New York History

Situated in the northeastern U.S. and stretching from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, this mid-sized state (27th out of 50) has the third-highest population in the nation. When people think about New York state, they automatically conjure up dense, urban images of busy streets and Manhattan skyscrapers. However, the state of New York is predominantly rural, with farms scattered about the lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests.

New York, the “Empire State,” was first settled by the Dutch in 1613, who named the area New Netherlands. After Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from the Lenape natives (for considerably more than the $24 worth of trinkets in the legend), the Dutch settlers established the colony of New Amsterdam. In 1664, James, the Duke of York (and future king), sent an army to take possession of the Dutch colonies. The New Netherlands territory was renamed to New York, and New Amsterdam became the City of New York.

New York existed as a colony of Great Britain for more than a century. However, as was the case with the other colonies, New York grew dissatisfied with British rule. New York declared its independence in 1776, and adopted its first constitution in 1777. During the Revolutionary War, east New York was a principle battleground. The decisive victory of the Patriots in the Battle of Saratoga is considered a turning point in the Revolution, as it encouraged the French to enter the war on the side of the Americans. In 1783, the British troops occupying New York City finally evacuated and General George Washington formally bade farewell to his officers.

The United States Constitution was ratified in the state of New York in 1788, and New York City became the national capital (until 1790). President George Washington was inaugurated there in 1789. Albany was named the state capital of New York in 1797. The years following the Revolutionary War saw Robert Fulton’s steamboat and the completion of the Erie Canal, both of which heralded a new era in transportation and led to the development of cities and towns across New York state.

Many New Yorkers use the convenient designations of Upstate New York and Downstate New York when discussing locations within the state, but New York is actually divided into 10 distinct regions. New York City is a region unto itself, housing the Five Boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island. New York City lies on the western tip of Long Island, another region which is home to the historical towns and seaside villages known collectively as the Hamptons. New York City connects Long Island to the mainland’s Hudson Valley, the region first settled by the Dutch and made famous by the gothic stories of Washington Irving. The Catskill Mountains region has become a traditional vacation spot for many Jewish, Czech, and German families, earning it the nickname “Borscht Belt.” The Adirondack Mountains region lies in the northern part of the state, and contains Adirondack State Park, one of the largest state parks in the nation. Roughly the size of Virginia, this park covers more ground than Yellowstone National Park, Everglades National Park, Glacier National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park combined. New York state’s highest point of elevation, Mount Marcy, is located in the Adirondack Mountain range.

The Central-Leatherstocking region lies between the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and was featured prominently in James Fenimore Cooper’s series of books known as The Leatherstocking Tales. (The Last of the Mohicans is perhaps the best known of these novels.) The Thousand Islands-Seaway region is named for the chain of islands (which actually number 1,865) in the Saint Lawrence River, along the U.S.-Canada border. The Finger Lakes region lies west of Thousand Islands-Seaway and Central-Leatherstocking, and is named for the eleven long, slender lakes that run parallel to one another, resembling outstretched fingers. The land between the lakes is occupied by Amish and Mennonite farms, as well as a number of prestigious vineyards. The Chautauqua-Allegheny region is a vast, open land of lush forests and cool lakes, and is home to the Chautauqua Institution, a historic arts and culture center where George Gershwin composed his Concerto in F and Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his famous “I Hate War” speech. Finally, the Greater Niagara region is situated in the northwestern corner of New York state, between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The massive Niagara Falls, located on the Niagara River, are a popular destination for sightseers, honeymooners, and daredevils.

The state of New York is home to a number of prominent cities. Of course, the first one to come to mind is the cosmopolitan New York City, recognized globally as a center for culture, business, and international diplomacy; the United Nations is located there and the Statue of Liberty stands at the mouth of the Hudson River, welcoming immigrants as they arrive on Ellis Island. Albany serves as the New York state capital and boasts an arts and culture scene that rivals New York City’s in diversity, if not in scale. Rochester’s 19th century flour mills and floral nurseries both played an important part in the city’s development, and earned it the nicknames “Flour City” and “Flower City.” Ithaca is best known as the home of Cornell University, but also served as a center for the silent film industry during the early 20th century, while Buffalo, located at the southern head of the Niagara River, is known for its hospitality and has twice been awarded the title of All-American City.

Interesting Facts About New York

Abbreviation: NY
Capital: Albany
Nickname: Empire State
State Motto: Excelsior (“Ever upward”)
Population: 18,976,457
Union Info: July 26, 1788
Time Zone: EST
Elevation: 1,000 feet
Area: 54,556 sq. miles.
Peak: Mount Marcy (5344 feet)
Flower: Rose
Bird: Eastern Bluebird
Tree: Sugar Maple


Albany City Guide

Albany, the capital of New York and the seat of Albany County, sits on the western bank of the Hudson River, just south of its junction with the Mohawk. The city actually began as Fort Orange, a Dutch fur trading post established in 1624. As settlers from Holland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, and Scotland flocked to the New Amsterdam Territory, Fort Orange grew into a sizable village and was renamed Beverwyck. In 1664, the Dutch surrendered the territory to the English, and King Charles granted a huge tract to his brother James, the Duke of York and Albany. Thus, New Amsterdam became New York and Beverwyck became Albany. The city was granted its charter by Governor Thomas Dongan in 1686.

The Albany Plan of Union was a proposal drafted by Benjamin Franklin and other colonial leaders in 1754. This early attempt at unification was never adopted by Parliament, but was instrumental in the drafting of the Articles of Confederation and is seen by many as a precursor to the United States Constitution. In 1797, the state capital of New York was moved from Albany to Kingston. The State Capitol building, inspired partially by the design of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, was designed and constructed by three different teams of architects over a 30 year period and finally completed in 1899.

Brooklyn City Guide

“I live in Brooklyn. By choice. Those ignorant of its allures are entitled to wonder why.” – Truman Capote, A House on the Heights

Brooklyn, the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs, also occupies the entirety of Kings County. An independent city until its consolidation into New York in 1898, Brooklyn still maintains its air of independence and has a distinct character that sets it apart from the rest of New York City. As immigrants have flocked to borough over the years, their various cultures have fused together to create a unique Brooklyn flavor and, many would say, a distinctive Brooklyn accent. Expressions such as “Fugheddaboudit” and “Oy vey!” are quintessentially Brooklyn, and now even adorn the various traffic signs posted along the borough line. Embracing its diverse culture, Brooklyn now proudly proclaims to be “Home to Everyone from Everywhere.”

Rochester City Guide

Located on the Genesee River, near Lake Ontario, Rochester is the third-largest city in New York and the seat of Monroe County. Originally a mill site, the township of “Rochesterville” was founded in 1817 by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and his two partners. In 1823, with the completion of the Erie Canal, the city became a major trade center and shortened its name to “Rochester.” Because of its strategic location on the Genesee, numerous flour mills were constructed in the city, earning it the nickname “Flour City.” William A. Reynolds also started the seed business that would eventually blossom into the Ellwanger & Barry Nursery Co., so it was only natural that Rochester would also be referred to as “Flower City.”

Rochester has long been a progressive city, with a history of social activism. The city had a large population of freed slaves, including Frederick Douglass, who printed his paper The North Starthere. Susan B. Anthony was also from Rochester, and it was thanks to her efforts that the University of Rochester began admitting women in 1900. The Susan B. Anthony House still stands on Madison Street, featuring tours and exhibits from the women’s suffrage movement.

Syracuse City Guide

The first settlers in the Syracuse area were a group of French Jesuits, soldiers, and furriers who arrived sometime in 1656 to set up a mission. At the invitation of the Onondaga Nation, the French established the Ste. Marie de Gannentaha mission on the northeast shore of Onondaga Lake. The mission lasted less than two years, however, due to intimations from the neighboring Mohawk Nation that the French visitors would suffer a horrible fate if they remained among the Onondaga. The settlers abandoned the mission in the middle of a cold, March night in 1658.

A trading post was established on the site following the Revolutionary War, but it was the discovery of salt in the swamps in 1784 that brought more settlers flocking to the area. Salt production became a major staple of the community, which was dubbed “Salt Port.” The settlement went through several name changes over the next few decades, including Bogardus Corners, South Salina, and Corinth. When the village applied for a post office in 1824, the U.S. Postal Service rejected the name Corinth because there was already a post office by that name in New York. Inspired by the salt industry in Syracuse, Italy, the village adopted that name as their own.

Buffalo City Guide

Buffalo is the second-largest city in New York (after New York City), and the seat of Erie County. A commercial and industrial center since the 19th century, Buffalo is also a hub of transportation. Situated on the eastern end of Lake Erie, the city serves as an inland port with access to grain and other raw materials from the Midwest. The Welland Ship Canal and St. Lawrence Seaway provide a shipping outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Erie Canal connects Buffalo to the rest of the New York State Canal System. The city is also a major railroad center, with fifteen freight depots and the Buffalo Central Terminal, a massive Art Deco station that provides passenger service.

The area was first settled by the French, who built Fort Niagara at the mouth of Buffalo Creek in 1758. The fort fell during the French and Indian War to the British, who took control of the region in 1763. The land was purchased by Dutch investors, who began selling parcels in 1801 through the Holland Land Company. An agent of the Holland Land Company, Joseph Ellicot, designed the city (modeling it after Washington D.C.) and christened it New Amsterdam. The settlers who flocked to the area chose to call the burgeoning city Buffalo Creek instead, later shortening it to Buffalo.

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