Two of New York's most striking areas—the capital region and the Leatherstocking region—share a common history but have somehow managed to become flip sides of the same state coin. Although both played important roles in early American history, the capital region has become a booming governmental, business, and economic capital, while the Leatherstocking region and Mohawk Valley have matured into peaceful, pastoral, and more thinly populated destinations still basking in an industrial legacy.
It was in this geographically diverse swath of land that now known as the capital region, bordered by the Adirondack and Catskill mountains, that Iroquois Indians traded furs and Dutch settlers carved out what eventually would become some of the oldest cities in the country. This is also where the British forces were defeated in a defining moment of the American Revolution. In 1797, Albany was chosen as the state capital.
Rich in timber and iron ore from the nearby Adirondack Mountains, the region later became a leader in the Industrial Revolution as the rise of factories and steel mills altered its agricultural landscape. Prosperity continued into the 19th century, when the landmark 363-mi Erie Canal across upstate New York was built, linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes and opening up new trade and transportation routes.
The capital region is striking, bordered as it is by deep-green mountains and the shining blue of the Hudson. Leatherstocking Country is no slouch, either. Part of New York's agricultural and dairy heartland, it epitomizes the pastoral lifestyle. As you move deep into the region, distances between towns grow and signs of industry dwindle. Rivers, streams, and brooks glisten between forests of hardwood and pine, and fields of corn and alfalfa form a shimmering patchwork.
Cooperstown, first made famous by James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, a two-volume collection of novels, is the highlight of this region. The town sits beside Otsego Lake in the middle of Otsego County, which is wedged between U.S. 20 on the north and Interstate 88 on the south. The area is riddled with creeks, streams, and small lakes.
Along the region's northern edge is the historic Mohawk Valley, winding through the Adirondack foothills and of great tactical importance during the Revolutionary War. The valley is also rich in American Indian history, inhabited as it was by the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy—the Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes. In the early and mid-1800s, the Erie Canal brought prosperity and settlers to this fertile heartland.