Since Albany is one of the country’s oldest cities (that’s right—older than Boston or NYC), it stands to reason that it would have some important claims to fame. In point of fact, Albany is a veritable city of superlatives. Our city boasts more than a few “firsts” – first brewery in North America, first grand slam, birthplace of the bakers’ dozen – a number of “lasts,” – and even a few – albeit, unusual – “largest.”
By now, we all know that Albany is where toilet paper and celluloid were invented, but other significant firsts are less well known. For instance, did you know that the first passenger railroad in New York originated in Albany? The DeWitt Clinton pulled passenger cars 16 miles from Albany to Schenectady. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, as it was known, began to operate in 1831 to help Erie Canal passengers get around the Cohoes Falls. It was the fourth railroad in the United States, and the passenger cars looked a lot like buggies. Today, Amtrak still takes passengers to Albany from points all over the country on the Empire Line.
Largest weathervane? That’s right Midwest, eat your heart out. The largest weathervane in the country is not located in America’s bread basket, but right here in upstate New York, perched high above the city at the top of SUNY headquarters. A giant replica of Henry Hudson’s sailing ship, the Half Moon, the weathervane is large enough to seat one grown man. Have we tried it? Heck no! Would we like to? Of course!
It begs repeating. The first brewery in North America was located right here in Albany. While everyone is getting on the craft beverage bandwagon, the fact is, we’ve been brewing beer in Albany since our Dutch forefathers arrived. By the mid-1800s, this city had more than 50 breweries, and beers like Beverwyck Irish Cream Ale and Albany Ale could be found in major cities across the country. Today, the brewing tradition continues at several local breweries, including C.H. Evans Brewing Company, Druthers Brewing Company, and Fort Orange Brewing.
Albany is home to the USS Slater, the last remaining Destroyer Escort afloat in the country. That means our World War II-era battleship has been restored to its former glory – and it’s on the water the way engineers meant it to be. Take a tour of the ship, and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time. Walk from deck to deck and learn a little more about the life of a sailor, and the daily challenges these brave men faced. Sock coffee? Restricted showers? Sick bunkmates? Hedgehog missiles? All in a day’s work.
(Second) oldest museum
The Albany Institute of History & Art is the second oldest museum in the country. This stalwart just celebrated its 225th anniversary, which means that when George Washington was President, this museum was here. In fact, the Institute has been sharing its vast collection (20,000 objects strong!) with the world for generations. Go to see the Hudson River School paintings, Egyptian mummies, and Victorian dresses, stay for a snack at Crisan Café or a hands-on art project in the studio.
Ten Broeck Mansion has always been a fashionable address, and so it should come as no surprise that the house is home to the oldest private wine cellar in the country. The stately mansion, which was built by Revolutionary War General Abraham Ten Broeck for his family in 1797-98, underwent several architectural shifts over its lifetime. Originally built in the Federal-style, it was remade in the Greek Revival style, and eventually adopted many Victorian elements, including indoor bathrooms (thank you!) and butler’s pantry. The Olcotts, who purchased the home in 1848 loved to entertain. The new owners kept an impressive collection of French wines in the home’s cellar. When the Prohibition started, a nephew feared that the wine would be confiscated, or worse, so he boarded up the cellar and the collection inside. When the Olcott descendants died, the secret died with them. It wasn’t until 1977 that the walls came down and the secret prized vintages were unearthed. Today, the cellar has the distinction of being the oldest private wine cellar in the country, with many original wines from the Olcott collection still on display.
Perched high atop the former RCA Building, sits Albany’s top dog, Nipper. This black-and-white pup was a well-known icon thanks to RCA Records, and at one time, these faithful companions could be found all over the country. Today, our 4-ton, 24-foot dog is the largest replica of the dog left in existence. In fact, our Nipper is so big that a light had to be affixed to his ear, to warn off aircrafts. Today, the Nip looks down from his landing in Albany’s Warehouse District, with a friendly, inquisitive expression, and if you can find the right angle, you can get a doggone good selfie.