Opening Reception Photographs

Many American cities boast a historic thoroughfare that echoes with stories of power and change, caution and preservation. But how many cities can boast a 350-year-old street whose past bears the imprint of a New World explorer, a willful Dutch-born governor, two signers of the Declaration of Independence, and three United States presidents? Henry Hudson, Peter Stuyvesant, Benjamin Franklin, Philip Livingston, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are among the many luminaries who made a mark on Albany’s State Street. Stories of bold vision and passionate conviction, matched by tales of expedient measure and calculated return, are all part of State Street’s 350-year running narrative; taken together, they are the stories that shape this exhibition.

State Street Stories: 350 Years of Albany’s Heritage begins with the story of a trail into the woods, traveled first by Native peoples and then by Dutch traders who eventually dubbed it Joncker-Straet (Young Gentlemen’s Street). But in less than a hundred years State Street emerged as Albany’s main route, the city’s political, religious, and commercial center. Its strategic location made it an ideal crossroad for an energetic colonial populace that came from around the world, either by choice or by coercion, to work and live along the Hudson River’s northern shores.

Historical records reveal stories of how Albany’s earliest citizens interacted with one another. Collaborations and antagonisms abounded, yet despite religious, cultural, and ethnic differences, a guarded tolerance emerged. Alongside these recorded stories are the voices of silent toil: slaves, laborers, domestics. Look for their stories between the lines of State Street’s official history. Collectively, these narratives form a dynamic blueprint that defines State Street’s current contours.

As State Street grew in prominence, its architecture reflected the civic and entrepreneurial ambitions of its wealthiest inhabitants. By the early nineteenth century, Albany’s elite had renounced State Street’s provincial look, instead searching out renowned architects who could echo the current visions of American prosperity and refinement. Philip Hooker, Richard M. Upjohn, Russell Sturgis, H.H. Richardson, and Marcus T. Reynolds formed the nucleus of architects who recreated State Street as a cornucopia of nineteenth-century revivalist styles. Today, State Street reveals vestiges of Albany’s boom times as well as its downward spirals. Although blemishes and obstructions exist, ultimately these quick fixes are overshadowed by the enduring grace and elegance of the street’s finest architectural aspirations.

Lower State Street’s two grandest buildings, the Delaware & Hudson Building at its base and the New York State Capitol at its hilltop, are State Street Stories’ visual and narrative anchors. Emblematic of State Street’s ruling passions, commerce and government, these two buildings serve as a framework for understanding the path from past to present. What did State Street look like fifty, one hundred, two hundred years ago? Who lived and worked there? Why had they come in the first place? State Street Stories combines historical and anecdotal accounts with a wealth of archival material—maps, books, hotographs, paintings culled from Albany’s premier public and private collections—to form a 350-year visual narrative of how the sometimes noble, often misguided calculations of Albany’s citizens ultimately turned a trail in the woods into one of America’s most historic city streets.