Famous Landmarks in Albany – Our Top 15
The greater Albany area has some impressive landmarks and the diversity of those landmarks is largely driven by the fact that this area was one of the first settled in North America. We polled our staff and many of them responded with the same handful of places over and over again - those of course are toward the top of the list. Some others are quite notable and are "worth the drive" as they say. Click any image to make it larger - our photographer Nick Lee spend the day traveling around to get most of these great photos for you!
Although large boulders spelling out the name of a city on a hill are common in the southwestern states they aren't so common here in the northeast - unless you happen to be driving down 787 past Troy. Sadly the City of Troy doesn't really keep the vegetation too controlled around the sign so now is the best time of year to see it. I grew up here and never noticed it until someone told me it was there a few years ago. You can actually physically get to the sign if you head into Troy's Prospect Park.
So this one is a little different; it's not one particular place per se but an example of an architecture you may have never been aware of - "googie". While this architecture isn't common to our area, there are several pockets of it, most notably along Central Ave., Wynantskill, Delmar, and a few other areas. Googie is the "space age midcentury" designs that include upswept roofs, exposed beams, awesome signs, boomerang designs, starbursts, and more. It was very common in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada where plenty of growth occurred in the 50's and 60s as well as here in parts of the Albany area that were growing rapidly in that period. In particular you'll find Googie buildings housing banks, bowling alleys, fish fry restaurants, car washes, and a few other businesses. Sadly one of the best examples, L-Kens in Colonie has closed and is being demolished. Signage in the Googie style is also very prevalent.
Anyone who has ventured into the Williamstown area knows this is a site to behold. At 3,489 feet this mountain is a very busy place - part of the Appalachian Trail meanders over the mountain along with many other hiking and camping trails. Backpacking is also popular here and provides trails of differing difficulty There's a great lodge and gift shop (built by the CCC during the depression era) at the summit near the monument, which is dedicated to all Massachusetts Veterans. NBC Radio carried the dedication of the monument in 1933 nationally. The beacon is perpetually lit and can be seen for up to 70 miles away. The view from the summit is epic.
Surprisingly nobody on our staff suggested the Saratoga Battlefield or the Saratoga Monument but several mentioned the Bennington Battle Monument. Maybe it's because in an hour (or under) you can be in another state and enjoy a day in small town Vermont. The Bennington Monument is very similar in appearance to the Washington Monument in DC but not quite as tall nor quite as famous. The monument is the tallest structure in Vermont and is open spring through fall. While some say leaf peeping season is the best time to go, we think it’s a good bet any time of year so long as you have a clear day. It’s also a cheap ride to the observation deck, about two dollars for adults and a dollar for the kids. Funny thing about the “Battle of Bennington” – it was actually fought 10 miles away in Walloomsac NY but the town of Bennington kind of hijacked the legacy in 1889 when the monument opened.
This is the one instance when it is acceptable to use the letter "o" in the word capitol - because we're referring to the actual building. So much can be said of the NY State Capitol Building – far more than we’ll get into here. This building has of course volumes of history of the evolution and law of the State of New York but also has it’s own legends and history. The building has been undergoing roof restoration (hence the omnipresent cranes) for the past several years and continues to be a very imposing structure. Recently the local public television station WMHT ran a documentary “The New York Capitol Fire” which happened in 1911 and destroyed substantial number of documents. The building is purported to be haunted too. Guided tours are available and an online virtual tour too – ghosts not included.
The Green Island Bridge crosses the Hudson River and connects the City of Troy to the Village of Green Island and also serves as a drawbridge. Rumors are that the bridge doesn’t function anymore but those are far from true – trust me I’ve been stuck at the bridge while a boat passes. The site where the bridge is also has had a detailed history of bridges starting with a railroad bridge that caught fire in 1862 and was replaced by a steel bridge that in 1977 collapsed into the river. The current bridge was opened in 1981 and has become an icon of the Troy Skyline even though it’s named for the small village across the river. Random fact – Green Island was in fact an island until 787 was built in the 1960s.
The Cohoes Falls are stunning all times of year and a true display of the might nature can hold. The waterfall located in the City of Cohoes is on the Mohawk River near where it dumps into the Hudson River. The Mohawks and Iroquois lived near the falls and even referred to them as "the place of the falling canoe.” The falls are 90 feet high and 1,000 feet wide. Spring is the heaviest flow season although after a good summer storm the levels increase to high volume too. In preparation for his stunt at Niagara Falls, Bobby Leach practiced by going over the Cohoes Falls. The park for observing the falls (Falls View Park) just won an award as being the environmental project of the year.
The New York State Museum is easily described by any series of adjectives that could include amazing, stunning, fun, educational, informative, well-done – and many others. We are so fortunate to have this museum right here in the Albany area and the fact that lawmakers have decided to close it on Sunday’s is simply inappropriate – depriving families and residents access to this gem is not something that should ever happen. Nonetheless it doesn’t take from what the museum has to offer - from the natural history of NY and it’s first peoples to a display on the World Trade Center tragedy of 2001, the New York State Museum has NY history covered from A-Z If you’ve never been to the museum it’s like living in Arizona and never going to the Grand Canyon!
The Twin Bridges are legally known as the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge – but that’s nearly impossible to pronounce and would make traffic reports on the radio extra long. The twin bridges carry Northway (I-87) traffic over the Mohawk River. Who exactly is Thaddeus Kosicusko anyhow? I’d always assumed he was the architect but in fact he was a Polish immigrant who was an important military leader in the Revolutionary War. He was granted honorary American citizenship before returning to his native Poland in 1784. For some reason this is one of two bridges named after Thaddeus – the other is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that carries Intestate 278 over the Newton Creek.
For a long time I thought that the state education building was the state Supreme Court because it looks like, well a court. At one point it was home to the state museum and the state library but today it houses the education department. The building took three years to build and was celebrated as the first structure built in the United States that was solely dedicated to education administration. There was some political and religious drama during construction too. The first Episcopal Bishop of Albany was in the process of building their grand cathedral but the commissioner of the education department wanted his building to be the grandest – so he used his influence to purchase the land around the cathedral while the bishop was out of town to build structures to obstruct the view of the cathedral.
The SUNY Administration Building at the foot of downtown Albany has to be one of the most impressive buildings in our region. Many don’t realize that the “castle looking building” is where SUNY is headquartered – there seems to be a lot of mystery about this building but it’s architecture is phenomenal and provided a dramatic backdrop to the scenes of movie Salt filmed in Albany. The 13 story building was originally built to be the headquarters of the D&H Railroad (Delaware and Hudson) and served that purpose from when construction ended in 1918 until the railroad abandoned the building in 1972. The weathervane on the top of the center tower is also famous – it’s of the Halve Maen, the ship that Henry Hudson captained to Albany in 1609.
Did you know that the GE plant has it's own zip code? Mail addressed to zip code 12345 belongs to this place where a lot of history has been made. The General Electric sign is a true artifact from the past of “the electric city” of Schenectady. NY. The sign has been there for 85 years and greets visitors as they arrive in the city. GE has always had a strong presence in the area but particularly in Schenectady where Thomas Edison built what became GE. Their efforts in technology allowed the city to be the site of the very first television station, WRGB (TV 6) and countless other innovations. The sign contains around 1,400 bulbs and they usually change the bulbs to be red, green, and white for the Christmas season – although it appears they left those bulbs in place thus far this year. A similar sign appears on a GE building in Ft. Wayne, Indiana but ours is much cooler.
The Albany skyline is breathtaking and can been enjoyed from the City of Rensselaer as well as from North Greenbush and East Greenbush. I feel you can’t truly appreciate it until you’ve taken one of the summer boat cruises on the Hudson. The only real unappealing part of the skyline is the Central Warehouse which sort of burned down earlier this year but unfortunately (for aesthetic reasons) didn’t go all the way. The skyline is great during the day and at night but is at it’s best viewing on July 4th when Price Chopper outdoes themselves every year with a truly larger-than-life fireworks display.
The RCA Dog (a.k.a. Nipper) is a strange but memorable symbol of our area, which dates back to the days when the building he sits on housed a distributor of RCA products. Notably absent is the phonograph he was usually pictured listening to with the slogan “his masters voice” – there never was one (as far as we know) on the building although rumors say so but those rumors are based on a bracket on his upper ear – which was for a beacon when this was the (believe it or not) the tallest building in Albany. Nipper is a heavy pup too – he weighs four tons.
The Egg is the most striking part of the Empire State Plaza mostly because it is such an odd shaped structure. It really doesn’t look like an egg from any angle, except directly above. The egg was built between 1966 and 1978 and holds two amphitheaters which are used for music shows, plays, expositions, dance performances, and many other events. Alt rockers They Might Be Giants did an album in 2004 where each song was a venue they played and The Egg is included on that album. Although The Egg is really the center point of the plaza (formally known as the Governor Nelson A Rockefeller Empire State Plaza) there are many other unique buildings including the four agency towers, the 44 story Corning Tower, the state museum, the swan street building, and the expansive underground concourse. The plaza is decorated with sculptures and artwork both outdoors and throughout the concourse. There is an observation deck on the 42nd floor of the Corning Tower that is open to the public and offers some amazing views of the entire Albany area. During the winter season one of the reflection ponds was turned into an ice skating rink but due to budget cuts that hasn’t happened for the past two years. The plaza was actually inspired by a visit from Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands (the Dutch settled Albany); she was not impressed with the city, especially one that called itself a capital city. Governor Rockefeller vowed to build pretty much a modern day Athens and then did so at a cost of $1.7 billion which today would cost - far more than our calculator can compute.