A few steps into the past

capitol staircase shorpyThe vintage photo blog Shorpy featured a 1905 photo of the capitol's Great Western Staircase yesterday. Be sure to click through to see the large versions of the photo.

That staircase has quite the history. From a state assembly tour of the capitol:

The Great Western Staircase, also known as the Million Dollar Staircase, took an unheard of 14 years to construct, from 1883-1897 and cost, more than one million dollars. The delays in constructing this magnificent staircase were two-fold. Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and built by Isaac Perry, the staircase contains 444 steps and reaches 119 feet high. is renowned as an outstanding example of American architectural stone carving excellence.

Here's a more extensive photo tour of the staircase on the site Northeast Architecture, which includes more of the history behind the steps.

From a 1894 NYT article about work on the capitol:

The greatest architectural work on this continent has just been completed in Albany -- in the construction of the western staircase of the new Capitol. Architects who have seen it declare that for originality of design, for beauty, and for accuracy of finish its equal does not exist even in the old country.

The staircase includes the busts and faces of a bunch of historical figures -- a list that was not without some controversy. From a 1898 NYT article:

In carving heads on the great Western staircase in the Capitol, the features of half a dozen men who were prominent only in the local affairs of Albany were made. This has caused considerable ill-feeling, even among Albanian, and it is a question of but a short time, when the faces in stone will be "worked over" from those of obscure persons into those of historical nes.

(Thanks, James G and Dan!)

photo via Shorpy


Love this article! I find the whole Empire State Plaza area historically fascinating. You should dig something up on the egg/corning tower. I've read in the past about how the buildings and formation of the Empire State Plaza are highly reminiscent of fascist architecture. Interesting, no?

Very very nice old photo.

Here is another one from Carl's Old Photos on Flickr, a newer one by JaxPhotography, and a few others by searching for "capitol staircase" in the Flickr Albany, NY group.

Just in case you're keeping track, my stairs cost $1260 and took me 2 hours to install.

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