A quick stop in Albany gives a glimpse into New York’s glory days

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 September 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – A monument to Civil War hero General Philip Henry Sheridan was erected next to the state capitol building in Albany.

ALBANY – I don’t have a bucket list of things I must do before I die, but if I did a trip to Albany to see the Million-Dollar Staircase would certainly be on it. Consider that one checked off.

Today I was in Albany with the main mission to see the staircase. It’s awesome. As a Medina sandstone enthusiast, the staircase in the state capitol building has left me in a near state of shock. I will write more on this in a separate “Sandstone Heritage” feature.

But I will give you a couple teaser photos before you get the full treatment. The staircase took more than a decade to build, and required hundreds of stonecutters to carve the faces of famous presidents and Americans in columns throughout this staircase.

What a bold move by the state leaders back then, pushing to tell American history through carvings in stone. I will have more on this, but you’ll have to wait.

I’m not a guy who likes driving in cities, and it took a meandering journey to get to the capitol this morning. My indirect route showed that Albany is loaded with Medina sandstone, and these buildings from the mid to late 1800s seem particularly fancy, reflections of the Empire State when New York was a powerhouse and the state capitol was overflowing with wealth.

That is clear in the state capitol building. The sprawling stone structure took 32 years to build. It was finally done in 1899 and cost $25 million. That would be about a half billion now. The building is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

One of the architects for the state capitol, Henry Hobson Richardson, had already designed the Richardson Complex in Buffalo, a massive building made of Medina sandstone. That building is considered one of the finest architectural marvels in the country. Richardson loved Medina sandstone and I bet he pushed to have so much with the state’s signature staircase. (Click here for a story on the Richardson Complex.)

Before I got to the capitol building, I encountered a statue of “Sheridan” on a horse. General Philip Henry Sheridan was a celebrated Civil War hero. He was also an Albany native and the city wanted to honor its native son.

A commander of the Union Army of the Shenandoah Valley, Sheridan is best remembered for 20-mile gallop on his famous horse Rienze. Sheridan rallied his retreating troops to victory at Cedar Creek, Va. His cavalry also blocked General Lee’s escape at Appomattox.

The monument was dedicated in Capitol Park on October 7, 1916.