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Why is it called the "Capital District"?

Origin and definition

New York's Capital District has many names for the same region- Capital Region, Tri-Cities, Tech Valley, Metroland, Capitaland, Capital-Saratoga Region, Eastern New York, and 518 (because of the area code). The term Capital District may be the oldest, the first reference being an attempt by the state of New York to set up a planned metropolitan area around the capital city of Albany in the 1860s which began with a police district over what is now the cities of Albany, Cohoes, Rensselaer, Schenectady, Troy, and Watervliet, the towns of Colonie, East Greenbush, and North Greenbush; and the villages Colonie, Green Island, and Menands. Though this district did not last long, it did spawn an identifiable name for organizations covering more than one city in the region. A Capital District Park was even proposed for the area that would later be the Albany International Airport, the park though was never built.

The Capital District is a nebulous term with indefinite inclusion of counties in New York depending on the usage, which may vary depending on organization or company or purpose. Generally, it always includes the following counties- Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, and Schoharie; various other counties are also included in most definitions- Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Warren, and Washington. Portions of surrounding counties of this 11 county region may also share in the media market (TV, radio, and newspapers) and have similar overlapping identity. 

Capital District Tourism Gnome looking at the Albany, New York skyline

Brief history

New York's Capital District region has its origins with the discovery of the core part of the region by Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch in 1609, and of the northern areas in the same year by Samuel Champlain exploring from Canada for the French. Albany would have various forts and trading houses established beginning in 1614. The French and Dutch would compete in the northern areas of the Capital District between the Mohawk Valley and Lake Champlain. The English would conquer the Dutch in 1664 and continue the rivalry and raids with the French, competing forts would be placed in the Lake George area.  In the late 17th century through the late 18th, various other cities, towns, and villages would be founded under Dutch and later English settlement, especially as the more numerous New England settlers moved west into the region. Schenectady would be founded as a rival to Albany for the beaver trade from Iroquois territory to the west in 1662, Schuylerville would be settled in 1691 as Fort Saratoga, Hudson by New Englanders in 1783 and would become the third city in New York after NYC and Albany.

The French and Indian Wars would see raids and battles, most notably at Schenectady, Fort Saratoga, and Fort Ticonderoga. After the defeat of the French the Proclamation Line limited official settlements, but the US Revolutionary War would see further action at Ticonderoga, and Native Americans raids of unofficial European settlements in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys. After Ticonderoga General Knox transported the cannons of that fort through the area on the way to Boston for General Washington's use during the siege, the historic trail includes a wonderful pocket park outside Schuylerville, and years later nearby was the Battles of Saratoga the turning point for the way. General Schuyler would create the first American navy by building ships at Whitehall for use in Lake Champlain by General Benedict Arnold, who was also the hero of Saratoga.

After the Revolutionary War settlements pushed north and west, with Waterford incorporated in 1794 (and still the oldest village in the US), Troy as a competitor to Albany in 1787 for iron and coal from Vermont and the Adirondacks incorporated in 1816 as a city, and Watervliet as a village in 1836. From Schenectady Fonda, Fultonville, and Gloversville would be settled from the 1750s through to 1800 especially after the threat of Iroquois raids were eliminated by the Sullivan Expedition in 1779.


The French and Indian War saw several major battles in the Capital District, including at the aforementioned forts. In the end, the French were defeated, freeing the land for further settlement to the west and north of Albany. During the American Revolution the area again saw fighting and Fort Ticonderoga experienced notable action. The Battle of Saratoga, which took place in the present-day town of Stillwater, is considered the turning point of the war. In 1776, General Philip Schuyler built a small fleet of ships at Whitehall. They were used by Benedict Arnold in the Battle of Valcour Island. The event led to Whitehall's modern-day claim to be the birthplace of the United States Navy.[22]

After the Revolution, settlements continued to proliferate west and north of the Albany area. North of Albany, along the river, settlements grew quickly: Waterford (oldest continuously incorporated village in the US, incorporated in 1794),[23] Troy (settled in 1787, chartered as a village 1801, city in 1816), Lansingburgh (a village in 1763, annexed to Troy in 1900), and Watervliet (settled in 1643 and incorporated as a village in 1836 as West Troy, city in 1897). West from Schenectady, land purchases in the 1750s led to settlements at Fondaand Fultonville in Montgomery County, but land purchases elsewhere, such as at Gloversville in Fulton County did not see settlement until the end of the 18th century when the Iroqouis threat had been eliminated by the Sullivan Expedition in 1779, which came as retaliation for the Cherry Valley Massacre in nearby Otsego County.

Albany County was the for some time the only county in the Capital District after being created in 1683 and was New York's most populous county surpassing Manhattan until 1790. In 1772 Charlotte (today Washington) and Tryon (today Montgomery) counties were created, with Warren founded from Washington in 1813 and Fulton from Montgomery in 1838. Columbia County would break away in 1786, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties in 1791, Schoharie in 1795, Greene in 1800, and finally Schenectady in 1809 would result in Albany County reaching its modern proportions.


Thanks to the geography of the area with an abundance of creeks and waterfalls, the Capital District was early in the adoption of the waterwheel allowing for industrialization to get a head start in this region. Ocean going vessels could go as far as Albany on the Hudson River, and in the mid-1820s the Erie Canal and Champlain Canals would allow mule pulled canal boats and then larger barges to connect to the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River (via Lake Champlain). Plank roads and turnpikes connected Albany in every direction as well, starting in 1799, and the Mohawk and Hudson RailRoad would be the predecessor of the New York Central. Many cities in the region became national and international leaders in various fields. Troy initially for steal and later clothing (the Collar City), Cohoes for the world's largest cotton mill (Spindle City), Gloversville for glove and leather making (The "headquarters of the glove and mitten industry"), Amsterdam the "Carpet City of the World" and Schenectady as the headquarters for General Electric and American Locomotive Works (Electric City, the "City that Lights and Hauls the World).

The region has continued to be an innovator through thousands of new technologies, patents, industries, and small and large businesses. General Electric continues to be a pioneer from the Global Research in Niskayuna, and spinoffs such as Plug Power are revolutionizing energy production and distribution. The moniker of Tech Valley recognizes the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Capital District; emphasized by the location of a Global Foundries chipfab, SEMATECH consotrium of chip makers, and SUNY Nanotech.

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