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.


Shortly after 1:00 pm on August 17, 1807, an ungainly vessel fitted with a smokestack pulled away from the dock on the Hudson River at Greenwich Village.Twenty-four hours later the steamboat docked at Clermont, Robert Livingston’s estate 110 miles upriver. The remaining eight hour journey to Albany continued the next morning. Upon arrival, the vessel’s inventor, Robert Fulton, immediately penned letters to friends describing his success. His maiden voyage started a steamship revolution on the Hudson River that lasted for more than a century.

Before steamships, travel and trade by stagecoach or sloop took weeks and months. After Fulton proved his invention would work, steamships regularly traveled the Hudson River between Albany and New York City, transporting passengers and cargo on regular schedules.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, steamships resembled floating palaces complete with interiors fitted with velvet upholstered seating, crystal chandeliers, fine paintings, and wall to wall carpeting. The Hudson River Day Line advertised its steamships in the 1880s as “strictly first-class—no freight.” A newspaper reported: “With rare exceptions, the passengers are nice people. The peanut and sausage eaters; the beer drinkers; the pipe smokers; the expectorators; the loud talkers; the life long enemies of soap and water, are never seen here.” Considerably larger than their predecessors, the new breed of steamships had steel hulls and six boilers. Better than 400 feet in length, these vessels serviced thousands of passengers per voyage.

Steamships eventually succumbed to the automobile and highway systems. On December 31, 1948, the Hudson River Day Line officially terminated service, ending the steamship era on the Hudson.

Model of Steamboat Swallow

F. Van Loon Ryder, Coxsackie, New York | c. 1968

Maker: F. Van Loon Ryder, Coxsackie, New York

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase, funded by the Women’s Council of the Albany Institute of History & Art

Steamship Chancellor Livingston

Richard Varick DeWitt (1800-1868) | 1822

Medium: Watercolor on wove paper

Dimensions: 27 1/4 H x 38 W

Provenance: Descended in the DeWitt family to Sarah Walsh DeWitt (died 1924), daughter of Richard Varick DeWitt (1800-1868) and Sarah Walsh DeWitt (1805-1842)

Credit: Bequest of Sarah Walsh DeWitt

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