In 1836, J. Disturnell of New York City published “The Traveller’s Guide through the State of New York, Canada, &c.” The title wound on for a while, as was the fashion at the time. The guide gave a thorough description of travel up the Hudson, which we may touch on another day, and provided a snapshot of Albany as it stood in 1836:
Albany, the capital of the State of New-York, is eligibly situated on the west bank of the Hudson river, 145 miles north of New-York, 164 west of Boston, 225 south of Montreal, and 296 east of Buffalo, lat. 42, 28, N. long 73, 62, W. Since the completion of the Erie and Champlain Canals, in 1825, this city has much increased in population and trade. A large number of steam-boats and sloops are constantly employed in conveying freight and passengers between Albany and New-York during the season of navigation. There are also several thousand canal-boats which trade to this place by the Erie and Champlain canals. The city of Albany contained in 1835, a population of 28,109 inhabitants. The State House, situated at the head of State-street, about half a mile from the steam-boat landing, is a commanding object to the stranger, Also, the City-Hall, a few rods north-east, and the Albany Academy, directly north of the Capitol. There are 20 places of public worship, many of them elegant buildings, besides a number of fine edifices for the use of the city; Incorporated Companies, Seminaries, &c., also, six banks, three Insurance Companies, besides many other incorporated and unincorporated institutions. The principal Hotels in Albany are the Eagle Tavern, American Hotel, Adelphia Hotel, Congress Hall, City-Hotel, Mansion House, Bement’s Hotel, Park-Place House, Fort Orange Hotel, and Montgomery Hall. Steam-boats for the conveyance of passengers leave every morning and afternoon for New-York, stopping at the intermediate landings. The carriages and cars on the rail road for Schenectady start from State-street every few hours: canal boats are hourly leaving for the west and north, and stages are continually starting for the north, east, and west.
Aided by natural and artificial means, Albany has become one of the greatest thoroughfares in the union; her prosperity is now great, but for the future, the prospects of Albany are still more encouraging. The rail-road from Schenectady to Utica is now constructing, and will be completed the present season, thus extending the rail-road communication 100 miles west. Rail-roads are also constructing between Syracuse and Auburn, and between Rochester and Batavia, which will so far complete the line of rail-roads to Buffalo, that it is easy to foresee that but a short time can elapse before a continuous line will be established to Lake Erie, thus making the spring and winter facilities of transportation nearly equal to those of the summer. A company is now engaged in making surveys for a rail-road from Albany to Stockbridge in Massachusetts, which with the contemplated rail-road from Stockbridge to connect with the Boston and Worcester rail-road, will form a chain of rail-road communication between Albany and Boston, which will be of great advantage to this city, especially in the winter, when the intercourse by water with New-York is suspended. When all these roads are completed, and there is no doubt they will soon be, there will be a line of rail-road communication from Boston to Buffalo; from the Atlantic to the western lakes, of which Albany will be the business centre.
While private enterprise is doing so much to improve the communication with the west, the state government, by a late law, has authorized an enlargement of the Erie Canal, and the construction of double locks, which it is supposed will have the effect to reduce the price of transportation 30 to 40 per cent., and greatly to augment it in quantity.
The present rate of toll on 1000 pounds of flour from Buffalo to Albany is $1.62½. The reduction will bring it to less than one half the cost, for the same distance by any other route, and the valley of the Mohawk must continue to be, as it always has been, the natural and easiest channel of commerce with the west, and Albany the depot where the exchange takes place between the productions of the interior, for those of the sea coast and of foreign countries. This exchange will be much facilitated by the improvement now making in the navigation of the Hudson, by the United States government. The removal of the bar at the Overslaugh, which is the object of this improvement, will, when completed, deepen the channel to about twelve feet, and will give to this place a West India trade, in which the productions of the islands, consumed in the west, will be exchanged for the produce brought down the canal, without being burdened by landing, storage and reshipment at New-York.
The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad commences at Albany, near the Capitol, at the head of State-street; and extends to Schenectady, a distance of 15 miles. A branch also approaches the Hudson River below the city, where the company have erected extensive warehouses for freight. This was the first railroad chartered in the State of New-York; it was commenced in 1830. The plan and profile are admirably designed, and justify the great expense which the heavy embankments and excavations have required. The greatest height of embankment is 44 feet; and the deepest excavation is 47 feet. The summit is 335 feet above the Hudson. There are two stationary engines, one near each end of the road. Locomotive engines are mostly in use, although horses are occasionally used.
Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad commences at Schenectady and extends to Saratoga Springs, via. Ballston Spa. This road was commenced September, 1831. Its length is 21½ miles. The road is mostly level, and in no case does the inclination exceed 16 feet to the mile. Steam power is used to great advantage in propelling the cars, often proceeding at the rate of 30 miles per hour.