English explorer Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East India Company on the Half Moon, reached this area in 1609, the furthest point north that he led his expedition. The Dutch settlement that followed was strictly about commerce - mostly beaver furs shipped out of the trading post of Fort Orange that would wind up on trendy European heads. The beaver was so all-important that when it came time to name the village that grew on a small plateau by the Hudson it became Beverwijck, the Dutch name for the luxuriously pelted rodent. When the British took over New Netherlands in 1664 the name Beverwijck was changed to honor of the Duke of Albany. In 1686 Albany was formally chartered as a municipality by provincial Governor Thomas Dongan and is today the longest continually chartered city in the country.
From the beginning Albany has been a center for transportation. During the revolutionary War it was such a prize that on February 28, 1777 Lt. General John Burgoyne submitted a plan to the British ministry called ‘Thoughts for Conducting the War from the Side of Canada.” The ultimate goal was to sever the American states along the Hudson River by moving on Albany. It became the basis for British military strategy, a plan that was blown up by the American victory in the Battle of Saratoga that October, one of history’s most influential battles.
After rotating among several towns Albany was made the permanent capital in 1797 and when America’s first super highway - the Erie Canal - opened up the country’s interior in 1825 Lock #1 was located north of Colonie Street. At the time of the next census, Albany was the 9th largest city in the United States. Furs and lumber and iron and cattle all flowed through Albany’s port in great abundance. In 1831, some 15,000 canal boats tied up at city wharves. By 1865, there were almost 4,000 saw mills in the Albany area and the Albany Lumber District was the largest lumber market in the nation. There was beer, too, brewed by descendants of the Dutch settlers. Beverwyck Brewery, originally known as Quinn and Nolan was the last remaining brewer from that time when it closed in 1972. And books. Other than Boston no other city produced as many books in the 19th century as Albany. Industry would eventually scatter away from the city and today’s economy is driven by the government machine.
Albany has a rich architectural heritage with representative buildings from nearly every period of America design - beginning with Dutch Colonial looks from the early 1700s. The city grew up the slope from the Hudson River and we’ll start our walking tour at the top, in the midst of a complex of modern American buildings that did not arrive without a whiff of controversy...
Empire State Plaza
between Madison Avenue and State Street, Swan Street and Eagle Street
After touring the capital city on a state visit from Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1959, Governor Nelson Rockefeller said, “there’s no question that the city did not look as I think the Princess thought it was going to.” He set out to make certain that no future European princess might be similarly offended. Through eminent domain Rockefeller obtained 40 city blocks south of the state capitol, displacing some 9,000 residents in the process. He sketched his vision of an outdoor plaza with offices and museums and parking garages. Seventeen years and almost two billion dollars later the Plaza was complete. The International-style buildings were placed around a row of three reflecting pools in the concourse and all sheathed in marble. The 44-story, 589-foot Erastus Corning Tower, named for the long-time Albany mayor, is the tallest of the collection.
Empire State Plaza
The construction of Albany’s iconic performing arts venue began in 1966 and took twelve years to complete. While The Egg appears to reside on a truncated pedestal but in fact its supporting stem reaches six stories down into the bedrock. The Egg keeps its shape by wearing a girdle - a heavily reinforced concrete beam that was poured along with the rest of the shell. The Egg houses two theaters inside and nary a straight line or square corner is found inside.
WALK THROUGH THE PLAZA TO THE NORTH END AND THE STATE CAPITOL BUILDING.
New York State Capitol
This is New York’s third capitol building, the second in Albany. Construction began in 1867 and the official completion did not occur until the dawn of the new century in 1899. The new capitol consumed $25 million and the talents of several of the leading architects of the day including, Thomas Fuller, Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Hobson Richardson. The chateau-like capitol most reflects Richardson’s vision, a Romanesque style that was said to be inspired by the City Hall in Paris, France. His Grand Western Staircase alone required fourteen years to complete and featured 444 steps to climb 119 feet; it became known as the Million Dollar Staircase. The building of Maine white granite is 220 feet tall at its peak although a planned central tower and dome were never built; it is one of ten U.S. state capitols that does not have a domed roof.
TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET.
General Philip H. Sheridan Statue
east lawn of Capitol
Philip Sheridan spent his early years in and around Albany before he obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy from one of his customers, Congressman Thomas Ritchey, while clerking in a general store. Sheridan enjoyed a somewhat troublesome and mediocre career at the Academy but nonetheless began to distinguish himself in the Indian wars out West and later on the battlefields of the Civil War where he rose to the rank of Major General in charge of the cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. On November 1, 1883, Sheridan succeeded William T. Sherman as Commanding General, U.S. Army, and held that position until shortly before his death. He was promoted on June 1, 1888, shortly before his death, to the rank of General of the Army of the United States by Act of Congress, the same rank achieved earlier only by Ulysses Grant and Sherman, which is equivalent to a four-star general in the modern U.S. Army). That year John Quincy Adams Ward, the leading American sculptor of the day, began work on an equestrian statue of Sheridan that was intended for Washington, D.C. Ward labored to create a realistic depiction of the general whose taste for fine food and wine had nearly doubled his weight in later years and the rendering was eventually rejected by his family - still remembering the dashing young cavalry officer - after 17 years of work. When Albany decided to erect a statue to its nominal native son famed sculptor Daniel Chester French lobbied to use his friend Ward’s old work and offered to complete its installation without pay. So, in 1916, six years after Ward’s death, his decades-old tribute to Philip Sheridan took its place at the capitol building.
Albany Main Telephone Building
158 State Street
Cyrus Eidlitz, whose father Leopold had worked on the state capitol across the street, built an architectural practice around designing buildings for the telephone companies that were coming into power in the first decade of the 1900s. Eidlitz created most of the buildings for New york Telephone before he retired in 1911. An associate, Paul Gmelin, drew up the plans for the white terra-cotta Italian Renaissance tower in 1914. Two subsequent additions came on line in 1931 and 1967.
Municipal Gas Company
126 State Street
Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1869, architect Marcus Tullius Reynolds grew up with his aunt, a member of the ancient Van Rensselaer family, in Albany after his mother died in 1875. His resume included some of the city’s most prominent early 20th century buildings and many classically designed bank buildings throughout New England. This Neoclassical effort with a prominent quartet of upper story Ionic columns was executed for the gas company in 1915.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
107 State Street
This is the third church for a parish that traces its roots back to 1704. The first church was a gambrel-roofed, masonry structure built in 1715 in the middle of what is now State Street just below Lodge Street. In 1802 it was replaced by a larger building that lasted 57 years. Richard Upjohn, the leading American cheerleader for the Gothic style designed this French-flavored sanctuary that was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980. Look up to see three gargoyles, each of which weighs three tons and extend eight feet beyond the walls.
74 State Street
In the early days of Albany settlement this prime real estate was controlled by the powerful Van Schaick family. In the mid-1800s a wholesale drugstore operated here, which was later expanded to five stories. In 1915 the original building was razed and the present office building was constructed as the Kinney and Woodward Building. The first tenant was a home furnishing store and later a clothing emporium. In its latest incarnation it has been a luxury boutique hotel since 2007.
New York State Bank
69 State Street
When the present 17-story red brick office tower was erected in 1927 it replaced the original New York State Bank that had been constructed in 1803. All was removed except for the State Street facade, which now forms the main entrance. The bank was designed by Philip hooker, one of the early notable architects in America - his name has been carved into a cornerstone. Hooker designed the Albany City Hall and neighboring St. Peter’s - both since replaced. Some of Hooker’s buildings survive 200 years later including the former Albany Academy for Boys building in the center of Academy and Lafayette Parks and the Dutch Reformed Church on North Pearl Street. That remnant of facade enables the building to lay claim to be the oldest bank building in Albany and the oldest building in the United States erected for and continually used as a banking house.
Mechanics’ and Farmers’ Bank
63 State Street
Russell Sturgis was born in Baltimore and trained formally as an architect in Munich, Germany. He became one of the country’s most respected architectural historians in the 19th century but he was a practitioner as well and this medieval castle of a bank building from 1874 is one of his finest works. Constructed of brick and sandstone the building catches the eye with its corbelled turret and if you look down the side street you can see an ornate rose window worthy of the city’s best churches. The Mechanics’ and Farmers’ Bank was incorporated in 1811, the third bank to be established in the city.
National Commercial Bank/Hampton Hotel
38 State Street
The National Commercial Bank was created in 1825 under the pen of Governor DeWitt Clinton. English-born architect Robert Williams Gibson arrived in Albany as a 27-year old in 1881 and his work in the city over the next few years, including this building, helped launch his career in New York City. After the bank left for its Neoclassical vault a bit further up at 60 State Street the Hampton Hotel was constructed in this space in 1906, using parts of the old bank building.
Albany Trust Company
35 State Street
Marcus T. Reynolds adapted the popular Beaux Arts style for this financial institution in 1904, four years after it organized as the first bank trust in Albany. The exterior of the brick-and-stone confection features decorative flourishes everywhere all topped by an ornate dome above the rounded corner.
CONTINUE ACROSS BROADWAY AT THE FOOT OF STATE STREET.
Delaware & Hudson Building/SUNY
The Plaza on State Street at Broadway
In the early 1900s six railroads served Albany with the two most important being the New York Central, which ran up the eastern bank of the Hudson River, and the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) whose tracks lined the western bank of the river. Each wanted to competitors wanted to broadcast their strength through an appropriately grand terminal. The New York Central had been operating out of its impressive Beaux Arts Union Station just to the north for over 15 years when Colonel Leonor F. Loree, president of the D&H hired Marcus T. Reynolds in 1914 to improve his line’s operations in Albany. Reynolds turned to the Flemish Gothic style, unusual for typically classical railroad terminals to create the D&H Building. Four stories high with a 13-story central tower and gussied up with slate roofs and ornamental windows, the granite structure on a prominent location at the Hudson River it could easily be mistaken by first time visitors as a state capitol building. Surmounting the tower is a large weather van modeled after Henry Hudson’s Half Moon. In 1918 William Barnes had another tower built at the south end to house his Albany Evening Journal, bringing the total length of the building to 660 feet - the length of two soccer fields. Today the space is occupied by the State University of New York.
TURN LEFT AND WALK NORTH ON BROADWAY.
Federal Government Building
northeast corner of State Street at Broadway
After years of getting by in rented offices around town the United States Congress appropriated $350,000 in 1872 to erect a home for the post office, custom office and other Federal offices. the site donated by the City contained the old Exchange Building which had to be removed. The design was switched from an elaborate Gothic to Italian Renaissance. Edward Ogden oversaw the construction of the fire-proof cut-granite building with mansard roof and towers on each corner. The roof was constructed of iron, copper and tin. When all was said and done and the government moved in during 1884 the final price tag was $627,148.
LOOK TO YOUR LEFT TO SEE...
Home Savings Bank Building
11 Pearl Street
When it was completed in 1927, the Home Savings Bank Building was the tallest structure in Albany; it held the title for only one year and currently ranks tenth. It is, however, the city’s tallest private building. The building Art Deco skyscraper is distinguished by decorative metal and terra-cotta images of American Indians and European settlers, executed by Rene Paul Chambellan.
James T. Foley U.S. Courthouse
This splendid Depression-era Art Deco government building opened in 1934 as the home of the post office, customs house and federal courthouse. The carved frieze that bands the building depicts the various government employees in their jobs. The eagles that command each entrance stand eight feet tall and were carved from a 17-ton block of Vermont marble. Today only the federal courts remain in the building that was named for James Thomas Foley who was appointed to the Federal Court by President Harry S Truman in 1949 and served 40 years.
TURN RIGHT ON ARCH STREET AND RETURN TO MAIN STREET. NOTE THE LIONS IN FRONT OF CITY HALL ALONG ARCH STREET AS YOU APPROACH.
Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential architect in post-Civil War America died prematurely in 1886 at the age of 47. The successors in his shop George Foster Shepley, Charles Hercule Rutan and Charles Allerton Coolidge continued the firm’s work, which often included large civic projects such as railroad terminals. This one was built in 1899-1900 primarily to serve the New York Central’s passenger trains, although it accommodated other lines as well. Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge turned to the newly popular Beaux Arts style for Union Terminal but retained some touches reminiscent of their celebrated mentor, including its prominent trio of entrance arches. When it opened the station was shortly receiving 96 trains per day and reached its peak during World War II with more than 120 trains per day. Since 1986 the building has housed bank offices.
United Traction Company/Pieter Schuyler Building
On November 29, 1899, the Albany Railway, the Troy City Railway, and the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company merged to form the United Traction Company (UTC). Executives of this enterprise represented various facets of Albany’s elite consisting of bankers, lawyers, and politicians whose unification brought them strong control over Albany’s growth patterns. Their Beaux Arts headquarters building was designed by the go-to architect on Broadway - Marcus T. Reynolds. The last street railway car rolled down Albany streets in 1946.
CROSS OVER CLINTON STREET.
24 Quackenush Square at Broadway
This is the oldest intact building in Albany, stretching itsexistence back into the 1730s. Peter Quackenbush, the founder of the prominent Hudson Valley family, was known to make bricks and it is thought that the bricks for this house were crafted in a brickyard on site. It has managed to dodge the wrecking ball for almost 300 years, including a brush with its busy highway exit ramp neighbor in 1969. Through its lifetime the brick structure of Dutch pedigree has served many functions, including a gas station, a tavern and, most recently, a restaurant.
Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center
25 Quackenbush Square at Broadway
The Visitors Center is located in parts of two brick buildings - an 1852 townhouse and the one-time Albany Pump Station. The pump station itself consists of two adjoining buildings; the first building was completed in 1874 to draw water from the Hudson River, filter it and pump it under Clinton Avenue to Bleecker Reservoir, which is now Bleecker Stadium. The entire structure was completed in 1895 and operated until 1932, moving over seven billion gallons of water annually. The massive cranes, erected in 1906 and 1909, were used to repair pump engines. They are still operational andwere used to install the fermentation and serving tanks for the micro-brewery that operates in the space today.
RETURN TO CLINTON STREET AND TURN RIGHT, WALKING AWAY FROM THE HUDSON RIVER.
The Palace Theatre
19 Clinton Avenue at northwest corner of Pearl Street
When the Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO) entertainment conglomerate set out to build Albany’s largest and most opulent theater in 1931 the name given the architectural style was “Austrian Baroque” but to wide-eyed patrons the design was simply jaw-dropping. John Elberson, the leading theater architect of the day, worked without a budget in the midst of the Great Depression to install brass chandeliers, painted murals, paneled walls and golden trimmed tapestries. Despite its sumptuous amenities the Palace was one of the first victims in a nation-wide epidemic of downtown movie palaces falling victim to television and the rise of suburban malls, closing its doors in 1969. It was resurrected as a civic auditorium and in 2003 the Palace was restored to its 1931 appearance and re-established as a performing arts venue.
TURN LEFT ON PEARL STREET.
3 Clinton Square
Anchoring the southern end of this trio of Federal-style townhouses was the family home of Herman Melville from 1834 to 1838. The author of Moby Dick studied and worked in Albany from 1830 until 1838.
First Dutch Reformed Church
110 North Pearl Street at Orange Street
The congregation of the First Church in Albany is the second oldest congregation in the state of New York; established in 1642 to serve the Dutch inhabitants of Fort Orange, the adjacent village of Beverwyck, and the patroonship of Rensselaerswyck in general. Work on this church, the congregation’s fourth, began in 1797 on plans supplied by Philip Hooker. In 1858 the building underwent extensive alterations and came away with a more Romanesque appearance. The church’s oaken pulpit was carved in Holland in 1656 and is the oldest pulpit in the United States.
74 North Pearl Street
Adam Blake Jr. was the son of a slave of General Stephen Van Rensselaer III at the Manor House who worked his was way into the reputation of being the richest and best-known business man of his race” in Albany County in the middle of the 19th century. Blake ran the Congree Hotel before it was demolished to make way for the New york State Capitol building in 1878 and immediately built the Kenmore. Blake would die in 1881 at the age of 51 and the hotel was operated by his widow, Catherine, until 1887. In the 1900s the Rain-Bo Room hosted big bands and was a favorite hang-out for the notorious gangster and bootlegger Jack “Legs” Diamond. The weary hotel was renovated in the 1980s and re-born as office space.
Steuben Street marked the northern boundary of the original settlement of Albany around which a wooden stockade wall ran. The street today is still formed from cobblestones that were carried as ballast in the holds of ships arriving in the port on the Hudson River.
TURN RIGHT ON PINE STREET.
St. Mary’s Church
10 Lodge Street at Pine Street
Catholicism in the Empire State left New York City for the first time with the establishment of this parish in 1796. The current structure is the third St. Mary’s, built in 1867 in an Italian Romanesque Revival style by architects Charles C. Nichols and Frederick Brown who were active in church building in Albany and New England in the 1860s. The final cost was $100,000. Its open-faced tower, completed in 1894, rises 175 feet and is topped with a weathervane of Angel Gabriel.
Albany City Hall
southeast corner of Pine Street and Eagle Street
Henry Hobson Richardson, America’s most influential architect of the late 1800s, went straight into his playbook for this municipal building in 1881 that replaced the previous city hall, designed by Philip Hooker in 1829, that had burned down. Richardson’s City Hall features many of his trademark Romanesque design elements: contrasting light and dark rough-cut stone; multiple arches, often in sets of three; groups of truncated pillars, decorative gables and a tower. In an 1885 listing of the Ten Most Beautiful Building in America by American Architect magazine, the Albany City Hall was on the honor roll. In 1927 the pyramidal-roofed tower was outfitted with the first municipal carillon in the United States, equipped with 60 bells. The largest weighs 11,200 pounds.
TURN RIGHT ON EAGLES STREET.
New York State Court of Appeals
east side of Eagle Street between Pine and Columbia streets
The New York Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state, created in 1846 to replace both the Court for the Correction of Errors and the Court of Chancery. The eight-member body set up shop in this Greek Revival building constructed of white Sing Sing marble between 1835 and 1842. Architect Henry Rector gave the entrance an imposing six-columned Ionic portico. Inside a courtroom of carved light-brown oak is more handiwork of Henry Hobson Richardson, moved here from the New York State capitol.
Albany County Courthouseeast side of Eagle Street at Columbia Street
This granite and limestone building was constructed in the Neoclassical style popular for government buildings in 1916. Set into the slope of the hill, the Eagle Street facade shows four stories that become six as the building flows down the slope. Engaged Ionic columns wrap around the upper stories of the courthouse.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET INTO ACADEMY PARK.
Philip Hooker, who built most of the important early buildings in Albany, was responsible for this two-story brownstone education building as well. Considered by many as his master work, it features fluted Ionic pilasters, a balustraded parapet on the roof and a graceful cupola. The building eventually became known as the Joseph Henry Memorial in honor of the early student whose experiments with electromagnets helped give rise to later inventions such as the telegraph and the transmission of electricity. On the upper floors of the Academy building Henry strung over a mile of wire and succeeded in ringing a bell through electrical induction in 1830. Henry was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution where a statue in his honor stands outside. His likeness in Academy Park was crafted by John Flanagan and erected in 1927. You may have an example of Flanagan’s work in your pocket - he designed the bust of George Washington on the quarter.
WALK OVER TO ELK STREET ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE PARK.
As government power in Albany began to cluster around Capitol Hill in the 1820s and 1830s Elk Street evolved into the city’s most desirable address, populated with handsome Federal-style and Greek Revival townhomes, many of which still survive. Several New York governors made Elk Street their home before the creation of an Executive Mansion, including Governor William L. March at #2 Elk Street.
TURN LEFT ON ELK STREET AND WALK WEST, AWAY FOM THE RIVER.
Cathedral of All Saints
62 South Swan Street at Elk Street
The Cathedral of All Saints was the first Episcopal cathedral in America to be conceived and built on the English model of church, hospital, convent and school. William Croswell Doane, first Bishop of Albany, set out to recreate its English prototypes right down to the ancient pavements and stones. Robert Williams Gibson was a newly minted 27-year old graduate of the Royal Academy of Arts in England when he arrived in Albany and took down America’s leading architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, in a design competition for the commission of All Saints. Gibson gave the cathedral an Old World feel with its Gothic design of towers and flying buttresses. He used brick masonry and an exterior of light reddish-orange split-face sandstone from St. Lawrence County. At 320 feet in length, All Saints, whose cornerstone was laid in 1884, is the fifth largest cathedral in the nation and twenty-ninth largest in the world. After Bishop Doane’s death in 1913, all work on the cathedral ceased.
New York State Education Department Building
89 Washington Avenue, between Hawk and Swan streets
The instant eye-catcher on this Beaux Arts-syle building is its block-long colonnade of 36 Corinthian columns facing Washington Avenue. It is the longest colonnade in America. Designed by Henry Hornbostel and opened in 1912, the first tenants were the New York State Museum and New York State Library.
Alfred E. Smith Building
west side of Swan Street between Washington Avenue and State Street
The broad-shouldered Art Deco skyscraper was built in 1928 to house the offices of the New York State government. You can look around the facade at street level and see the names of all 62 New York counties carved into the stone. Carrying the of Alfred Emmanuel Smith, a popular four-term governor, this was Albany’s tallest building at 388 feet for almost four decades.
TURN AROUND AND WALK BACK TO THE STATE CAPITOL BUILDING AND THE START OF THE TOUR.