Photo Credit: Boston Public Library / CC BY 4.0

ALBANY is the largest and oldest of cities and towns which comprise New York State’s Capital District. The location of the city on the west side of the Hudson River is believed to have been the final stop on Henry Hudson’s 1609 search for the Northwest Passage to India. Permanently settled by Dutch traders in 1624 as a stockaded fort, Albany became an incorporated city in 1686 following English takeover of all Dutch claims in North America in 1664. The location at the head of navigation on the Hudson and at the eastern end of the Mohawk Valley guaranteed the city’s importance as a center of transportation.

This online experience recreates the 1989 SCA tour, “It’s Only Yesterday: The Automobile-Related Environment of New York State.” It was created to support our May 19, 2019 pop-up event. The text is presented in its original form (though many of the sites have been altered or demolished). Some supplemental material and a few additional points of interest have been added.

Early development of the area around Albany was characterized by the growth of independent cities and villages. Albany remained the largest city in the region and the second largest city in the state until the mid-nineteenth century. With the advent of mass transit in the nineteenth century, the area became more regionalized, a trend which only accelerated with the dawning of the first automobile age in the 1920s. With that came the development of auto suburbs and auto-related activities along the major streets and highways leading out from the center city. After World War II, the region’s cities and towns became linked by suburban development.

Our tour is arranged so that we will view the auto-related development of three major routes out of Albany, each traveling in a different direction. We have chosen this route to illustrate the largest concentration of buildings and objects which remain to remind us of the auto-related environment in New York State’s Capital District.

Broadway and Central Avenue were historically the primary routes between Albany and the cities of Troy and Schenectady, respectively. Both of these routes became early centers of rooter vehicle sales and related businesses.
Broadway, located near canal and rail transportation facilities and several factories, was the center for truck- and heavy-vehicle-related businesses. Central Avenue was the center for passenger car sales and their related facilities.

The tour begins in downtown Albany, the oldest settled area of the city. From here, we travel north along the Hudson River to Menands, a suburban village developed mainly in the 1920s. We will travel eastward along Interstate 90 to arrive at East Greenbush, along the U.S. Route 20. This former turnpike will then carry us back into downtown Albany, where we will begin our journey along N.Y.S. Route 5, a major east-west route which travels through some of the largest cities in the state. We will detour off Route 5 on our way into Schenectady, have lunch, and reconnect with Route 5 to return to downtown Albany.

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