Capital - Saratoga region
It comes as a surprise to many New York visitors that New York actually has a capital that isn't New York City. Albany is the capital of New York State, and one with a fascinating history. It is the oldest chartered city in the USA, its origins going back to Henry Hudson, a British explorer working for the Dutch East India Company, who came up the river in search of a trade route to Asia in the early 17th century. The Dutch and the British fought to hold this new trading post, the latter winning the battle in 1664, when King Charles 11 renamed it Albany for his brother, the Duke of Albany.
City planning has meant that, sadly, the city feels quite distant from the famous river that brought it into being, a highway separating the people from the water. The river had made it the manufacturing hub of the state for years, with timber being shipped through here from the Adirondacks, steel production then becoming a major player with the advent of the Erie Canal, the first lock of which was here, and workers being drawn from all over the world to work on or around it. Even beer production was huge here being, at one time, the second largest exporter of beer after London. The old part of town is still home to an impressive whisky and rum distillery, Albany Distilling
, which you can visit. Helpfully, it is next door to the Visitor Center, so you can catch up on all the history in their 'cinema' and then raise a glass to its success just next door.
I also highly recommend the MP3 walking tour, downloadable here
, which will fill you in on all the different stages of Albany's growth. One of the most impressive, although still controversial, is the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza
, a relatively new city centre hub of architecture way ahead of its time and which now houses many state office buildings. Created by Governor Rockefeller in the 1960's to inject a massive dose of modernisation and put Albany back on the map, he demolished a hundred city blocks to create it, most of which were residential. People were rehoused elsewhere, thus the controversy, an issue that still runs deep for many in the city.
Renovating Morgan State House in Albany
Chuck Kuhtic, owner of Morgan State House talks about renovating the 1884 mansion & preserving its unique features. Click here to book Morgan State House
The sense of pride and power that was felt here throughout its growth years can be seen in much of the architecture, such as the ornate, romanesque City Hall building, but also the majestic New York State Capitol building which still houses the New York State legislature and which, when it was built in 1899, was the most expensive government building ever built. You can take tours of it
, free of charge.
The rest of this region is worthy of capital status too, with hiking in the John Boyd Thatcher State Park
a secret that Albanians keep to themselves. The Helderberg Hilltowns that are tucked in all around this impressive escarpment are packed with farm stands, locally owned cafes
which commit to local produce and fine fare, and local stores
that feel as if you are walking into a scene from The Waltons. And then you fall upon towns like Rensselaerville, an old mill town which is now made up of four irresistibly idyllic rural hamlets. There is the perfect summer picnic waterfall spot
, with a superb village restaurant
and leafy laid back atmosphere that seems typical of these elevated lands above the capital. This is tourist free territory, and yet it feels like the real heart of New York.
Find more information on the regions of New York State