While it may seem surprising that New York City is not the capital of New York, it is actually not as unusual as you may think. In many states, it is common to have a city other than the biggest and busiest city as their capital, in an effort to diversify economic focus and to spread out wealth and industry. So, why is Albany the capital of New York?
In the case of Albany and New York, there isn’t necessarily one dominating reason, but rather several important single reasons which led to Albany being selected as the state’s capital.
Why is Albany the Capital of New York?
Location on the Hudson
During Colonial Times, much transportation and trading of goods was done via boat. Albany’s location on the Hudson River, a major trade route in the region, made it an important hub for shipping, transportation, and commerce. This prime location near the river not only allowed for the easy transport of goods, but it also allowed colonists and other European immigrants to quickly and conveniently travel to the city. In the late 18th century, the population differences between Albany and New York were minimal. Albany had established itself as an important player in the growth and development of early America.
Albany’s proximity to the Hudson made it an attractive settlement from the very beginning. It was this location that drew early settlers to the area. In fact, according to the Albany Institute of History & Art, Albany was granted a charter in 1686, a mere three months after New York City. However, New York’s charter was given up for two years during Leisler’s Rebellion at the end of the 17th century, leaving Albany to claim the oldest continuous charter.
During and after the American Revolution, there was increased development around Albany. The Hudson Valley remained relatively peaceful and free from war as the colonies were fighting elsewhere. Upstate New York began to prosper as migrants from Vermont and Connecticut began to move to the region. These settlers enjoyed the advantages of living on the Hudson and near the commerce hub of Albany, all while being only a short trip from New York City.
By the 1790 national census, the population of Albany had grown almost 700% since its initial charter a century before. In 1797, Albany became the permanent state capital of New York.
Location in the State
Albany’s location on the Hudson, and its importance as a trading hub, were not the only factors in deciding to make it the capital. Albany is also a far more centralized location than New York City. Remember, there is a great deal of statewide business and political and economic events that occur in capital cities. And the state of New York is much more than just New York City. Albany’s relatively central location within the state made it ideal for bringing together people from all over New York, even those in the far west and northern parts of the state.
While there are many factors that play a role in determining a state’s capital, we often have to look back to those early, influential times to find the biggest reasons. Why is Albany the capital of New York? When looking at the question, we have to consider the long history of Albany, and its early development. At the end of the day though, this question is perhaps best answered by that old real estate mantra: location, location, location.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.