CENTRAL AVENEUE begins a few blocks above the capitol and is the next leg in Route 5. The history of this street is truly the history of transportation in Albany. It was built as the first turnpike in New York State, (the Mohawk and Hudson or Albany and Schenectady), begun in 1797 and Completed to Schenectady by 1803. Its fifteen-mile distance is characterized by a perfectly straight line from one end to the other.
The former turnpike is known as Central Avenue in Albany County and State Street in Schenectady County. Despite the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, this road remained as the preferred mode of travel between Albany and Schenectady throughout the nineteenth century, since the canal trip between the two cities took one whole day. Twenty-five of the entire canal’s 77 locks were located in this 20-mile section.
With the establishment of the West Albany railyards and stockyards just north of Central Avenue in the 1850s, the street took on nore importance as a route for shipment of cattle. It was not unusual in the mid-19th century for whole herds of cattle to be driven down Central Avenue!
As the main east-west route through Albany and the major route to Schenectady, Central Avenue quickly developed into the principal access to western development. As such it was the logical location for one of the city’s first horsecar lines. In 1864, the Albany Railway was chartered and its first line travelled along Central Avenue, eventually reaching the rail and stockyards. By 1901, the entire length of the former turnpike was served by electric streetcars when the Schenectady Railway constructed a line from the end of the Albany line to downtown Schenectady.
As transportation modes changed following World War I, Central Avenue became the area where this phenomenon was reflected most clearly. The first two miles of the Avenue became the location of most of Albany’s early auto dealerships, and parts and service retailers.