23 May 2011

Obsolescence happens

Troy NY.  Who knew?

If you have seen "The Age of Innocence," you have caught glimpses of this engaging town.  Troy stood in for the city of New York at the end of the 19th century in Martin Scorsese's beautiful 1993 film (which we viewed Saturday evening in the lounge).  Fortunately, Troy's signature architecture somehow dodged the urban renewal wrecking ball of the 1960s.  So, there's charm here, as well as an extraordinary place in history.

About a mile upstream from the non-navigable rapids at Troy (at which point the Hudson River actually begins), the Mohawk River flows from the west into the Hudson.  Given that geography, Troy found itself at a crossroads of transportation and commerce, a significant spot on what could be considered to be the Oregon Trail of the East, the water route of westward expansion.

I don't know the name of
this building, but note the
fire escape system -- foot
and hand rails at the
windows leading to a
ladder on the left.
After a morning visit to the Rensselaer County Historical Society and a walking tour of Troy's central historic district came the centerpiece of my day: a visit to St Paul's Episcopal Church during the afternoon. Built in 1820, it was re-designed in 1890. The designer engaged was none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany -- and not only for the windows. The altar, the pews, the columns, the font, the stencilling on the ceiling, the mosaics on the walls, the cross and candelabra, the floor, the light fixtures. The space takes one's breath away.

Everything in this image is Tiffany designed.

I am not going to list the innovations coming out of Troy which I gleaned through two lectures, but it's safe to say that Troy played an important part in this country's transition form rural to urban, agricultural to industrial, wood to steel.  The concentration of innovation here as well an in improvement mindset in the years leading to the Civil War and beyond displaced what people though of as normal in all areas of life -- technology, transportation, education, finance, military tactics.

So, what happened to Troy?  Many factors play a part in our not knowing about that spot at the intersection of the Hudson and the Mohawk.  Like, time.  Like, newer innovation.  Like, the US military making the move from horse to Jeep.  Like, working one's self out of a job.

But, all is not lost.  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is thriving.  And, people all over the world like visiting towns with beautiful and hospitable waterfronts.

I'd come back.

No comments: