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.

Textile Industry

In the 1870s, the largest cotton mill complex in the world was located in Cohoes, New York. The surviving mill buildings and workers’ houses hint at the once thriving industry that began in 1836 when Peter Harmony strategically founded a textile company along the Erie Canal, utilizing water diverted from the Cohoes Falls to power his factory. Raw cotton from southern states was processed, spun, and knitted or woven into printed calicos and fine cotton muslins.

By 1870, Cohoes had eighteen knitting mills and six cotton mills running 203,000 spindles, hence the city’s nickname, the “Spindle City.” The largest mill, Mill No. 3 at Harmony Mills, was built between 1866 and 1872. The building was 1,185 feet long and five stories high. It was considered to be one of the most technologically advanced cotton factories in America. At its peak, Harmony Mills employed 3,100 people and had a predominantly female work force. Mill No. 3 alone housed 2,700 looms that produced 100,000 yards of fabric every sixty hours. The Harmony complex sold in 1937 when the cotton industry became less dependent on water power.

Clark Tompkins of Troy invented and patented the upright rotary knitting machine, illustrated here, to produce knit goods that could be turned into men’s and women’s shirts and drawers. Considered noiseless, the machine could knit, revolve, and wind the material. Machines manufactured by him, and later his sons known as Tompkins Brothers, were used throughout the United States, Canada, and South America.

Upright Rotary Knitting Machine

Tompkins Brothers, Troy, New York

c. 1895

Cast iron, metals, cotton yarn, wood

Courtesy of the New York State Museum

Birds-Eye-View of Cohoes, N.Y.


Publisher / Location: Galt & Hoy

Medium: Color lithograph on paper

Dimensions: 25 1/2 H x 34 3/4 W

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase

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