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History of Albany, New York

Albany has been the state capital of New York since 1797. Located at the head of navigation on the Hudson River, it was strategically important throughout the colonial period. Its economic importance was greatly enhanced with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Henry Hudson reached the site of present-day Albany in 1609. The first recorded settlement in the Albany area came in 1614, when agents of the Dutch West India Company built a small fort that was occupied as a trading post for three years. Permanent settlement began when a group of Dutch Walloons, after leaving a few settlers to start New Amsterdam (New York City), proceeded up the Hudson to start a settlement in 1624. They constructed Fort Orange near the site of the present state capitol and named their community Beverwyck. In 1629, the Dutch government granted an Amsterdam diamond merchant named Kilaean van Rensselaer a tract of land on both sides of the Hudson for a patron ship, which he called Rensselaerswyck. Fort Orange was included in the grant along with Beverwyck. An ongoing dispute with Rensselaerswyck prompted Peter Stuyvesant to make Beverwyck an independent village in 1652. When Fort Orange was surrendered to the British in 1654, Beverwyck became Albany, after one of the titles of the Duke of York, later James II. Meanwhile, the van Rensselaer family lobbied for a return of the former Beverwyck into their control. When this was denied, they relinquished their claims and settled on a grant on the opposite side of the Hudson, for which they received a patent in 1685. The Dutch influence continued for decades. Albany played an important role in the politics of the colonial period. The first inter-colonial convention was held there in 1689, with delegates from Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut and New York discussing a plan of defense. Another congress in Albany in 1754 produced a plan, proposed by Benjamin Franklin, for a common general government to provide for the defense of the colonies. Known as the Albany Plan, it was not adopted, but it laid the groundwork for the Continental Congresses two decades later. During the Revolutionary War, Albany was the objective that General John Burgoyne was intent on taking until his defeat at the Battle of Saratoga. Robert Fulton's steamship Clermont made its first trip from New York City to Albany in 1807. An even greater impact was the Erie Canal; four years after its opening, the population of Albany was five times its pre-canal level. In 1831, railroad travel between Schenectady and Albany began. Design for the New York State Capitol began in 1867. It was not completed until 1899, by which time the cost has reached $25 million, making it the most expensive government building in the country at the time. Different teams of architects worked on it, which may explain the unusual mixture of Italian Renaissance and Baroque styles. Albany has been a center for higher education since the founding of the Albany Law School in 1851. Other institutions include the Albany College of Pharmacy, Albany Medical College, College of St. Rose, and the State University of New York at Albany.