Troy NY: Considerably Hip In Upstate New York

WHY GO: Troy NY, formerly ratty, now considerably hip, has been undergoing a slow renaissance for a couple of decades.

Troy is the “Official Home of Uncle Sam,” as the War of 1812 beef purveyor, Sam Wilson, lived here. But it’s also known as “The Collar City,” for the detachable collar invented in 1825 by a woman, Hanna Montague, who hated cleaning her husband’s whole shirt when only the collar got filthy.

Since 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has endowed Troy with some pretty significant nerd cred. While earning his degree in Civil Engineering in the 1870’s, George Washington Ferris studied a Troy based industrial water wheel that inspired the amusement park ride that bears his name.

Troy was a wealthy Hudson River textile mill and iron works town and then, in the latter-1900’s, it went to seed. And became a place no one even dared go.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Troy NY

Now, eye-catching brick industrial and commercial buildings have been repurposed into chic boutiques, restaurants and galleries. Yes, Troy NY is modernizing, but still retains its Victorian glow: so much so that HBO is filming a new series, “The Gilded Age,” right downtown. (May 2021).

An independent bookstore occupies a significant corner of downtown, and above it, Warner Brothers Games NY just moved in. Artisanal bakeries and ethnic shops and restaurants (African, Moroccan) are cropping up. The annual winter “Victorian Stroll,” considered the largest free outdoor holiday festival in the country, draws thousands of people to this small city.

Downtown streets parallel and lead to the Hudson River – a transportation artery that a century ago moved manufactured goods from this once-industrial town, and now brings tour boats from Canada, New York City, and Chicago. Private yachts from Europe stop here on their way to the Erie Canal.

With a walkable town, great public transportation, and affordable homes, there’s increased interest in Troy, especially among artsy types who have been priced out of NYC and other metropolitan areas. This, of course, is a boon to visitors, who will find incredible shopping, eats, and the quirky attractions that the Getaway Mavens love to tout. Read on….

Things to Do in Troy NY

Uncle Sam Display at Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy NY.

TOUR: Hart Cluett Museum

I love what some people might consider musty history museums, precisely for the surprising things to be found if you dig deep enough (and ask). This Historical Society does not disappoint. There’s a whole room devoted to “Uncle Sam” Wilson, with personal effects that include his very own chamber pot.

The museum is much larger than it looks from the town-home street entrance. One whole back room – the original carriage house – houses an original un-restored 1830 Curtain Quarter Coach and the large red blazing neon “South End Tavern – Ladies Entrance” sign.

There are exhibits about the Civil War era horseshoe industry (Troy was also called the “Horseshoe Capital” as it supplied all of the horseshoes for the Union Army), and ornate iron stoves made in the foundries scattered throughout the county.

Hart Cluett House Interior

But if you time it right, you’ll want to gawk at each of the ten or so 18 ft high rooms at the Hart-Cluett House, on the National Historic Register, next door and accessed from inside the museum. With hand-painted French wallpaper, exquisite furniture, and impressive décor; interior designers come here for ideas. Tours available Second Saturdays during warmer months.

Refreshingly (and unusual for a historic home) the whole museum is fully accessible – with small elevators to second other floors – making it a perfect stop for those in wheelchairs. Open Feb – mid Dec., Thurs-Sat 12-5, adults $8, kids $5. Hart Cluett House open 2nd Sat. March-Nov, $15 adults.

Exterior of the Burden Ironworks Museum in Troy NY.

TOUR: Burden Iron Works Museum

This tough to find museum outside of town in an industrial area is well worth your time. Executive Director, Michael Barrett, presides over what first appears to be a jumble of iron, glass cases, posters and architectural renderings, but on closer inspection are significant pieces of history that emerged from Burden Ironworks. And Barrett has a dramatic story for each and every one.

Michael Barrett at Burden Iron Works Museum.

The iron industry began in this region in 1807. Advantaged by flat-water for transportation (Hudson River) and falling water to power water wheels (Wyantskill River), Troy became an industrial and shipping hub.

In 1852, Scottish immigrant, Henry Burden, built a 62 ft. diameter spoked iron water wheel, known to be the most powerful energy source in the world at that time. The Burden Water Wheel was the Instagram darling of its day: visitors to Troy would take “selfies” while standing in miniscule proportion to the famous “Niagara of Water Wheels.”

When George Washington Ferris attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the late 1870’s, he studied this famous invention, and lo and behold, in 1893, created the Ferris Wheel for the World Expo. At this point in the tour, Barrett holds up a photo of the Ferris Wheel next to one of the Burden Water Wheel to illustrate the similarities between them.

Was this the inspiration for Ferris’s claim to fame? Both have the same number of spokes. The industrial Wheel has 36 water buckets; the Ferris wheel has 36 people buckets. So you tell me.

Bell display at Burden Ironworks Museum in Troy NY.

Burden Ironworks was among the four largest bell-making concerns in the world. In fact, the 2,000 lb 1876 Centennial Bell that tolls every hour from Independence Hall in Philadelphia was forged in this very spot. In the early 1900’s Burden Ironworks manufactured the Women’s Liberty Bell that suffragists took on tour to raise funds for the Women’s Vote. Its clapper was soldered to the wall so it wouldn’t ring, emphasizing the fact that “women had no voice.”

But here at the Burden Ironworks Museum, you are encouraged to ring bells large and small – their sound pure, rich, and joyful. Be prepared to stay an hour or more, as Barrett’s tantalizing take on Troy history leaves you wanting more. Mostly open Mon-Fri 10-6, but call first. Or, take a chance and go to the back door and ring the doorbell during those hours. $10 suggested donation.  

Stanley Hadsell, owner of Market Block Books.

SHOP: Market Block Books

When owner Stanley Hadsell opened this indie bookstore in Troy in 2004, he was a pioneer, albeit a bit nuts he’d be the first to admit. The first to rent in this abandoned 1844 building; there were no other shops on the entire street.

The Troy Library offered Hadsell a beautiful mahogany bookcase, and other going-out-of-business establishments offloaded handsome shelves and furniture before they moved out – providing Market Block Books with a rich-looking Victorian-era ambiance for a song. A college town, the bookstore has a large millennial clientele. Most books are sold online, but the interior of this well-positioned store is so fine, you’ll want to come in and take a look.

Home decor display at Adorn Shop in Troy NY

SHOP: Adorn

Representative of the merchants moving in, Valerie Mamone refurbishes vintage furniture and sells pieces, along with home decor priced just above wholesale, at such affordable rates I was tempted to redo a room or two sourcing just from her. Adorn is sure to be a hit with hipsters looking to feather their coolly styled nests.

Sidewalk exterior of Weathered Wood shop in Troy NY

SHOP: Weathered Wood

You can’t miss this place – it’s got a couple of 7 ft. tall driftwood horses ($1000 each) on display out front. Made by Weathered Wood co-owner, Danny Killion with driftwood handpicked from the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, these pieces of art (Trojan horses?), as well as furniture made with reclaimed wood, set this gallery apart from others in Troy.

Clothes displays at Truly Rhe store in Troy NY.

SHOP: Truly Rhe

Comfy clothes and accessories for travel. More hippie than hipster, and also perfect for stylish women of a certain age.

MORE TROY SHOPS

Anchor #5 sells nautically themed T-Shirts, bags, jewelry and note cards. You’ll find both ceramic items and ceramic classes at The Broken Mold. And for “natural” wine aficionados, stop in to 22 2nd St Wine Co. – the only store in the Capital Region that exclusively sells farmed organic or bio-dynamic wines made with native yeast fermentation and little to no sulfites.

Wide exterior view of Cohoes Falls.

PHOTO OP: Cohoes Falls, Cohoes, 4 miles from Troy

Blink and you’ll miss the entrance to this waterfall overlook in the center of tiny Cohoes, identified by an iron archway into Fall Views Park. These dramatic whitewater spills generate 190,000-megawatt hours annually (powering 26,000 homes) through five turbine generator units in the adjacent Hydroelectric Power Plant. An engineering marvel of 1915, it’s still going strong.

Fort Crailo house exterior

GO: Crailo State Historic Site

Tour one of America’s oldest buildings, where Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British army physician, coined Yankee Doodle to describe less than dapper Connecticut troops. Museum exhibits illustrate Dutch colonial history in the Hudson Valley.

GO: Captain JP III Cruises

A summertime favorite, specialty cruises run several times a week, ranging from the Sunday Brunch to the Prime Rib Dinner Dance. Prices range $35-45 for a 2.5-3hour cruise.

DO: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall

Renowned for its outstanding acoustics even though it opened in 1875, long before modern sound architecture, the Music Hall hosts the Albany Symphony Orchestra, chorale ensembles, and music legends such as Art Garfunkel.

Interior of EMPAC, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI.)

SEE: EMPAC 

You don’t so much see as you experience a show at EMPAC, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI.) Year round calendar draws heavily on media created at hosted residencies and workshops, performances push the boundaries between arts, science, and technology.

Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out these great weekend getaway ideas in New York’s Capital District:

For even more travel inspiration, look for our New York Getaway Guides.

Where to Eat in Troy NY

Sunhees Farm and Kitchen Troy NY

EAT: Sunhee’s Farm and Kitchen

You can’t get more authentic Korean food – or fresher – than Sunhee’s. They’ve got their own farm nearby.

Street view of Whistling Kettle Troy NY

EAT: Whistling Kettle 

This bright and airy dining spot is popular with the brunch set.

COFFEE/PASTRY: The Placid Baker

Fans show deep appreciation for The Placid Baker’s breads and croissants, the latter deemed, “Best in the World” by repeat customers. Watch baked goods emerge from the ovens in a room behind the counter, and order something warm and flaky. You’ll think you’ve been beamed to Paris.

EAT: Locals Love

There’s been a “surge of great restaurants.” Among those recommended:Plumb Oyster Bar, Muza on the Hill, Nighthawk, Ali Baba, Quang, Donna’s Italian, and Tara Kitchen

Where to Stay in Troy NY

Gardner Farm Inn exterior shot Troy NY

STAY: Gardner Farm Inn B&B

This 5 room Bed and Breakfast, owned by John Hughes, and just a few minutes drive from downtown, is elegantly hip – to fit the Troy vibe. And a bit wild: as in Oscar Wilde – the name of one chandelier’d guest room.

You can also stay in the Mae West, Josephine Baker, Jean Harlow, or John Waters suite – all exquisitely dressed, as you’d expect from their namesakes. To top it off, the breakfast is phenomenal, and yet another reason guests return time and time again.

Once upon a time Troy, and its surrounding landscape, was rife with farms. In 1790, the Gardner family built the original house on 300 acres.

Then, in 1870, a wealthy hardware store magnate, John Sampson, doubled the home’s size. Deemed “the handsomest house” in Troy at the time, it stayed in private hands until 1985, when it was turned over to ARC of Rensselaer County as a group home.

Coat of Armor at Gardner Farm Inn Troy NY

By the time John Hughes purchased it in 2015, most of the land had been sold off, and the structure required a complete overhaul. Hughes has achieved the nearly impossible: creating a high-end, glamorous inn from the bones of an unassuming house just outside an up and coming city.

First Impressions of Gardner Farm Inn

Navy Blue wall entry foyer Gardner Farm Inn NY

At first glance, the inn is your average unassuming antique farmhouse. But walk inside and whoa: an intriguing assemblage of artifacts in the bold navy colored foyer. It’s just the first thing you see in what is essentially a museum of curiosities – juxtaposed in eye-catching and clever ways.

John Hughes, owner, with antique cameras, Gardner Farm Inn

Hughes is a self-admitted tag sale and antiques junkie – a pastime clearly evident in his amusing and sometimes provocative collections. But rather than feeling over-busy, rooms fuse modern and antique in an appealing, uncluttered way. He’s got a bunch of old cameras, an authentic Knight’s shining armor, cut glassware, books, candlesticks, and so much more.

Hughes parents wedding photos Gardner Farm Inn Troy
John Hughes family wedding photos adorn the walls of the Jean Harlow Room and throughout the Gardner Farm Inn

As a nod to his Catholic upbringing – Hughes keeps figurines of Saints scattered about. Yet, as an irreverent painting of the Pope as a French Bulldog (“Le Cupcake of Prague” by Crudo) attests, he doesn’t take religious icons too seriously.

Religious icons and figurines throughout Gardner Farm Inn

In fact, the amiable innkeeper, formerly a Director of Fundraising for Non-Profits, is the opposite of intense. His sense of humor shows up in various ways. e.g.: All guest rooms, each with its own identity, are painted in soothing grays. What’s the shade in the Oscar Wilde room? You guessed it….Dorian Gray!

Hughes loves people, loves his guests, and loves nothing more than to get to know them over a glass or two of wine (complimentary) with them as a nightcap.

Rescued Greyhounds Margaret and Nigel

Oh, and did I mention that he rescues Greyhounds? You’ll most likely meet two of them – Margaret and Nigel while checking in.

Guest Rooms at Gardner Farm Inn

Jean Harlow Room in white Gardner Farm Inn Troy NY

Jean Harlow Room

Want to be surrounded by the glitz and glamour of 20’s/30’s Hollywood? Stay in this cloud nine of a guest room. White Flokati pillows, crystal chandelier, white upholstered throne chairs, fireplace, hardwood floors: it’s as all out romantic as it gets. No big surprise that it’s favored by brides.

Bathroom Jean Harlow Room Gardner Farm Inn Troy

The bathroom is a study in 20’s luxury: with a glass and mirror table at which Harlow herself might have powdered her nose.

Oscar Wilde Room twin beds Gardner Farm Inn Troy

Oscar Wilde Room

As stated earlier, the handsome room, with one brick accent wall, and two twin beds, is cast in Benjamin Moore’s Dorian Grey.

John Waters Room Dramatic closet

John Waters Room

Interestingly, the one room devoted to a living legend is rather staid, which is odd for Waters, known for his crazy, color saturated movies (Pink Flamingo’s, Hairspray). I said as much, at which point, Hughes opened the closet. There it is.

Mae West and Josephine Baker Rooms

All rooms are gorgeous, but the bathrooms are knockouts.

Hughes Signature Lemon Curd French Toast Gardner Farm Inn

Breakfast at Gardner Inn

Be prepared for a beautifully presented, three-course gourmet breakfast. If John is serving his famous Lemon Curd French Toast, you’re in luck. It’s divine. But anything he whips up in his kitchen is as far from basic as it gets. Mine began with fresh berries and yogurt, followed by an Heirloom Tomato-Bacon-Mushroom-Swiss-Cheese crustless quiche. Rooms and suites from $150, Jean Harlow deluxe King from $195, includes gourmet breakfast.

STAY: Franchise

Troy has a couple of convenient franchise hotels including a brand spanking new one with a Hudson River view, the recently opened Courtyard Albany/Troy Waterfront and the Hilton Garden Inn Troy.

And, just across the river, there’s a lovely historic hotel, Morgan State House, located next to Washington Park. Read the Maven’s review in Things To Do In Albany NY.

10 thoughts on “Troy NY: Considerably Hip In Upstate New York”

  1. Where to stay? A true treat in Troy is a stay at Gardner Farm Inn on Brunswick Road.
    John Hughes is THE consummate host. The Inn is truly a home you are immediately embraced by. It is a historic home that is appointed elegantly, with a flair for the eclectic. John’s breakfast offerings are above the B&B model and 5 star along with the rooms and your over all experience.

  2. Beginning March 4, 2020, you can also visit the Hart Cluett Museum Wednesdays Noon – 5 p.m. in addition to all exhibits listed by the Getaway Maven’s the museum is one of only ten sites in the entire US selected to collaboratively preparer & present Smithsonian Museums on Main Street “How We Work(ed)” exhibit!

  3. Troy also offers great Airbnb’s located right in walking distance to all of downtown.
    See cozy urban nest on Airbnb.

  4. The Arts Center of the Capital Region (265 River St Downtown Troy) hosts an inspiring variety of classes, workshops, exhibits and performances (Artscenteronline.org)

    Kate Mullany, a 23 year-old Irish Immigrant, formed the first bona-fide Female Labor Union in the US in the collar laundry factories of Troy in 1864. The Kate Mullany House, one of only 2 National Historic Sites dedicated to the working class, is completing renovations and open by appointment (518-331-4474) (katemullanynhs.org)

  5. The Fifth Avenue street was used as a location in Martin Scorcese’s Age of Innocence and the brownstone of 1920 was graced by the presence of Madame Obolenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). A step back in time!

  6. The Gardner Earl Chapel and Crematorium in Oakwood Cemetery is a short 2mile hop up Hoosick Street from the downtown district. The castle-like structure is a National Historic Landmark, bursting with Victorian opulence including spectacular stained glass windows by Tiffany and Armstrong. The tragic story of its namesake is shared as well. It can be booked for Guided private or group tours by calling 518-272-7520, currently just $10.pp For $15. you can have a Guided tour that includes the cemetery too with stops and stories at the grave of Uncle Sam, Hannah Lord Montague, Emma Willard, Civil War generals Thomas and Wool and many more. You can text the Friends of Oakwood at 518- 221- 7941 for tours or inquiries. Please put OAKWOOD TOUR at the beginning of your text.

  7. St Paul’s Church on the corner of 3rd and State Streets has one of the few full Tiffany interiors as well as Tiffany lamps and Tiffany Windows. Almost everything was designed by the Tiffany studios and very little has changed since 1892. Tours can be arranged. Call 518-273-7351 ext 2. $20 donation per person requested.

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