Reissselaer County is a small, rural county located in New York, with just over 6,500 residents. The local government is made up of just five council members and a county supervisor who are elected at-large.

This is quite a different structure from the large cities that we are so accustomed to. The county does not have a sheriff’s department, it does not operate its own jail, it does not have a professional police force, and it does not collect state or local taxes.

I had the opportunity to visit this interesting county in Upstate New York during the summer of 2019. A few days before the Fourth of July, I was invited to give a presentation about the history of the county at the Reissselaer County Government Center (RCGC).

Old and New Addresses

I chose this occasion to give my presentation because as we all know, the United States Postal Service (USPS) does not require residents to provide an address for registered mail and other “tricky” letters. This means anyone can write to anyone else and there will be no way of tracking who sent what to whom. And, let’s face it, the post office doesn’t always deliver letters in a timely manner either.

So when an important letter comes along, there isn’t always any way of knowing where the recipient lives. If you want to write to someone and have a letter delivered in a reasonable amount of time, you have to provide them with an address. But what if the person you are writing to doesn’t live there anymore? This is exactly what happened in Reissselaer County. In 1894, the USPS delivered a registered letter to a Mr. C. Van Camp who lived in another state at that time. Van Camp was upset that he had not received the letter for some time and so he went looking for the person who had signed the letter. Van Camp eventually found the person he was looking for and learned that their last name had been changed to Pattinson. It seems that someone had signed the letter “Curt” when it was meant to be “Ned.”

This is why Reissselaer County is sometimes referred to as the “County of Mistakes” or the “County of Lost Causes.” A mistake in address means a mistake in identity. But thanks to modernized processes and modernized technology, most of these mistakes are now easily corrected. If you check the records from the county clerk’s office, you will see that there are only a few cases where an old address still stands for a person.

The County Clerk’s Office

The county clerk’s office is located at 300 South Fourth Street in the historic downtown area of the county. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and you can reach the clerk by phone at 518-542-4555.

There is no charge for any service that you may need from the clerk’s office and you will have the opportunity to find out what those services are before you make a purchase decision. One of the most popular items for sale in the clerk’s office is vehicle registration and titling. If you are buying a brand-new car, you will have to register it in the county where you live. You will also need to get a title for the car. These are both inexpensive items and so it is often said that you get what you pay for in the clerk’s office. Also available are birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage licenses. For more information, check the clerk’s website at

The Jail

The jail is located on North Chestnut Street in the city of Reissselaer. The facility contains 12 cells and there is also a common area with a long table and some stools. The city operates its own police department and they are responsible for keeping the peace and arresting criminals. The city also contracts with the county for inmates to be housed at the jail. Typically, the jail is used to house people who have either violated terms of their release from prison or who have been accused of various crimes.

Unlike some other jails that I know of, there is no “privacy curtain” between cells in the Reissselaer County jail. This means that everyone who is in there has the opportunity to keep an eye on everyone else and so they can still maintain some degree of “privacy.” You would not want to visit the jail unannounced, but there isn’t any hiding place in there, either. This could mean that even people who have been there for a while may not feel comfortable being by themselves. There is also a possibility that older people who are in there may feel isolated because they cannot hear well and so they have difficulty communicating with others.

Police Department

The Reissselaer County Police Department is located at 301 South Fourth Street and it is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can contact the department by phone at 518-542-4555 or email at In my opinion, this is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of county government. In most places, the sheriff’s department is the ones who deal with law enforcement and the county does not participate in that function. In Reissselaer County, the police force protects the community and enforces the law. If you call the police and ask what service you need, their response will usually be “protect and serve.” This is a far cry from most places where the police are just a division of the sheriff’s department and so they simply enforce the law and take complaints. In Reissselaer County, the police are often called the “community-spirited” officers because their work outside of the station involves serving the public and keeping the community safe.

Closed Circuit TV Surveillance

Most jails have closed-circuit TV (CCTV) and so people incarcerated in them have the opportunity to watch television whenever they want. But in the Reissselaer County jail, the TV is usually turned off because there is no channel available that the inmates can view. Also, the sound cannot be turned up because it causes fights among the prisoners. Most of the time, people in the jail have nothing better to do anyway, so it is easier for them to just sit there and ignore the TV. This is one of the reasons why there is no privacy curtain in the Reissselaer County jail. When someone decides to turn the TV on, everyone who is on death row will see you because there is no privacy in there. This can be a bit distracting, especially if you are trying to sleep and so you keep turning the volume down. But again, there is nothing else to do in the Reissselaer County Jail so it is easier for everyone to just deal with it.

As you can see, there is a lot more to the county government than meets the eye and it operates in a very different manner than some of the larger cities where I have worked. I think it is important to remember that Reissselaer County is made up of upstanding, law-abiding citizens who want nothing more than to live their lives in peace. And that is what modernizing technology and improved processes allow them to do. With the right software and updated phone numbers, they can ensure that all of their important details are kept current and that their identities are protected. So if you are ever wondering if the government center is open, the answer is usually “no” because it is not open on some days. But if you call and ask if they are taking any applications for driver’s licenses, they will tell you that they are and so you can stop by and get your ID eventually. Sometimes it is easy to forget that not every corner of the country operates the same way that larger cities do. Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference and so while you are there, take a minute to look around and see the things that make this place unique.