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.


The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers, were spiritual seekers from Manchester, England, who fled to America in 1774 to escape religious persecution. Their founder, Ann Lee, was an illiterate textile mill worker who sought a more personal faith than was offered by the official Church of England. When Lee and her followers arrived in the Albany area in 1776 and began building their Watervliet community near the current site of Albany International Airport, the small group was regarded with suspicion. They were persecuted for their religious beliefs and accused of being British spies.

The Shakers, however, persevered and passionately worked to create “heaven on Earth” through the practice of celibacy, pacifism, communal ownership of goods, and confession of sin. They believed that God was dual in nature, being both male and female. The Shakers practiced gender and racial equality within their communities and established a complex hierarchy of authority in which men and women shared power equally.

The Shakers made a significant contribution to American and European artistic traditions. Their expressions of spirituality included thousands of pieces of music, dance forms, and many works of art such as the famous Shaker tree of life. Today, they are best known for their elegant furniture and architectural style, and they continue to be a source of inspiration for artists, musicians, writers, choreographers and designers.

The Shakers of several communities made the iconic oval wood box and sold them to visitors and merchants from outside the community. This box, probably made at the Mount Lebenon, New York, community, includes the pencil inscription “William P. Van Rensselaer/Manor House/Albany N.Y./September 2nd, 1825.” William may have acquired the box from a peddler or from a local merchant.

Oval Shaker Box

Probably Mount Lebenon Community, New York

c. 1825

Maple and pine

Albany Institute of History & Art, gift of of Bernard and Jeanne Brown in memory of James Gwynn, 2016.13

Watervliet Shaker Village

Unidentified photographer

c. 1870

Albumen photographic print on card

Courtesy of New York State Museum

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