Schenectady is best visited for its history. The oldest European settlement in the Mohawk Valley, the city boasts one of the largest and best collections of 18th-century buildings in New York—the historic Stockade. The visitor walking along this district’s quiet, crooked streets, heavy with trees, will be transported back to a gentler age.
Like Albany , Schenectady is one of New York State’s Heritage Areas—loosely designated historic parks linked by a common theme. The theme, labor and industry, is chronicled in this museum (15 Nott Terrace Heights, off Nott Terrace, 518/382-7890, www.schenectadymuseum.org , 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Tues.–Fri., noon–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun., adults $5, seniors $4, children 4–12 $3).
Exhibits focus on early settlement, General Electric, and the American Locomotive Company. In 1935 General Electric produced more than one-half of the world’s electricity; at the peak of World War II American Locomotive employed 11,000 workers and produced the first M-7 “tank killer” in 19 days. The museum is also known for its science exhibits and 30-foot-high planetarium (shows Sat.–Sun., $1.50 per person).
Along the banks of the Mohawk River, in the triangle formed by State and North College Streets, lies the Stockade (www.historicstockade.com ), one of the nation’s oldest continuously occupied neighborhoods. Settled in 1661 by Dutch merchants and fur traders, the outpost flourished until 1690, when a party of French-Canadians and their Indian allies burnt it to the ground, massacring most of the inhabitants and marching the rest off to Quebec.
Native Mohawks encouraged the Dutch to rebuild, and two years later the Stockade was flourishing once again. During the next two centuries all of Schenectady’s most important families settled here, and today the residential district is a wonderful spot, filled with architectural landmarks of all styles and periods. The oldest are churches and graveyards dating back to the 1690s; the newest are homes built in the 1930s.
Plaques pinpointing some of the Stockade’s more interesting sites are located throughout the district. Maps are available in the Schenectady County Historical Society Museum, located on the southern edge of the Stockade.
On display in this friendly, three-story museum (32 Washington Ave., 518/374-0263, www.schist.org , 1–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat., adults $2, children under 12 $1) is everything from antique dolls and guns to period costumes and furniture. Highlights include an elaborate dollhouse that once belonged to the family of Governor Yates, and the notebooks and letters of GE’s electrical genius, Dr. Charles Steinmetz.
The first planned college campus in America, >Union College (807 Union St., 518/388-6000, www.union.edu ) was designed in 1814 by classical landscape architect Joseph Jacques Ramee. Filled with broad lawns and giant elms, Union admitted only men until 1970.
At the center of the campus is the high-Gothic Nott Memorial, the only 16-sided building in the Northern Hemisphere. Nearby are Jackson’s Gardens, beautifully landscaped formal gardens first planted in the early 1800s by mathematics professor Isaac Jackson.
Union College is located between Lenox Road, Seward Place, Union Avenue, and Nott and Union Streets. Parking is available in the lots at Nott Street and Seward Place.
If possible, try to catch a show at the historic Proctor’s Theater (432 State St., 518/382-1083), an architectural gem built in 1925. Once a vaudeville palace, it features an ornate auditorium complete with 2,700 seats and a 1931 Golub Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. On its events calendar you’ll find Broadway musicals, concerts, operas, dance troupes, and classic movies.
On the edge of the Stockade is an excellent jazz and blues club, The Van Wyck (247 Union St., off Erie Blvd., 518/381-1111). Downstairs is an atmospheric bar and upstairs is the performance space.
In the Stockade find Café 1795 (35 N. Ferry St., 518/372-4141), selling gourmet sandwiches and salads, as well as simple entrées. Located on the site of the 17th-century Old Public Market, Café 1795 sits on an attractive patio with a handful of picnic tables. For heaping platters of diner fare, try the modern Blue Ribbon Diner (1801 State St., 518/393-2600), especially known for its cheesecake.
Overlooking the Mohawk across from Schenectady is the Glen Sanders Mansion (1 Glen Ave., Scotia, 518/374-7262, $149–$169), an upscale inn housed in a historic stone home with original Dutch floors and doors. The inn’s formal, white-tablecloth restaurant serves Mediterranean-style fare (average dinner entrée $17), while a downstairs pub has a more casual take on the same. Ten standard guest rooms offer double queen-size beds; 10 suites offer king-size beds and sitting areas, some with fireplaces.