The Best Way to See Historic Downtown Albany

Hi everyone! The City of Albany Heritage Area Visitor Center has begun to give free tours of downtown Albany (NY) the first Saturday of every month, May through October. Since we both enjoy history and architecture, my sweet husband and I decided to take part in the very first tour of this kind (since the 1980’s) on May 1st.

NYS Capitol building Albany NY


Our tour guide, a delightful adjunct professor named Hank, gave a terrific tour of our fair city, which predates the pilgrims. Its colorful history is rooted in the 1609 Dutch discovery of the region, which they called “Beverwyck.” Much of the area is part of a National Historic District. The tours begin at the Visitor Center on Broadway, next door to the Olde English Pub (formerly the Quakenbush House).

Historic Quackenbush House Albany NYNamed after the Dutch family that lived here for over 150 years, Quackenbush House was built during the 1730’s. Ironically, it is now a popular British-style pub. It is the oldest Dutch colonial building in the city.

palace theater


While in college and during my 20s, I attended many concerts at the Palace Theater. On the corner of North Pearl and Clinton, it opened  in 1931. The fabulous vintage-style marquee replicates the Theater’s original.

McGeary's Restaurant Albany NY


Right across from the Palace you find Clinton Square, containing McGeary’s, a hangout for state legislators and their staff, and the former home of author, Herman Melville (the pink building to the left of McGeary’s).

Lodge's storefront albany nyContinuing south along Pearl Street, you run into Lodge’s, Albany’s oldest, continuously operating dry goods store (1867-present).

Kenmore Hotel Albany NYThe old Kenmore Hotel (now offices), was built and owned by a wealthy African American, Adam Blake, Jr. His father was a slave to Dutch patroon (manor lord) Stephen Van Rensselaer III. (The Van Rensselaers owned much of Albany and Rensselaer counties.) The Kenmore has a fascinating history, including a Rainbow Room similar to the one in NYC.

Kenmore doorway in albany nyThe golden front door surrounded by beautiful marble (and me reflected in the glass).

Steuben club stairs in albany, nyTurn right off of Pearl St. onto Steuben St. and you find the YMCA building, built in 1886 in the Romanesque Revival style. Now home to the Steuben Club (once men only), it contains one of the first indoor swimming pools in the country and was the site of the first game of basketball outside Springfield College, the sport’s birthplace.

17th century cobblestonesWe walked up Steuben Street on the original, 17th century cobblestones, which made it to America from Europe as ship ballast.

house in downtown albanyI can’t remember the significance of this building, but I loved its Romanesque Revival style and the buttercup yellow color.

albany country courthouse railingConstructed of granite and limestone, this stone balustrade lines the Albany County Courthouse all along Steuben St.

court of appeals columns albany nyThe imposing ionic columns of the Court of Appeals (highest court in NYS) were completed in 1843 in the Greek Revival style.

former albany academy albany nyThis building, original home of the Albany Academy, sits on a peaceful plot of land alone and undisturbed. It now serves as the main office of the Albany School District.

St. mary's catholic church albany nyBuilt in 1867 in the Italianate Romanesque Revival style, St. Mary’s is second in age only to St. Peter’s in NYC.

Albany City HallComplete with a fully function carillon, Albany City Hall was constructed in the Romanesque Style in 1883.

Albany City HallAs evidenced by its towering, ornate entrance.

NYS Capitol building albany, nyThough construction on the capitol began in 1867, the project was not completed until 1898, some thirty-one years later. The building reflects a number of different architectural styles–French Renaissance Revival and Beaux Arts, for example–due to the changing tastes of legislators and the variety of architects hired over the years.  (Note: Free guided tours are available M-F, 11 am and 1 pm, call ahead 474-2418.)

Brass Plaque on Brick Wall in Albany NYAt the corner of State and Eagle Street, you can find this plaque, noting that Eagle Street had once been named “Duke Street,” after the Duke of Albany, for whom the city of Albany was named. (Under Dutch rule, Albany was known as “Beverwyck,” indicating the importance of “beaver” fur to the founding of the city.

St. Peters State Street AlbanyBuilt in 1870 in the French Gothic style, St. Peters contains a beautiful rose window by Tiffany.  Just below the peak of the bell tower you can see two of the three (3 ton) gargoyles that extend out 8′ from the walls of the tower.

Downtown AlbanyI cannot remember the details about this building located on State Street near St. Peter’s, but I love the turrets.

Corner of State and Pearl in Albany, NYBuilt in 1904 and designed by famous architect, Marcus T. Reynolds for the First Trust Company, this fascinating, triangular building on the corner of State and Broadway, is now home to the Research Foundation of State University of New York (SUNY).

Old D & H RR Headquarters, now SUNY HeadquartersAlso designed by Marcus T. Reynolds in the Gothic style after the Cloth Tower in Belgium, the D & H Railroad headquarters was purchased by SUNY in 1973 as its first permanent home.

Albany’s downtown still retains the grid-like street plan developed during its 17th century stockade period. In fact, the stockade’s border is painted on the streets and sidewalks of the city, so tourists know at all times when they are walking on historic ground.

Call the Albany Visitor Center for more info

A fun website of Albany “stories”
State Street Stories

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  1. Wow! I did not know that our state capitol is such a beautiful and historic city! All I have ever seen of it, is the sign for it on the thruway!! Looks like a definite stop in next time we are going by.

  2. Old architecture is so interesting as it can show the style of the times — many different ones in the same building at times! I can imagine that the plans for the capitol building would change as the government changed from hand to hand. I wonder what would happen if they made a plan and stuck to it! THAT'LL be the day! {eye roll} Thank you for showing the buildings. I really appreciate the triangular one.

  3. Looks like a beautiful city, full of wonderful historical architecture! I'd love to take a peek in the dry goods store. Thanks for sharing, Diana!

  4. Wonderful tour only thing is me personally take me through an historic hotel that has a history. Take me through the historical parts that come alive and float through the air or moving chairs and no one knows why. ~sigh~ Now if I had the money to do that… yep! That's what I would do. ~hehehe~

  5. Love historical! Oregon city, OR (where I live) was established in 1829 by the Hudson's Bay Company, in 1844 it became the first U.S. city west of the Rocky Mountains to be incorporated. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 31,859.
    They have been working on restoration and revival if the historic downtown and homes and I love that.

  6. I enjoyed the tour of historical Albany and would love to visit someday. Your photos were beautiful. The NYS Capitol is quite interesting. I would love to see it's interior.

  7. Thank you for such an interesting and historic tour. I must have had my head in the clouds when I went through Albany 7-8 years ago. I wish I had paid more attention. Thanks so much for sharing at Vintage Inspiration Party.

  8. Wonderful tour Diana! I can't believe that they don't charge for it. Most cities don't do that. I enjoyed the photos and history. Thanks for taking us on the tour with you! And thanks for sharing with SYC.

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