The Early Albany Landscape

view of the Albany waterfront about 1717 Dutch Reformed Church the Fort path to Schenectady Schuyler house State Street path of the Ruttenkill Ryckman brewery course of Foxes Creek or the Vosenkill perhaps the Gansevoort brewery City Hall Albany sloop Rensselaerswyck

The image shown above is from a larger panorama of the city as the artist might have remembered it in about 1717. It shows the slope of the hill and the waterfront at low tide! Click on any feature for more information.

The colonial city of Albany was situated on the west bank of the Hudson River - on a hillside running westward away from the waterfront. The initial settlement - a trading post called Fort Orange, sat on the flood plain near the water's edge and south of the subsequent urban core. By the 1650s, enterprising fur traders had built a number of homes along the river to the north of the trading post.

By 1660, a wooden stockade encircled the village first called Beverwyck. At that time, most of the settled area was on the flood plain with some new construction moving up the hillside - but not yet reaching today's Pearl Street to the west.

After 1664, the settlement - now called Albany began to expand up the hillside. The fort built by the English in 1676 straddled a ridge and was located about halfway up the hill that ran west from the river. For most of the colonial period, the fort was above community settlement.

At the same time, a number of streams flowed through the city. These ran west-to-east and downhill into the Hudson River. From north to south, they are Foxes Creek, the RuttenKill, and the Beaverkill. Each of these streams cut deeply into the westbank hillside - creating ravines whose banks/sides were eroded by runoff water. The high (dry and stable) ground between the ravines was considered prime building property. Albany's main streets ran east to west along these ridges. From north to south, these main streets were Patroon (Clinton), State, Lydius (Madison), and Morton Streets.


Detail from a print of a panoramic view of Albany produced by English artist William Burgiss depicting Albany during the second decade of the eighteenth century. Print in the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art. Print of the print in the CAP Graphics Archive.

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first posted: 8/25/03; revised 4/25/09