New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Dudley Observatory

The Dudley Observatory was incorporated in 1856 as part of an ambitious plan to create a university in Albany that would rival those of Europe. The university did not materialize at that time but plans for an observatory received popular backing as well as support from wealthy Albany residents, including the banker Thomas Olcott and Blandina Dudley, widow of the Observatory’s namesake politician Charles Dudley.

In 1905, the Dudley Observatory became the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Meridian Astronomy, responsible for creating the largest and most accurate star catalogue yet produced.  For the next thirty years, the Dudley focused on measuring star positions by recording the exact time that a star passed a certain meridian. Since no single measurement was guaranteed to be accurate, the recording had to be repeated night after night for months. A clock that could keep time consistently across those months was essential for determining accurate star positions.

This bracket-mounted clock, manufactured by the company of Clemens Riefler in Munich, Germany, was simply the most accurate timepiece of its era. Originally stored in a sealed glass cylinder and kept in low pressure to reduce the effects of atmospheric shifts on the accuracy, Riefler clocks were accurate to within 10 milliseconds per day. These clocks were used by observatories and timekeeping services, and the first U.S. standard time was supplied by Riefler clocks from 1904 until 1929.

This particular clock was bolted to a wall in Dudley’s Lake Street Observatory, providing reliably accurate time through a telegraph wire to less accurate clocks, chronographs, and other astronomical instruments.

Precision Wall Clock

Manufactured by Clemens Riefler, Munich, Germany


Brass, iron, paint, glass

Courtesy of Dudley Observatory

Dudley Observatory Dedication, August 28, 1856

Tompkins H. Matteson (1813-1884) | 1857

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 56 1/4 H x 72 1/4 W

Provenance: From the artist to Dudley Observatory, Albany, NY, to General Amasa J. Parker, to Albany Institute

Credit: Gift of General Amasa J. Parker

Scroll down to view additional content