Capital - Mohawk Region 2:
The Geography of the Pathway
3. To continue
the tour of the Capital District, hop on I-787 North, which parallels
the Hudson River. Follow the signs for Troy, and cross the river
to the east bank. Look for River Street, which is a little tricky, since
many of the streets here are one-way. Park your car and get out and walk.
Troy is an old industrial city, nicknamed the "Collar City," since detachable
shirt collars were produced here in the 1800s. It is also the home of Uncle
Sam, first made famous in the War of 1812. Much of the city is in economic
decline, but there are some very nice sections to explore. The River Street Historic District is one of those
WHAT YOU SHOULD SEE:
1. The trip, logically, should start in
Albany, since this is the capital city and the oldest non-native settlement
in New York State. A good place to begin is the Empire Plaza, which
you can't miss, since it stands out like a mini-Manhattan against the skyline.
Go to the top of Corning Tower to get
a panoramic view. Outside of New York City, this is the tallest building
in the state.
Look around the city from different perspectives. To the east is
the Hudson River and beyond is the neighboring city of Rensaeleer.
Observe the traffic at the Port of Albany. What
kinds of ships can be seen docking? To the west and north, you will see
the other buildings of Empire Plaza, including the Capitol itself. Notice
that there is no dome, which is rather uncommon in the USA. If the day is
clear enough, you might see the mouth of the Mohawk River around twenty
miles to the north. (That's right - Albany is not on the Mohawk River!).
And in all directions you will see some very old neighborhoods, including
Cherry Hill (south). and Arbor Hill (north).
When you come down, see if you can visit the Capitol, especially if the legislature is
in session. But more importantly, cross the plaza to the south end and explore
the New York State Museum. The three
best exhibits are New York City, Native New York, and the Adirondacks. They
introduce you to the rest of the state (but it's not meant to be a substitute
for visiting them in person!). Although it is not (as of this writing)
a permanent exhibit, there is an excellent and very moving tribute to the
9/11 disaster, with many artifacts recovered from Ground Zero. Even three
years later, it is still very painful, but the victims and the heroes will
always require our honor and respect.
2. If you want to learn more about the city of Albany itself, a
good place to visit next is the Albany Heritage
Area Visitor Center located at Quackenbush Square (Clinton and
Broadway) about a mile northeast of Empire Plaza. Here you will find displays
about the history of Albany from Native American settlements through the
Dutch and English periods, to the canal days, up to the present. This is
also the place for two interesting ways to touring the historic sections
of Albany, by horse and buggy (just like Central Park, kind of), and on
Albany Aqua Ducks, an amphibious vehicle
that drives you through the city and then out onto the Hudson River.
There is no subsitute, however, for seeing Albany on your own, i.e.
on foot! While at the Visitor Center, ask about the self-guided walking
tours. Get out and explore!
QUESTION: In what ways has Albany's prosperity
been dependent on its location? Do the advantages of that location still
exist, or has the best of times passed by?
Walk over to the intersection of First and State Streets. Look for
a plaque on the side of a building commemorating the Charles Nalle Rescue in 1860. He was a fugitive
slave (or a "Freedom Seeker"), who was captured and held here for removal
south under the Fugitive Slave Law. His rescue was led by none-other than
Harriet Tubman, who just happened by coincidence to be in the Collar
City at that time. She led a crowd of several hundred across the Hudson.
Nalle was recaptured, then forcibly freed again. He eventually made his way
QUESTION: Troy and
other Capital District cities have had significant African-American communities
since post-Revolutionary times. What geographic factors drew them here?
the Hudson River, back into Albany County. If you wish to see Cohoes Falls, the best view is from School
Street, off of Mohawk Street in the City of Cohoes. The best times
for viewing are in early spring, or after periods of heavy rainfall. Otherwise,
most of the water is diverted for hydropower. Take Route 32 into Waterford,
where the modern Erie Canal begins. Follow the signs for the Visitor Center.
Here you will get a nice view of the first of the "Flight of Five" locks that
take the canal around the Cohoes Falls (see the photo on previous page.)
The original Erie (or "Clinton's Ditch") took a slightly different route with
many more smaller locks.
QUESTION: Try to imagine what it was like travelling
on the canal in the mid-1800s. Would you get on the packet here, or would
you travel by stagecoach (or train) to Schenectady?
Explain your answer!
5. Drive north on US Route 4 along the west bank of the Hudson River.
Notice that the character of the river is changing. It is no longer an estuary,
but completely a fresh water body. In this section it is also part of the
Around fifteen miles later, you will see the signs for Saratoga National Historic Park. Enter the
park, and make a stop at the Visitor Center. This was the site of one
of the most pivotal battles in American and world history (actually, there
were two battles fought here, separated by a couple weeks in the fall of
1777). As a result of this conflict, British General John Burgoyne was forced
to surrender his army to American General Horatio Gates. This ended the
campaign to conquer New York State, and it gave the French an excuse to
join in the war on our side. For more about Burgoyne's disastrous campaign
visit the Human Geography
Keep your geographic eyes open as you tour the battlefield. First notice
that you are not that far from Albany, which was the goal of the campaign.
Why did Burgoyne give up here? He couldn't win a military victory, since
he was now outnumbered, but he did contemplate retreat. (The photo at the
left marks one of the positions of the British line during the battle).
What is there about the
landscape and the climate here that made that plan impossible? Remember that
the battle was fought in September and October, and there was no interstate
highway to take them to safety. Was the Hudson a help or a hindrance?
6. When you leave the park, get back on Route 4 north, until you reach
Schylerville (the actual site of the surrender, where the British
gave up their arms). Take Rte. 29 to Saratoga Springs, the playground
of the Guilded Age.
This is a city that requires exploring on foot, especially Broadway,
once the home to grand hotels and casinos. It usually is filled with people
window-shopping in all seasons, but the city really comes alive during
"The Season," when the horses are running (second-half of the summer).
In the early 1900s, this was the place to be seen with all the beautiful
people. Even today, the track remains a big tourist draw, the home
to some of the nation's most prestigious races (Traver's Stakes).
Saratoga Springs is also renowned for its mineral springs and baths.
The water is still bottled here, and the baths are now part of a state
park (Saratoga Spas), just south of the
city. It is worth visiting the spa, even if you don't want to take "the
Finally, the city is home to some important cultural institutions: Saratoga Performing Arts CenterYaddo
(with outdoor concerts in the summer), the artist colony of (down the street
from the Racetrack), Skidmore College,
National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame,
and the National Museum of Dance. Depending
on your interests, they can all be worth a visit.
QUESTION: How does
a city of Saratoga Spring's small size support all these institutions? Are
they a primary draw, or do they depend on other aspects of the tourist economy
for their survival?
The Saratoga region seems to have a special geology. Not only are there
multiple springs, each with different water characteristics, but just three
miles west of town off of Rte. 29 are the Petrified
Sea Gardens. The most interesting formations are stromatolites,
around 500 million years old. At this time, most of
New York was submerged under a tropical sea, and these structures were formed
by algae in shallow waters. They are some of the oldest fossils in the state.
7. Your final stop in Capital Land should be the old Dutch city of Schenectady.
Take Route 50 south through Ballston Spa and Scotia. Cross
the Mohawk River again, and you enter the "Electric City."
As you drive around Schenectady, you can't help to notice the presence
of General Electric Company, which gives the city her nickname. At one
time, this famous American corporation employed over 40,000 workers. Around
8,000 remain today. This, unfortunately is typical of most cities of the
Mohawk Valley (and other places in Upstate New York). Economic times are
hard, and it seems like the glory days are gone. Maybe, maybe not.
Schenectady can always take pride in its history and architecture. Several
neighborhoods show this off well. You should make it a point in particular
to walk through the Stockade District,
off of Washington Street, just after you cross the Mohawk River. The Stockade
was originally built in 1661, but it was burned down by the French and
the Native American Allies in 1690. When it was rebuilt, it was protected
by a wall, hence its name. Most of the homes are privately owned, but they
retain that look that locks them in the past.
Why has this neighborhood
resisted urban renewal? What kinds of people live here? (Hint: check the
realty section of the local papers).
If you want to learn more about the history of Schenectady, visit the
Schenectady County Historical Society
and Museum, on the corner of Union and Washington Streets on
the edge of the Stockade District.
To continue the tour of the Capital-Mohawk Region,
follow this link to find out "What More You Should
Go to the next section!