Settled in the early 1600s, the city of Albany combines its historical roots with visionary thinking, empowered by hundreds of years as the governmental seat of New York.
Albany History & Heritage
Colonial Times - 1800: The City's Beginning
Albany (then known as Fort Orange) was settled by the Dutch in the early 1600s after being discovered by Henry Hudson who was looking for a faster trade route in 1609, exploring the River, later named for him, northward from Manhattan. Prior to the Dutch settlers, the Tri-City area was inhabited by Algonquian Indian tribes, the Mohican and the Iroquois.
By 1664, nearly 10,000 Dutch were settled in Fort Orange when the English captured the fort and renamed it in honor of the Duke of Albany. Though technically part of Britain's crown until the Revolution, Dutch merchants continued to influence the City, and under Dutch guidance, Albany played an important role in maintaining communication between the French, the British and the Iroquois. In 1797, Albany became the official capital of New York State.
Today, Albany's Annual Tulip Festival in historic Washington Park honors the city's Dutch heritage each spring. Thousands view nature's spectacular color show while enjoying the music, art and food of this popular event.
1800 - 1900: Travel by Water, Rail and Underground
Robert Fulton initiated a steamboat line from Manhattan to Albany, making it the first successful enterprise of its kind. By 1825, the Erie Canal was completed between Albany and Lake Erie forming a continous water route that enabled the shipment of local resources and strengthened trade and business. In 1831, travel by rail began with the first ride from Albany to Schenectady. This route continued until 1840 when the rails stretched east to Boston. By 1851, a traveler could make his or her way from New York City to what is now known as Greenbush.
Prior to the Civil War, abolitionists were active in the Albany area. Stephen Myers was on the forefront of the movement and acted as the “conductor” of the Albany stop on the Underground Railroad. With the outbreak of Civil War, Albany again served as a major supply center, providing men for battle through the 25th regiment, Burgesses Corps, Albany Zouaves, the 3rd, 10th, 43rd, and 91st regiments.
1900 - Modern Times: Travel by Air, Urban Renewal & Historic Treasures
Albany's airport was constructed in the 20th century and has the distinction of being the oldest municipal airport in the US. It originally started as an airstrip in Loudonville in 1908. It was then moved to Westerlo the year after. It stood there until 1928 when Mayor John Boyd Thacher called for a new modern airport to be built in Colonie, where it still stands. Today, the Albany International Airport handles daily arrivals and departures from Delta, Southwest, United, US Airways and jetBlue among others.
Another Albany record that still stands is that of longest-serving mayor in the United States, held by Erastus Corning who served as mayor for more than 40 years. Elected in 1941, he was Albany's mayor from 1942 until 1983.
While many historic Albany districts and buildings remain, delighting visitors with their many architectural styles, the City saw its fair share of urban renewal projects. One of the largest in American history started in the 1960s, when then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller became the driving force behind the Empire State Plaza.
The Plaza was the subject of controversy during the time it was constructed, a topic that is covered today by an excellent documentary entitled "The Neighborhood That Disappeared", which often airs on WMHT, Albany's local PBS station. More than 1,000 buildings were razed, nearly 9,000 people were forced to leave their homes and more than 350 businesses were closed. In total, this massive undertaking displaced approximately 8% of Albany's population via eminent domain.
The ultra-modern Plaza complex, designed by Wallace Harrison, the chief architect of New York City's Rockefeller Center, was completed in 1978. A walk through the complex will uncover one of the finest collections of modern art you will find outside of a museum. Visitors to the Plaza will want to take the elevator to the top of the Corning Tower and view the Green Mountains from the 42nd floor observation deck.
Throughout the summer and fall, enjoy musical entertainment and family events on the Plaza grounds, and any time of year, visit the New York State Museum for a cultural exploration of Albany, the state, and the nation.You will also want to visit The Egg, a stylistic building of curved lines that houses two theatres and is home to concerts and other special events.
This modern plaza stands in direct contrast to the architecture of the Capitol Building, located on State Street.
Completed in 1899, this beautiful building was inspired by the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.The Capitol features an eclectic blend of Gothic Revival, Romanesque and Moorish influences due in part to the five different architects who played a role in its construction over a 25 year period.
Notable details in Albany's Capitol building are three massive staircases that are works of art in their own right, and the Senate Chamber complete with 23-carat gold leaf, Italian marble, and massive fireplaces. Take a free guided tour to learn more.
See our Fast Facts page for general information and demographics.