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History You Can See

The Hudson River opens its mighty waters to not only New York City but into the heart of the Empire State. New Yorkers are fiercely proud of it all, from the tumbling waterfalls of Niagara to the tall buildings of New York City. Here's a quick look how this state moved from a trading center to a gateway to America.

New Amsterdam and a Revolutionary Victory

About 32 years after Christopher Columbus reached land in the western hemisphere, Giovanni da Verrazano slipped into what was to become New York Harbor. He and the droves of Europeans and others who followed were relative latecomers. People had roamed the woodlands, shorelines, and glens in this area for thousands of years. At the time of European exploration, the Algonquins lived in much of the Hudson Valley, on Manhattan, and on Long Island, whereas the Iroquois ruled the west. Thanks to Henry Hudson's travels and claims in the early 1600s, the Dutch occupied the area and called it New Amsterdam.

In 1626, just a little more than 100 years after Verrazano spotted New York, Peter Minuit, the first Dutch governor of the colony, purchased the island of Manhattan from the Algonquins for $24 worth of tools and trinkets. By 1664, the British acquired the land. They changed the name to New York and transformed it into a major trading port.

The area existed as a British colony until July 9, 1776, when the state declared its independence and became one of the original 13 colonies of the newly christened United States. But the British didn't walk away without a fight. After independence was declared, the first major battle of the American Revolutionary War was fought here. But the British victory was short-lived, and in 1783, General George Washington bade farewell to his officers, following the British evacuation, at Fraunces Tavern.

What to See

Tour the Museum of the City of New York and Fraunces Tavern.

Opening up the Empire State

With Manhattan anchoring a natural harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River, it didn't take long for traders to move upstream and discover a trading and transportation gold mine. Wares moved up and down the river, and towns and cities sprang up on its shores. Henry Hudson discovered the area that was to become Albany in 1609. The Dutch moved in shortly thereafter, and established it as a hub for the beaver-fur trade. Albany was chosen as the state's capital in 1797, after the Battle of Saratoga (a turning point in the American Revolution) was fought and won here.

The area's importance, however, really rose with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, which linked the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes and opened up new trade and transportation routes. With access to the rich sources of timber and iron ore from the nearby Adirondack Mountains, the region led the Industrial Revolution with the rise of factories and steel. Prosperity continued for the rest of the 19th century along the waterways, as millions of immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world poured into the country at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.

What to See

See the exhibits at the New York State Museum. The battlefield at Saratoga National Historical Park and the Erie Canal Museum, in Syracuse, add details to the story.

The Gateway to America

With the waterways of New York State providing new agricultural and industrial opportunities along with New York City's rise as a major commercial port of trade, immigrants thronged to New York. To accommodate this massive influx, New York opened Ellis Island as its main immigration facility. Between 1892 and 1924, some 12 million men and women came through this facility. Some stayed in the city, but many others traveled up the Hudson and through the Erie Canal, settling in towns and cities along the way.

These new citizens brought their cultures and traditions, and the diversity of the state increased significantly, especially in New York City, where this melting pot of cultures flourished like never before. New York's status as gateway to America was solidified in 1886, when France presented the country with the Statue of Liberty, which was placed in the center of New York Harbor. In 1900, New York City unified its five boroughs, becoming the largest city in the country and the most culturally diverse. By the time Ellis Island closed in 1954, the facility had processed the ancestors of 40% of Americans living today.

What to See

A visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty is a moving experience.

A Land of Wealth

The industrial age brought not only prosperity to the state but also enormous wealth to many individuals. Those riches were spread out around the state in the form of mansions, museums, and monuments. The railroad magnates, finance barons, and steel tycoons were not shy in spending and erecting sumptuous estates for their leisure—and, little did they know, for the enjoyment of generations to come. The Hudson Valley, with its rolling hills and lush greenery, became the site of country homes for the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers. In Buffalo, the wealthy elite built a row of mansions that rivaled those on New York City's Fifth Avenue.

These wealthy individuals also were quite philanthropic; most donated moneys to build museums in the state, ensuring that New York would remain one of the world's key cultural centers.

What to See

Stroll along Delmore Avenue in downtown Buffalo, or visit the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park.

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