On a Hill Overlooking Troy

Posted by Amy the Archivist on September 29, 2008 in

Coming into Troy via Route 7 east down that long slope, one's eyes inevitably scan to the opposite hill where the RPI campus is situated.  The Low Center for Industrial Innovation sits up there at the highest point, but the most prominent building on the hill now is the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.  You can't miss it!  I've heard it referred to as an ark, a whale, or that blob with a lot of glass.  Hearing reactions to this huge building protruding from the hillside overlooking Troy makes me wonder what it was like when another monumental building perched near this very same spot.  (Hey, I'm an archivist, I think about these things.)

Troy University opened 150 years ago on September 8, 1858.  A group of Methodists interested in starting a college chose Troy as a location and after enough funds were raised, they purchased property from Jacob Vanderheyden.

The university is on the hill called Mount Ida, overlooking the city.  The view from this site is one of rare beauty and extent.  The center building, built in the quasi-Romanesque style of architecture so popular at that time, was two hundred and fifty feet long by about 55 feet wide and four stories high... The crowning architectural features of the building were four tall spires on the corners of the central portion.  Because of the location of the building, on the crest of the hill, high over the city, these spires could be seen for many miles in every direction and formed a distinctive part of the landscape becoming known as "The Towers of Troy."  [Troy and Rensselaer County, New York: A History, p.304]

Troy University only lasted a few years, and the building subsequently became a seminary and then a convent. Two of the towers were destroyed by fire in 1917 which somewhat reduced the majesty of the structure.  RPI moved up the hill and populated the hill around it with new brick and sandstone buildings.

The building was eventually acquired by the Institute in 1958, but renovating the decaying structure was costly so the decision was made to tear it down in 1969. The Folsom Library, though noted for its architecture in 1976, could hardly replace the majesty of the building that once stood in its place.  Now EMPAC, described by The New York Times as "a technological pleasure dome," once again draws attention to this hill over looking Troy.


Thu, 10/16/2008 - 02:35 Permalink

I wish that those towers still exist. What were the building made of? Some professor told me it was made of wood is that true?

Thu, 10/16/2008 - 14:32 Permalink

The towers were wooden structures. The building was wood beam and brick. We have demolition photos which show very clear cross and longitudinal views of the construction of the building.

The contents of a time capsule that was found in the marble cornerstone during demolition is also here in the Archives.

Dan Hildebrand
Wed, 11/05/2008 - 23:29 Permalink

It is always fascinating to hear about the incredible buildings that we no longer have at the 'Tute. Hopefully as we build campus anew we don't forget the lesson that these once proud structures have to teach us: build with the future in mind. It would also be lovely if we could incorporate more of the historical architecture into our decisions. While Folsom Library and EMPAC may be architectural triumphs of their time, they certainly contrast rather then complement the rest of the view as you approach the hill.

Chris Werner
Mon, 07/20/2009 - 09:39 Permalink

Looks like something out of Harry Potter. I'm sure maintaining and repairing such a structure would have been almost crazy but it's too bad it seems we more often opt for destroy and recreate anew in the US. Sure we don't have medieval buildings but our 1800s buildings would be a marvel to see today.

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