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Albany, New York: a Dandy Destination

Imagine the constant terror of living in a home that needs gun ports and a palisade to deter potential raiding marauders. Or picture the courage required to leave the only life you’ve ever known to start an experimental religious community.

Stories this dramatic abound throughout Albany, New York. Inhabitants have come from numerous intriguing cultures — from ancient Native Americans tribes to wealthy Dutch families — and differ in every way, except for the place in which they chose to live.

To experience these fascinating tales, groups can tour several popular cultural heritage sites in Albany. Your group will leave the New York capital excited to tell friends and relatives about the details of Alexander Hamilton’s wedding or the strange worship dances that gave the Shakers their name.

New York State Museum

At the New York State Museum, a full-size replica of an Iroquoian longhouse, prehistoric pottery artifacts and lifelike dioramas help tell the story of the native people who once populated the area. The nation’s oldest and largest state museum showcases New York’s natural and cultural history through 16 million scientific specimens and 1 million cultural objects.

One exhibit on the state’s Native Americans spans from 10,000 B.C. to the ethnology of today’s Native groups. The museum highlights numerous other topics, including the prehistoric geology of the Adirondacks and Harlem culture in the 1920s.

Signature exhibits include the skeletal remains of a mastodon excavated in 1866 and the full-size, operational 1912 carousel.

“I would recommend reaching out to ask for a guide,” said Molly Belmont, director of marketing for the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a great experience. The museum can offer customized tours and supplement other experiences you might be having. For example, it has a wonderfully moving 9/11 exhibit that you can add to a tour of New York City.

Crailo State Historic Site

Before Albany developed into the metropolitan state capital it is today, it was a somewhat vulnerable frontier settlement. Groups of French and Native Americans sometimes attacked Albany inhabitants, which is why when Hendrick van Rensselaer built his brick manor house in 1707, he built it prepared for violence.

At the Crailo State Historic Site, visitors can tour this fortified Dutch home built outside the protection of the nearby fort. Guides point out where the gun ports and palisades once stood to fend off raiders.

Notably, British Army surgeon Richard Shuckburgh reportedly penned the ditty “Yankee Doodle Dandy” while staying in the home in 1755. Guests also learn how the estate fit into the broader colonial Dutch history with exhibits on household objects, games, furniture, weapons and other items typical of the period. The Dutch settled Albany nearly 100 years before the English arrived in the New World, and Crailo stands in testimony to the Dutch legacy.

“The basement has a large Dutch fireplace where the home’s traditional cooking area would have been,” said Belmont. “They demonstrate traditional cooking methods there, where they talk about the original family’s diet and food preparation techniques. It’s an interesting program.”

Schuyler Mansion

Stories of an attempted kidnapping, a prisoner guest and Alexander Hamilton keep visitors captivated at the Schuyler Mansion. The Schuylers, an affluent Dutch family, had eight children and played a role in the Revolutionary War, in which Philip Schuyler served as major general.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent Broadway smash “Hamilton” recently thrust the family into the spotlight, since the sisters dramatized in the musical grew up in the Schuyler home. Hamilton even married Elizabeth Schuyler in the mansion’s living room.

“Schuyler Mansion is a great piece of early colonial Dutch history” said Belmont. “They have a new tour called Women of Schuyler Mansion, which focuses on the famous Schuyler sisters. They also have the relatively new tour ‘When Alexander Called Albany Home,’ which focuses on Alexander Hamilton’s local connections to Albany.”

Watervliet Shaker National Historic District

Ann Lee had a radical vision that defied all convention. She founded the first Shaker settlement in America on ideals very different from the 18th-century England in which she grew up. Groups can learn the scandalous nature of these radical ideas on a tour at Watervliet Shaker National Historic District, where the Shaker Heritage Society maintains nine of the original buildings from the religious community.

“The Shakers are an interesting piece of American history,” said Belmont. “The Shakers were very forward thinking. They believed in the equality of the sexes and races. A lot of the ideas and sentiments were precursors for how we live today and the values we have now.”

Though some Shaker values — sustainability, equality and hard work — seem normal today, other ideas, such as their belief in celibacy, stand out as strange. To keep their movement alive, Shakers relied on new members joining from outside the community, which eventually led to their downfall.

Guided tours of the district’s historic structures and the cemetery where Lee is buried help groups understand how the Shaker ideology shaped its communal lifestyle. Visitors explore the Meeting House to see where the religious dances took place, walk through the herb garden to learn about the Shakers’ invention of the first commercial garden seeds and stop inside the barn for information on the community’s self-sufficiency.

Groups visiting in July, September and December can plan their trip around the site’s annual craft fairs.

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