New York's

Capital District

A History of its Industries, Railroads and Inventions

Albany ~ Troy ~ Schenectady ~ Saratoga Springs ~ Cohoes ~ Waterford ~ Ballston Spa ~ Corinth
South Glens Falls ~ Lansingburgh ~ Stillwater ~ Mechanicville ~ Watervliet ~ Clifton Park




"Images of Rail" series

Published March 2021



Excerpt from the introduction:

The Capital District cities of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy were favorably located to become transportation hubs for early railroads. They stood between the well-settled New England states and the unsettled west, making them a natural pass-through point for hundreds of thousands of people. Vast forests and mineral reserves convenient to the Hudson River allowed for industry to develop in the Capital District and points south. New York harbor served as an important hub for trade with the outside world and was linked directly to Albany and Troy. The accumulation of wealth in New York City enabled several important projects to be funded, most notably the first canals and railroads.

One of the most overlooked factors in the sudden construction of the first New York State railroads was competition between Albany and Troy, which sometimes bordered on open hostility. Some historians contend that the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was built to keep Albany from losing more of its trade to the rapidly-industrializing city of Troy. Meanwhile, travel to and from Schenectady was painfully slow using the Erie Canal and uncomfortable by stagecoach. Its residents therefore welcomed the concept of a railroad.

Changes brought by the canals and railroads to cities in the Capital District and points west were dramatic. Between 1850 and 1950, the population of Albany increased from 51,000 to 135,000, Schenectady increased from 9,000 to 92,000, and Buffalo increased from 42,000 to 580,000. In 1840, when there were few railroads in existence, New York had 1,650 miles of tracks in use at an aggregate cost of $65 million, which, along with its series of canals, gave the state the most developed transportation network in the country.

The presence of such a comprehensive rail system by the mid-1800s did much to extend the life of manufacturing in the Capital District beyond what the canals could achieve. For example, the iron foundries of Troy were able to import raw materials direct from the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania, the Lake Champlain ore mines, and the ore deposits of the Hudson River Ore Company near Catskill. Finished iron and steel was shipped to the east on the Troy and Boston Railroad, to the west on the New York Central, and to the south on the Delaware and Hudson and the Hudson River Railroads.

It was unusual for an area the size of the Capital District to have more than one large railroad shop and yard complex. The regionís strategic location convenient to New York City, New England, and the West made it an ideal place to host classification yards and repair shop facilities. Comprehensive fabrication and repair shops were built in Green Island, Colonie, Rensselaer, and West Albany, while large freight yards were located in Mechanicville, the Albany waterfront, West Albany, and Selkirk.

Published by Arcadia Publishing 2021


Published in the Granville Sentinel, 2/4/2021


Arcadia Publishing website