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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

City of Troy WelcomeFest

Category: Regional
August, 2019
Riverfront Park
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Greetings to the Class of 2023! And to the architects of 2024!

I just shook hands with each of you at the top of The Approach, the magnificent granite staircase that was a gift from the city of Troy, New York, to the university. Tomorrow, I will welcome you, formally, to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at the Freshman Convocation. 

Now it my great pleasure to welcome you to Troy itself. This week of Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond is designed, in part, to familiarize you with the “beyond” aspect of your education — in other words, with our home city and the remarkable region around it.

The architecture students among you are probably already alert to the spectacular urban fabric of Troy, which is one of best preserved small cities in the United States.

Troy was extremely prosperous throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, with its ideal site for industry at the juncture of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, near the eastern end of the Erie Canal — and its ample water power for the manufacturing and transport of goods.

During the War of 1812, a native of Troy, a butcher named Samuel Wilson, won the contract to supply beef and pork to the troops. When the barrels of meat were stamped “U.S.,” the soldiers joked that the initials stood for “Uncle Sam,” and that is how Uncle Sam became a mascot for the United States.

By making everything from railroad spikes, to plows, to instruments for surveying, to valves for water systems, Troy forwarded the American Industrial Revolution — for which Rensselaer graduates designed much of the infrastructure, including roads, bridges, canals, even the transcontinental railroad.

Troy had a cultural and civic life that was of a piece with its innovation in industry, and was a center of the Abolition movement, and all of the intellectual vitality surrounding it.

The civic pride of the Trojans of yesteryear is reflected in the remarkable commercial and cultural buildings, churches, and homes that make up downtown.

For example, the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, built in 1875 before architectural acoustics was recognized as a science — or taught at Rensselaer — is widely considered an acoustic jewel, one of the best places in the nation to hear live music.

When it came time to put windows into their stately buildings, the civic leaders in late 19th and early 20th century Troy frequently turned to the leading maker of art glass of their day, Tiffany Studios. Experts in Tiffany glass believe that Troy has the greatest concentration of Tiffany stained glass windows in the nation.

When the era of water power drew to a close, the city escaped many of the more drastic alterations attached to the rise of the automobile. As a result, it remains walkable, full of small street-level businesses and wonderful restaurants, and delightful for its 21st century pedestrians.

And that delight helps to explain the remarkable growth here in recent years — a downtown building boom.

Today, Troy no longer depends on waterfalls, canals, and rivers for its energy and prosperity. It depends upon creativity — and the steady influx of talented young people like yourselves.

Together, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Troy have nurtured a vibrant community of technological entrepreneurs — including the founders of gaming companies Velan Studios and 1st Playable Productions. Indeed, the gaming hub that has developed in the region based on the talent emanating from Rensselaer has led New York state to name Rensselaer a Center of Excellence in Digital Game Development.

Now, we are very pleased to add the Class of 2023, and the architects of 2024, to the street life. Of course, up the hill, you will find your coursework demanding — but we encourage you to make the most of every minute of play — and Troy will not disappoint you.

About a dozen years ago, Troy created the Troy Night Out, which, on the last Friday of every month, allows everyone to stroll to dozens of art events and music venues downtown, and truly to appreciate the creative community here. You also will find the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market showcasing the remarkable agriculture in the region on Saturdays — as well as umpteen seasonal festivals.

So, welcome! We are so glad that you have joined us in this beautiful and historic city.