Locations of the Museum [Image of Cultural Education Center]
Over the years, the New York State Museum has called a number of locations “home.” The varied buildings that the Museum has occupied over the years help tell the story of the Museum’s evolution from a once purely scientific facility exhibiting mineral and paleontological specimens to a major research and an educational institution dedicated to preserving New York's rich artistic, social, historical, and environmental legacies.

OLD STATE HALL    ::    Occupied by the Museum from 1843 to 1855
In 1842, Old State Hall was dubbed "Geological Hall" and was made the repository of the collections of the State Cabinet of Natural History. In 1845, John W. Taylor was employed as curator to oversee the State Cabinet's collections and the resulting exhibits were opened to the public from 10am-2pm daily. Interestingly, the curator's salary of $100 annually did not provide for the expenses of "fire-making," or supplying wood for the fireplace! Within a few years it became apparent that additional space would be required to continue to accommodate the expanding collections of the State Cabinet. In spite of public desire to renovate Old State Hall, the building was deemed unsuitable for expansion and was razed in 1855 to make way for the State Cabinet's new home, the Geological and Agricultural Hall.


Construction of Old State Hall began in 1797 and was completed in 1799 at an estimated cost of $10,000. Designed by William Sanders, the building was four-stories high and of brick, fronting on State Street with a wing extending back on the west side of Lodge Street. Most notably, Old State Hall was the first public building erected by New York State Government in Albany after the Revolution. It originally housed the State departments—Secretary of State, Comptroller, State Treasurer, Attorney General and the Executive Chamber—until the newly constructed Capitol opened in 1808. Any remaining state offices moved to the New State Hall, built in 1842, and the State Cabinet was then placed in this building as recommended by Governor Seward. The Hall was demolished in 1855.

Old State Hall

Location: State and Lodge Streets

GEOLOGICAL AND AGRICULTURAL HALL    ::    Occupied by the Museum from 1856 to 1912
The Geological & Agricultural Hall was the first building constructed for the sole purpose of housing the collections of New York State. The building was dedicated in August, 1856 and the Cabinet was opened to the public on February 22, 1858. By 1870, when the name of the State Cabinet was officially changed to New York State Museum of Natural History, the scope of the exhibits had broadened to include scientific specimens and collections, works of art, objects of historic interest and similar property pertaining to the State of New York and appropriate to a general museum.


The Geological and Agricultural Hall was designed by architect William L. Woolett, Jr. and completed in 1856. The exterior was of pressed brick with a rusticated cut stone entrance. The main floor was divided equally between the Agricultural Society (east side) and the Curator of the State Cabinet (west side) with the remainder of the building, save two galleries, dedicated to the organization and storage of the Cabinet's collections. By 1867, when the Cohoes Mastodon was first put on display, the collections in every department had more than doubled, filling the Geological Hall to capacity. Within ten years, the Museum had out grown its home and the hunt for additional space began.

Geological and Agricultural Hall

Location: State and Lodge Streets

STATE HALL (Court of Appeals Building)    ::    Occupied by the Museum from 1886 to 1915
In 1883, a severe shortage in space prompted Legislature to authorize the Museum to take over State Hall as its occupants moved to offices in the newly constructed Capitol Building. However, many of the original occupants were unwilling to leave and, by 1900 many offices that had moved began making their way back to the building! At the end of twenty years, the Museum had only managed to scrounge space in 11 of State Hall's rooms. An additional blow was dealt to the Museum on April 11, 1901 when Legislature repealed the 1883 enactment allocating space in State Hall to the Museum, and, instead, giving the building as a whole to the Court of Appeals. The Museum's collections, which had already spread beyond the walls of the Geological and Agricultural Hall, needed to find additional space once again.


The "New" State Hall was built in 1842. Designed by Henry Rector, Albany's foremost architect at the time, it was built in the Greek Revival Style and constructed almost entirely of marble quarried at the State prison at Mount Pleasant (today known as Sing-Sing) at a cost of $350,000. It's two crowning architectural achievements included a forty-foot in diameter hemispherical dome that provided light to the rotunda and the second and third floor galleries, as well as a stone staircase from the main hall to the third floor that cantilevered from the wall with no visible means of support. Unfortunately, in the process of major renovation (over 80% of the building's original marble was replaced), a fire broke out in October 1958, destroying the original roof and dome.

State Hall (Court of Appeals Building)

(Court of Appeals Building)

Location: Eagle and Pine Streets

VARIOUS EXHIBIT AND STORAGE LOCATIONS    ::    Occupied by the Museum in the early 1900s
Lack of space had been a Museum problem since the first box of field specimens was lugged into the Old State Hall. By the early 1900s, the Museum, in desperation, crept into any available space and eventually occupied rooms in 15 separate buildings. Public exhibits were on display in the Geological Hall, the New State Hall, the West Wing of the Capitol and the State Normal School (now SUNY-Albany). Seven separate buildings, including the Old Malt House on Grand Street, were given over entirely to storage. One geologic specimen weighing about 2 tons had to be kept in an abandoned railroad depot in Menands. Unfortunately, before a permanent location for the Museum could be established, a fire broke out on March 29, 1911 in the northwest wing of the State Capitol and destroyed a large portion of the Museum's archaeological and enthnographic collections that were on temporary display there.


In 1867, British architect Thomas Fuller initiated the design of the Capitol building. However, eight years later, Fuller was replaced by two prominent American architects, Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Hobson Richardson who had to assume design after three stories had already been built. The finished Capitol took 32 years to build, from 1867 to 1899 and cost a staggering $25 million dollars. Measuring 400' long by 300' wide, the Capitol has five stories with a full basement and attic. It is constructed principally of gray granite and has walls over sixteen feet thick at the foundation. The 1911 fire that destroyed a portion of the Museum's collections also devoured the State Library, burning over 450,000 books and 270,000 manuscripts. It was one of the greatest library disasters of modern times.

New York State Capitol

Temporarily housed the museum's anthropological collections

STATE EDUCATION BUILDING    ::    Occupied by the Museum from 1912 to 1976
In 1909, space was alotted for the Museum in the new State Education Building slated for completion in 1912. After the 1911 fire in the Capitol, work on the Education Building was rushed to completion and, for the first time, the entire Musuem was moved to a single location on the 4th and 5th floors. The new exhibit halls were opened to the public in October 1915. This building housed the State Museum and Library for almost seventy years.


In the early 1900s, a design competition was devised by Dr. Andrew Sloan Draper, New York’s first Commissioner of Education, to construct an edifice that would “stand in the popular mind as expressive of the State’s concern in education.” The architect selected, Henry Hornsbostel, designed the Education Building following a neoclassic design. It was built between 1908- 1912 for a total cost of $4 million. The prominant feature of the structure is the colonnade fronting Washington Avenue with its 36 Corinthian fluted pillars of marble from Danby, Vermont. These huge columns are 90 feet tall and 6.5 feet in diameter at their base and, most notably, form the longest continuous colonnade in the world measuring 520 feet in length.


Location: Washington Avenue

CULTURAL EDUCATION CENTER    ::    Occupied by the Museum from 1976 to Present
Within a decade of moving into the State Education Building in 1912, the Musuem had already exhausted every possible nook and office and hallway where collections could be stored. Hope for more space was not restored until 1962 when Legislature approved the construction of a 98.5 acre governmental park proposed by Nelson Rockefeller in the heart of downtown Albany. Included in the proposal were plans for a new Museum building. The 11-story, 1.5 million square foot Cultural Education Center was completed in 1976 and today houses the State Museum, State Libarary and Archives, and the Office of Cultural Education.


The eleven story, 1.5 million square foot Cultural Education Center houses not just the State Museum, but also the State Library and Archives, as well as the main offices of New York State Office of Cultural Education. The center was constructed as part of Governor Nelson Rockefeller's 98-acre Empire State Plaza, built between 1965 and 1978 for $1.7 billion. Originally, an “Arch of Freedom,” a monument to the Emancipation Proclamation, was to have been constructed at the south end of the plaza where the Cultural Education building now stands. The arch would have stood above a four-story platform that would have provided space for just the State Museum, but it was eliminated as it did not create enough of an architectural anchor to the Capitol Building at the opposing end of the plaza.


Location: Madison Avenue


Museum Hours: Open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm | For information, 518-474-5877
The NYS Museum is a program of The University of the State of New York
New York State Education Department | Office of Cultural Education