New York State Capitol

Construction of the new New York State Capitol began in 1867. The cornerstone was laid in 1871, but the collapse of the national economy through the 1870s plagued the project with work stoppages and lack of funding. The building was only partially occupied by 1879. Twenty years later, in 1899, when it was declared finished, cost overruns had raised the cost from its original estimate of $4 million to a spectacular $25 million, reputed to be the most expensive building in America. The massive “Chateau on the hill” with its elaborate designs by Thomas Fuller, Henry Hobson Richardson, Leopold Eidlitz, and Isaac Perry remains a marvel of Victorian eclectic architecture and the American Gilded Age.

In 1883, the remaining occupants of the old State Capitol were moved out and, after seventy-four years, the building was demolished. It was a classically designed building by noted Albany architect, Philip Hooker, and stood in what is now East Capitol Park.

Thomas McEneny, an Irish-born brick and stonemason living in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood, worked on the new capitol building, shown in the foreground of the photograph from August 1870. He constructed this keepsake box from wood salvaged from the demolition of the old Capitol. The old Capitol is captured in the background of the photograph with the domed cupola and statue of Themis, the representation of Justice. To workers like McEneny, who was raising nine children during the uncertainties of the nineteenth-century boom and bust economy, work was a blessing. Ironically, the box returned to Capitol Hill from 1993 to 2012, where it sat prominently on the office desk of Assembly Member John J. McEneny, its creator’s great grandson.

 

Magnifying Glass
Keepsake Box Made from Wood of the Old Capitol
Thomas McEneny
c. 1883
Wood and metal
Courtesy of Terry and Jack McEneny
Magnifying Glass
Condition of the Work of the New Capitol, at Albany, N. Y.
Eugene S. M. Haines, Albany, New York
1870
Albumun photographic print on card
Albany Institute of History & Art Library