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Harnessing Troy’s Heritage: Creating a Vibrant Future from a Storied Past

I took some time Saturday morning to catch up on reading a stack of Smithsonian magazines — a luxury I haven’t afforded myself in a while. In the July/August 2023 edition, (yes, it’s been that long), I took note of an article called “In Search of Willow Cather.” The article is about Willa Cather’s hometown Red Cloud, Nebraska, population 1,000. Red Cloud built a large part of its economy on this renowned author. They have a red brick building called the Corner Nook, which includes an opera house and the National Willa Cather Center. The article states, that the town “draws scholars and volunteers from all over the world. It is a powerful cultural and economic engine for the region. Cather tourism accounts for roughly $1.3 million spent in Webster County every year.” That seems like an extraordinary sum for such a small town and one famous person.

I've been thinking about a common comment made throughout our Capital region, "We don't have much to do here." We have many unique bars and restaurants that give Troy the unofficial title of the region's Foodie Capital. However, aside from Troy's Farmer's Market, street festivals, events at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and a couple of bars featuring live music, there doesn't seem to be many lasting activities. Then again, maybe they do exist, but are they being well promoted?

Troy’s Rich Background

Troy has volumes of trailblazing history. History of which many people aren’t aware. Admittedly, it wasn’t until I first moved to the city that I learned Troy is Uncle Sam’s hometown; yet, he is a recognized figure around the world.

Troy has an excellent history museum in Hart-Cluett; and, walking tours around the city streets that do a superb job of showcasing Troy’s incredible past. The Burden Iron Works, another gem, is an industrial museum that provides information and a gallery for many of Troy’s significant contributions such as the world’s most powerful waterwheel, textiles, abundant iron and steel inventions like the cast iron stove, rototillers, horseshoes, manhole covers, and Meneely bells (maker of a much larger replacement of the Liberty Bell). Early RPI graduates are especially noted as inventors of well-known devices: the first commercial television and radar, surveying instruments, the Ferris wheel, and many others.

Recently, an RPI undergraduate class created an immersive walking tour and memorial on the story of Charles Nalle. Mr. Nalle was a slave rescued by Harriet Tubman through her Underground Railroad. He was later arrested to be returned to slavery in Virginia. Thanks to heroic efforts and the generosity of Troy citizens, he was emancipated. With help from a Troy Capital Resource Corporation grant, the RPI students are placing bronze plaques throughout designated streets connecting people to a dynamic website that tells this incredible story.

HBO The Gilded Age production in Troy, NY
A Troy shop is transformed into the look of the original Bloomingdales for a scene in HBO's The Gilded Age, Season 1

Troy has the most dramatic concentration of buildings constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s that remain intact. Factories, churches, banks, commercial and government buildings, and homes serve as an example of a wealthy city during America’s industrial age. This fact is obvious to the movie industry which has filmed many scenes along the city’s streets and in well-preserved Victorian buildings. In fact, HBO is back this summer to shoot its third season of The Gilded Age.

Troy Arts & Culture

Troy has its share of world-renowned authors. Herman Melville, who had a home in north Troy is believed to be inspired to write Moby Dick from conversations he had with sailors on the Hudson River. It is understood “A Visit from St. Nicholas a/k/a The Night Before Christmas,” author unknown was first made public by the Troy Sentinel newspaper. A few years ago, a mock trial was enacted that debated the true authorship of that famous Christmas poem. It was well-attended at the County Courthouse during the Troy Victorian Stroll.

Down the street, Bonacio Construction and Philip Morris, CEO of Proctors Theater are in the process of restoring the American Theater, an old vaudevillian theater on River Street into a single-screen movie house and performance venue. The Troy Foundry Theatre creates pop-up events around the city and has received a lot of attention for its unique performances such as an Uncle Sam-themed play.

Troy, NY Art Block, 1# in the USA

The Arts Center of the Capital Region has 48,000 members and does its part to encourage people to Troy with its numerous classes and exhibits. In October 2023, the center created the Troy Art Block where 27 murals were painted live during a party along a Troy alley. USA Today named the event the No. 1 Best New Festival in their Readers’ Choice Awards.

Recently, there has been a growing art scene in Troy. Cashama a new-to-the-area organization is bringing pop-up art exhibits to 50 4th St. historic bank. Next door, Two Selves Gallery will be opening soon. The gallery owner is partnering with his landlord, the owner of LightSpec on a project for this year’s Troy Glow exhibit. Troy Glow is another event established by the Art Center that will continue every year and take place on alternating years with the Troy Art Block Festival.

The Collar City Gallery and Art Collective is purchasing a large building on First Street in south Troy to provide studios for artists and a place to exhibit their work. It is also planning a cafe and outdoor entertainment area.

Capitalizing on the Past

As we reflect on the rich tapestry of Troy's history, arts, and culture, it's evident that we are sitting on a wealth of opportunity. The challenge now is to harness this potential to grow our museums, support scholars, encourage innovation, promote the arts, and attract tourists.

One key strategy is to better integrate and promote our offerings. For years, I’ve watched the American Cruise Line ships bring hundreds of passengers along The Hudson, only to be taken away to Saratoga Springs and Albany for daylong excursions. What if we could entice these visitors to explore the unique charms of Troy?

American Cruise Line brings hundreds of visitors to Troy, NY via the Hudson River

Consider the possibilities: linking Captain JP's summertime cruises to Troy-themed parties, or hosting historic lectures and readings at the Rensselaer County Courthouse and the Troy Library. These initiatives, along with promoting our museums, architectural marvels, and vibrant arts scene, could create a dynamic and inviting atmosphere for both residents and tourists.

Collaboration is essential. The Troy Business Improvement District, the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce, and local economic development organizations can play a pivotal role in bringing together key stakeholders to realize this vision. With their support, we can launch a coordinated effort to market Troy's unique past and vibrant present.

By creatively packaging and promoting our assets, we can transform Troy into a destination that rivals any other. Visitors and residents alike will be spoiled for choice with the myriad of activities and experiences on offer. One renowned author in Red Cloud, Nebraska generates millions of dollars for its economy. Imagine what Troy can achieve with its multitude of historical assets and cultural vibrancy. The Collar City can certainly meet and exceed it.

Let's work together to shine a light on Troy's unique value and ensure that our historic city continues to thrive and enchant for generations to come.

Deanna Dal Pos is a commercial real estate agent and Troy market specialist at NAI Platform focused on finding, selling and leasing retail, office, land, industrial/warehouse and investments properties in the Capital region. Check out her website here>


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