New York State Capitol Building – Albany, New York
Most state capitol buildings are domed with a definite similarity to the national capitol building. New York is totally different; it was inspired by Classical architecture as the Hotel de Ville in Paris. It took the efforts of four architects to get it to the stunning building it is today.
The building stands four hundred feet long and three hundred feet wide with five stories and a full basement and attic! It is constructed primarily of gray granite. The walls are over sixteen feet thick at the foundation holding this massive structure.
Although the inspiration for the building is from the Hotel it ended up with a “battle of styles”, in which Italian Renaissance, Romanesque and French Renaissance were all blended to accomplish the look of today.
The building was completed in 1899 for a cost of $25 million dollars, which today would be roughly half a billion dollars.) It was the most expensive government building of its time. Construction of the building began in 1867.
One of the major expenditures on the interior of the building was the construction of the 166-foot-long exterior Eastern Staircase. The Capitol exterior is made of white granite from Hallowell, Maine, and the building incorporates marble cut by state prisoners at Sing Sing. The granite structure is 220 feet (67 m) tall at its highest point, and it is one of ten U.S. state capitols that do not have a domed roof.
New York State Capitol History
Over the past 100 years, the Capitol Building has been plagued by a string of catastrophic events. In 1911, a fire devoured 450,000 books and 270,000 manuscripts in the State Library. It was one of the greatest library disasters of modern times. In 1887, a seven-pound chunk of stone dropped from the arched Assembly chamber ceiling, missing an assemblyman by inches. Years later, water seeped through the ceiling and discolored two murals on the upper walls. A new, flat wooden ceiling was built 20 feet below the previous one, forever sealing the original murals from public view. Even today, the Capitol Building suffers from a stubborn roof leak.
Not only were there problems after the building was constructed but at the very beginning the construction faced problems when it was discovered that it was being built on quicksand. That meant that the san ad was to be scooped out (and not with modern equipment…remember it was in the mid-1800s) and completely replaced by clay and concrete. Follow that up with the fact that the cornerstone of the building, which contains copies of all the legislation relating to the Capitol, various U.S. coins and currency of 1871, and Albany newspapers of the day wasn’t marked to it is still unknown which stone it is.
The largest room in the Capitol building is the Assembly Chamber. It has a groined vaulted sandstone ceiling that rose to a height of 56 feet above the floor. Today you can’t see the ceiling because of the additional ceiling that had to be constructed to keep the sandstone ceiling from falling on those meeting below. When the building settled, the ceiling started cracking and breaking off becoming a danger to everyone.
The lobby is a smaller scale than the huge vaulted ceiling that originally graced the Assembly chamber.
Be sure to pay attention to the staircases when you visit. they are lavishly cared for in a variety of stones and crowned with magnificent skylights. All three of the stairwells are stunning additions to the capital building. The Great Western Staircase took 14 years to construct and cost more than one million dollars at the time. There are 444 steps and it reaches 119 feet high.
Among the 77 famous faces beautifully carved into the sandstone, staircases are such famous Americans as Washington, Lincoln, Grant, and Susan B. Anthony – each etched with astonishingly fine detail. With the stone gallery of prominent Americans out of the way, Perry (the architect at that time) decided to allow his elite group of carvers to sculpt the faces of friends, relatives, and people seen on the streets.
The Senate Chamber has a carved golden oak ceiling with deep paneled recesses which creates an acoustically perfect “debate arena” for the senators. The walls are covered with 23-carat gold leaf. The interior consists of imported Siena marble from Italy for the large arches above the visitor’s gallery, red granite from Scotland for the pillars, and Mexican onyx to panel the north and south walls. The ultimate in luxury was attained with red leather and carved mahogany paneling on the walls below the galleries.
At the back of the chamber are two large fireplaces, each with openings six feet high. Designed initially as sources of heat, they soon became mere decorations when electricity became a standard feature of the completed building. However, building on a tradition that began with the English parliament, the fireplaces were soon serving as quiet meeting areas for senators to “walk into”, and discuss important issues, And, because the chamber’s acoustics allowed for virtually every spoken word to be heard, these “fireplace” chats soon became an everyday occurrence.
The Executive Chamber is called the Red Room. The Red Room remains one of the truly outstanding works within the Capitol. Designed by Senate Chamber architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, the similarities between the two rooms are apparent. It has the same carpeting, chandeliers, and gold leaf wall band that the Senate Chamber possesses. The room has elegant mahogany wainscoting, and the intricate coffered oak ceiling is stained to match. Additionally, a beautiful bronze leaf band covers the upper half of the walls.
Guided tours of the New York State Capitol are available seven days a week. If you are planning on being in the Albany area, and are interested in a guided tour of the Capitol, call your local Assemblymember or contact the Office of General Services – Visitor Assistance at (518) 474-2418 for tour times.
From the North:
Take Interstate 87 (Northway) to Interstate 90 (East) exit, proceed east to Interstate 787, and take Empire Plaza exit.
From the South:
Take New York State Thruway (Interstate 87) to Exit 23 – straight through Toll Booth to Interstate 787, then take Empire Plaza exit.
From the East:
Take Interstate 90 and cross the Hudson River. Take exit to Interstate 787 South, along the river. Take Empire Plaza exit.
From the West:
Take the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) to Exit 24 (Albany), proceed east on Interstate 90 to Interstate 787 South, along the river. Take Empire Plaza Exit.
The New York State Capitol is an incredible example of political and architectural achievements. Preserving the original design and showcasing its history, it serves as a reminder of the importance of tradition and resilience. The building continues to be a powerful symbol of democracy and state pride, standing proudly in Albany. It stands as a beautiful testament to the rich history of New York State and its people, reminding us that we have much to learn from our past.