From a distance, Albany may look like just another average, midsize city clustered around a handful of high-rise office buildings, but beneath its apparently calm surface you’ll find a surprisingly complex soul. Albany, as William Kennedy writes in O Albany!, is “as various as the American psyche itself, of which it was truly a crucible.”
The oldest city in New York and one of the oldest in the nation, Albany is located at the head of the navigable portion of the Hudson River. Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, and by the mid-1600s the Dutch settlement of Fort Orange was a flourishing trading post.
Albany was an early home to writers Bret Harte, Herman Melville, and Henry James, whose grandfather William founded the family dynasty here. President Chester A. Arthur is buried here; Presidents Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt all got their starts in the city, along with a number of less-upstanding citizens. Most notorious of these was gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond, murdered in 1931 in a rooming house at 67 Dove Street. Albany is also home to a large branch of the State University of New York (SUNY).
As the state capital, Albany is dominated by the government. Come here at lunchtime when the legislature is in session and you’ll see thousands of workers hurrying out for a sandwich and a few moments of sun. Though everyone seems harmless enough, this is a city notorious for political wheeling and dealing. When asked to explain Albany, one assemblywoman said, “Read Swift.”
Albany is an easy city to navigate. Traffic is generally light, with several major interstates providing easy routes around the region. Most visitor sights are located in or near downtown, which hugs the west bank of the Hudson. The recently constructed Hudson River Way is a pedestrian bridge connecting downtown Albany to the Albany Riverfront Park and Corning Preserve.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition