National Geographic : 1948 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Albany has been a chartered city since 1686. Despite the earlier establishment of James town, Virginia, it is one of the oldest com munities in the Thirteen Original Colonies continuously carried on, although it had four other names before "Albany" was adopted. The fact that Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles E. Hughes, Alfred E. Smith, and Franklin D. Roosevelt served as Governors in Albany naturally has centered interest on the city. Originally settled by the Dutch, Albany has retained vestiges of their culture for more than three centuries, but today its personality is largely set by its functions as State capital. On the other hand, Albany is now and always has been, ever since aboriginal Indian trails crossed at its site, one of the major commercial crossroads and distributing points of America. It is a great transportation hub, because major waterways, railways, and highways con verge and intersect there. It is at once a bottleneck, a gateway, and a transfer point. For one thing, it is the farthest inland of any port in the northeastern United States to which ocean-going vessels may proceed directly. It is close in point of transporta tion time not only to New York City but to Boston, Buffalo, and the Canadian cities. It is also important as a transfer point for mail. On Albany's topmost hill rises the massive, ornate Capitol Building, a giant French cha teau. On March 29, 1911, a severe fire in the capitol spent most of its fury in the sec tion that housed the State Library, burning some 500,000 books and 300,000 manuscripts, one of the greatest library holocausts of modern times. But the manuscripts that were saved, those that were salvaged enough to be fairly legible, and the accessions of a third of a century have combined to make the present library one of the Nation's treasure houses. Among the rare manuscripts are the first draft of Washington's Farewell Address, his "opinion of the field officers of the Revolution alive in 1791," his tabulated statement of household expenses in 1789, and the prelimi nary Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, given out after the Union victory at Antietam. An early director who helped make the in stitution great was Melvil Dewey, pioneer librarian, spelling reformer, and founder of the Lake Placid Club. One reason he went to Albany was the fact that in his previous position he was not allowed to train women to become librarians. The huge State Education Building now houses both the State Library and the State Museum. In this building also originate the Regents' examinations, so well known to many school children, parents, and teachers. On the grounds of the capitol is the old building of the Albany Academy, in whose empty auditorium during the summer vaca tions one of the early teachers. Joseph Henry, later the first Secretary and Director of the Smithsonian Institution, set up his electro magnets and made experiments which were an essential preliminary to the invention of the telegraph. A Famous Colonial Home In southeast Albany the State maintains one of the most famous of the country's fine Georgian colonial homes, now in surroundings quite different from those of its original baronial estate. It was built by Gen. Philip Schuyler, who was born into the Hudson River aristocracy, gained added wealth and promi nence by marrying into the Van Rensselaer family, and had a distinguished career as military leader and public official (Plate IX). The halls are so wide that large parties were held in them. General Schuyler's daugh ter Elizabeth married Alexander Hamilton in the parlor at the left of the main entrance, and one cause of the General's death was his shock at the news that Hamilton had been killed by Aaron Burr. General Burgoyne was entertained in the house after his capture. Although a gathering place for armies, Albany was never taken by an enemy. But a small group of ruffians and hostile Indians, bent on capturing General Schuyler, managed to enter the house; they fled when the General called out the window to his bodyguard, the smallness of whose num bers the raiders did not realize. The main stair rail bears the cut from a tomahawk flung by an Indian at the General's daughter Margaret who, with an infant in her arms, was fleeing upstairs. Across the river in Rensselaer, close to the water's edge, is Fort Crailo. Possibly more than any other structure in the State, it carries one back to the earliest days of colonial New Netherland, of the Dutch West India Com pany and its patroons (Plate IX). Beside the well in the back yard, according to tradition which is not supported by evi dence, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British army surgeon, wrote the words of our famous national air, "Yankee-Doodle," being inspired by the motley appearance of the American troops gathering there to assault the French at Ticonderoga (page 15).