in his honor after his death in 1840.  It would be renamed Altamont in 1882.

Knower’s various connections extended beyond the realm of business and into his own family.  New YorkState governor William L. Marcy was married to Knower’s oldest daughter Cornelia.  Marcy was 38 years old and serving as state comptroller at the time.  Marcy would also eventually serve as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State of the United States.

Upon his death in 1839, an Albany city newspaper had this to say about Benjamin Knower as both a businessman and as a man:

“Benjamin Knower died at 64.  Although he began life as a mechanic, he soon entered upon extensive commercial transactions.  His career was distinguished for enterprise and public spirit, and he passed through it with a reputation for integrity unsullied and for business capacity unsurpassed.  He was a long time connected with and took an active part in the management of the M. & F. Bank of which he was President.  In 1821 he was solicited to take the office of State Treasurer, which he held until the fall of 1824, when he resigned.  Mr. Knower was a hatter by occupation and having many apprentices, most of them as a matter of iccourse were without pecuniary means or friends able to assist them.  He seemed to regard it not only as a duty but a source of personal gratification to extend to them a helping hand at this critical moment in their lives.  His place of business was a few doors below the corner of Hudson avenue in Broadway on the west side.”

Knower House still stands on New York Route 146 in GuilderlandCenter just outside of what is now the Village of Altamont.  A historical marker stands by the roadside signify the importance of the house and the man who built it.  The village of Altamont may no longer bear Benjamin Knower’s name, but his influence is not forgotten.

Begley, Alice C.  Historic Markers in the Town of Guilderland, Albany County, New York.  Guilderland, New York: Town of Guilderland, 1994.  Print.

Gregg, Arthur B. Old Hellebergh: Scenes from Early Guilderland.Albany, New York: Guilderland Historical Society, 1975.  Print.

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