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.

James Hall and Paleontology

Many people call James Hall "the father of modern geology." In the nineteenth century, he was New York’s best known geologist and paleontologist, and highly respected for his early work in stratigraphy, the study of geologic layers of rock called strata. When fossils are found in strata, geologists can identify the age of the fossil by the age of the strata.

Hall studied natural sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and graduated with honors in 1832. He was later hired by the school as assistant professor of chemistry and natural sciences and in 1836 was made full professor of geology. Hall did much of his early field work in the Helderberg Mountains in Albany County where the exposed cliffs were rich in fossils. He also surveyed New York’s strata in the Adirondack Mountains and set a model for naming strata after its location. In 1841, Hall became New York’s first State Paleontologist and built his own laboratory in Albany (in what is now Lincoln Park) where he trained many prominent scientists.

In 1886, during the construction of Harmony Mill Number 3 near Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River, the remains of a mastodon were found deeply buried in two potholes which had been worn into the bedrock by the swirling action of water and stones at the end of the last Ice Age. Hall was responsible for bringing the Cohoes Mastodon to the New York State Museum where he was the first director. The Cohoes Mastodon became its most popular and iconic specimen and has been on display for more than 150 years.

Hall’s standing desk has thirty-four drawers and two locking compartments where he stored and organized fossils and other specimens.

James Hall’s Desk

Unknown maker

c. 1875


Courtesy of New York State Museum, H-1975.29.3

Mastodon Giganteus

Photograph by Eugene S. M. Haines, Albany, New York


Albumen photographic print on card

Courtesy of New York State Museum

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