Albany, New York is the capitol of New York State. The city is located along the Hudson River in Albany County at 42.6° north and 73.8° west. It has a current population of about 120000. Albany is the center of a five county area of suburbs and villages referred to as the "Capitol District," which encompasses nearly 500000 residents.

Early History

The land surrounding Albany was originally home to the Mohican tribe. French traders were the first Europeans to the area, building a small trading post on an island that is just south of the current city. In 1609 Henry Hudson explored that area for the Dutch West India Corporation ship Halve Maen, effectively claiming the area for the Dutch.

Fort Nassau was the first trading post for the Dutch in the area, built in 1614 by Hendrik Christiansen. He constructed a small shack on the ruins of a French trading post, and began trading with the local tribes. He named the fort after the Van Nassau family, which was supporting the Dutch government at the time. Christiansen, along with a few others that had joined him at the fort, became middlemen for the Dutch West India Company, supplying the company furs to be shipped back to the Netherlands. However, Fort Nassau became a failure, and the traders at the fort soon retreated to Nieuw Amsterdam after several tribal raids. The company returned in 1624, this time building a more durable structure, Fort Oranje. The Dutch West India Company soon began making a fortune trading furs from the fort, and soon settlers collected a built a village at the foot of the fort. This settlement was named Beverwijck because of the plentiful supply of beaver furs being taken from the forests in the area.

The settlement was surrounded by a much larger land claim, held by Dutch merchant Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. Van Rensselaer was the first patroon in Niew Nederlandt, receiving his claim to nearly 1600 square miles on both sides of the Hudson River in 1629. Van Rensselaer brought over colonists to farm the land, and viciously micromanaged the colony. However, the settlement of Beverwijck has occurred without the authority of Van Rensselaer, and attempted to charge the residents for the land that they were living on. The settlers pleaded with leaders at Fort Oranjie to help their cause, and the governor of Niew Nederlandt, Peter Stuyvesant, responded by proclaiming Beverwijck as a separate entity from Rensselaerswijck on April 10, 1652. The residents of the city were able to retain their own lands, and set up their own government organizations. Soon Beverwijck had it's own court system, and established local taxes on the fur trade. The taxes that were levied were still much lower than the Rensselaerswijck taxes, and soon Beverwijck became the center of the fur trade in Niew Nederlandt. By the 1650's, Beverwijck was sending 56000 pelts a year back to the Netherlands.

British Rule

In 1664, the Dutch colony of Niew Nederlandt fell to the British, who promptly renamed the entire region New York. Along with the colony, several of the towns along the Hudson had their names changed in order to appeal to British colonists. During this wave of name swapping, Beverwijck was changed to Albany, in honor of the Duke of York and Albany, the new regional governor. The Beverwijck judicial court was allowed to continue untouched as the Court of Albany, Rensselaerswyck, and Schenectady. During a scuffle over the colony, the Dutch were able to take back the city for a little less than a year, renaming the city to Willemstadt, before the British ran the Dutch force out and brought back the name of Albany. The colony grew under the British, and in 1686, Albany was given a city charter by the governor of New York.

The general instability of New York brought about an age of warfare for the area. Mohawks and Mohicans began to fight over the right to trade with the British. The French and Indian War brought delegates from the colonies and the Six Nations to Albany in order to create the Albany Plan of Union. Written by Benjamin Franklin, the Plan of Union was to set up a legislature for all the colonies and provisional governments in the area, and thus unite the colonies for the greater good of all. While the colonies were not ready to unite at the time, many of the ideas in the Albany Plan of Union were revived thirty years later at the Constitutional Convention.

The American Revolution soon brought a new level of importance to the city of Albany. The Hudson Valley was a key location to the rebelling colonies, as it connected New England with the southern colonies. There were many British attempts to capture the valley. While Albany was never directly involved in the fighting, many battles took place in the surrounding area, including the Battle of Bennington and the Battles of Saratoga. The city served as a supply point for the Rebel armies, as well as a medical center and place of refuge. Feelings about the war ran very high in Albany, resulting in several altercations between Rebels and Tories. The most memorable of these events took place in 1776, when a group of Tories were arrested after drinking to the health of the King.

Post-Revolutionary Growth

After the war was over, Albany experienced a boom. The city government expanded the stockade at the fort, filled in the swampy 'basin' to build better port access to the city, and was the starting point for colonists leaving for the Adirondack Mountains and the Mohawk Valley. Albany also became a processing center for raw materials coming from points north and west. The Troy Iron Works established the Albany area as an industrial center, with manufactured goods joining raw materials as exports. Albany was also selected as the capitol of New York State in 1797, which brought even more importance to the area.

With the arrival of Robert Fulton's steamship in 1809 and the construction of the Champlain and Erie Canals, Albany became the easiest route for passengers and goods to travel to and from Montreal, Buffalo and points west, and New York City and points south.

All of the opportunity in the area made Albany a primary destination for immigrants, growing from 3500 residents in 1790 to nearly 63000 in 1860. New neighborhoods sprung up throughout Albany, often causing the city limits to expand. Places such as Arbor Hill were upper-class residential neighborhoods carved out of farmland, while Center Square and the South End attracted new immigrants.

Railroads only consolidated Albany's importance to the region. The New York Central railroad was headquartered in Albany, creating routes to all the major cities in the area. Rather than freight travelling on the river, the goods came through Albany on rail cars instead. Now that industrial centers weren't tied to the rivers for their shipping needs, places immediately outside the city began to take on the industrial load. Albany's central location in the Northeast soon made it a distribution center for goods from Boston, connecting the city via railroad with the rest of the country.

Seat of Government

Albany began changing from an industrial economy to a service based economy in the early 1900's. The government and financial sectors began to grow in the city after World War I, however the local economy soon slipped, along with the rest of the nation, into the Great Depression. Even when the economy began to revive itself after World War II, urban flight soon brought the neighborhoods of Albany into disrepair.

Nelson Rockefeller, then Governor of New York, decided to do something to change Albany's run down facade. After a visit from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Rockefeller decided that what the city needed was renovation. After many meeting and negotiations, the Empire State Plaza project emerged. Involving the demolition of 90 acres of the Center Square and South End neighborhoods, the Empire State Plaza created new offices for the government, designed the Dunn Memorial Bridge as a new crossing for the Hudson River, and made an entirely new skyline for the city. Even more of the neighborhoods of Albany were put up for demolition for the Capitol Harbor project, but it was cancelled in the planning stages. Rockefeller also created the State Office Campus on the nor-west outskirts of the city, as well as acquired land for the State University of New York headquarters. Because of projects such as these, Albany is the second-largest governmental center in the United States, behind only Washington, D.C.

The 1980's brought a revitalization effort to some of the old neighborhoods. Old brownstone homes in the Central Square neighborhood were rehabilitated, with the help of private donations and government loans, which rejuvenated the neighborhood. The State Capitol building, originally built during the early 1800's, was restored, along with the old D&H terminal downtown.

Albany Landmarks

While government offices may dominate Albany, there are many things to do in Albany besides negotiate. There are several great colleges in the area, including Siena College, the Albany College of Pharmacy, the College of Saint Rose, SUNY Albany, and nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The Palace Theater, located just north of downtown. Built in 1931, the 2844 seat theater is the oldest venue in Albany. Acts ranging from live theater to musical performances take the historic stage. The Palace is currently in the second phase of renovation, including the replacement of the curtain and many other fabric decorations.

Lark Street is a small collection of shops and galleries just on the western side of the plaza. The street is popular among SUNY Albany college students and the more open-minded elements of Albany. Larkfest is held every September, with a wide variety of musical acts and art vendors.

The USS Slater is docked in the Hudson River along Albany's downtown. The ship is an escort destroyed, and was in service during World War II. After being decommissioned, the ship was donated to the Greek Navy until 1991, when Greece donated the ship to the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association. After being rehabilitated (while docked next to the USS Intrepid in New York Harbor), the ship was brought up to Albany, where it was commissioned as a museum to naval history.

Albany is currently in the process of fundraising to build a New Netherland museum in Albany. On October 2, 2000, Governor George Pataki gave a $300,000 grant to study the feasibility of constructing a replica of Fort Orange on the waterfront in the South End neighborhood. Along with the fort, the museum would also be a permanent home for the replica Halve Maen that was used for the New Netherland Festival in 1989.

Although an important city to New York and the rest of the nation, Albany still manages to capture a small town feel. "Smallbany" is still a very close-knit community, with the city neighborhoods having a closeness not often found in large cities.


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