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.

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.

Joseph Henry’s Electrical Apparatus

Thomas McEneny

c. 1883

Wood and metal

Courtesy of Terry and Jack McEneny

Condition of the Work on the New Capitol, at Albany

Haines photography | August 2, 1870

Photographer: Haines photography

Medium: Albumen print

Dimensions: 16 ¾ H x 21 ½ W

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Library

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