Upstate New York
Learn more about Upstate New York
The region is culturally and economically distinct from the New York City area, though the Hudson Valley Dutchess, Putnam, and Orange Counties are increasingly peripheral sections of the New York City metro area. In the far north and west of the state there are cultural and historic links to nearby Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal. The northern upstate area consists of a handful of small and medium-sized cities, with surrounding suburbs, amidst vast rural areas. Though there are some centers of wealth, much of the region has been economically depressed since the end of the Cold War.
Often attributed to the region's semi-rural character, there is more conservatism in culture and politics than found in the more urban downstate area, and is the power base of the state's Republican Party, especially now that Long Island, a former Republican stronghold, has developed strong Democratic leans.
There are several exceptions to this rule, including Erie County (Buffalo), Monroe County (Rochester), Onondaga County (Syracuse), Broome County (Binghamton), Oneida and Herkimer Counties (Utica area), Tompkins County (Ithaca), Albany County (Albany), Clinton (Plattsburgh), Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties (influence of Canada). Ulster County, while having no urban centers, is the home of SUNY New Paltz. The large student population has consistently voted Democratic in presidential elections.
As a whole, Upstate New York is roughly equally divided in Federal elections between Democrats and Republicans. In 2004, John Kerry defeated George W. Bush by less then 1,300 votes (1,553,246 votes to 1,551,971) in the Upstate Region.
The conservatism of the upstate region more closely resembles the limited-government libertarian socially moderate or "Live and let live" conservatism of Vermont, New Hampshire and many of the western states instead of socially focused conservatism of the southern states and the Religious Right. Some of the Religious Right's harshest critics within the Republican Party, in fact, have been upstate New York Republicans such as Amo Houghton and Jack Quinn. Although religious fundamentalism exists in the upstate region, it generally is not an organized political force in local elections. The misunderstanding of the regional differences in upstate's conservative nature has led to significant political difficulties by both major political parties in the area. Since 2001, the Republican Party's efforts to reach out to the area using the religious rhetoric that had been so successful in the South has met with rejection and ridicule and was one of the leading causes of the Party's considerable loss of support in upstate since that time.
Upstate politicians have, in fact, sometimes taken the leading role in the moves that give the state its liberal reputation. It was George Michael, an assemblyman from the Finger Lakes, who in 1970 stunned not only the state but the nation by asking that his vote of "no" on the bill to legalize abortion in New York be changed to "yes," causing the bill to pass by one vote. (He lost his seat at the next primary election, as he had anticipated, but never regretted changing his vote).
Nearly three decades later, voters in Plattsburgh elected the state's first openly gay mayor - a Republican, to boot. Another upstate mayor, Jason West of New Paltz, drew national attention in early 2004 when he officiated at the state's first gay weddings.
Proponents of a possible 2008 presidential run by Sen. Clinton have pointed to her relative success upstate (she lost the region by less than 10 percent of the vote in 2000) as an argument that she could succeed as a candidate in red states. Skeptics of such a bid have responded that upstate is, in fact, not as conservative as widely believed, at least not conservative in the manner of what is now the leadership of the Republican Party. .
Ironically though, most of New York State's most successful Republican politicians, such as Rockefeller, George Pataki, Thomas Dewey, Fiorello LaGuardia, Jacob Javits and Alfonse D'Amato, came from the downstate region (though some definitions of the boundary would have Pataki being from upstate). Most upstate Republicans are politically unacceptable to even downstate Republican voters, and the party's financial backers are mostly based downstate (the corollary, of course, being that incumbent New York City politicians rarely win statewide elections, either). Democratic politicians upstate often tend to be (or at least run) more moderate than their downstate compatriots, and sometimes seek the endorsement of the state's Conservative Party to inoculate them against perceptions of extreme liberalism.
Nevertheless, Republican attempts upstate to court votes by openly appealing to suspicion of the city have often backfired. In 1998 incumbent Republican Senator Al D'Amato's Senate campaign ran television ads in some upstate markets attempting to link his opponent, Charles Schumer, to a flock of hungry sharks released from the city to fleece upstate. Schumer went on to win the election and did surprisingly well upstate for a Democrat with deep roots in the city. In turn, he has probably lobbied for "upstate" interests both in and out of government more than any past "downstate" Democratic senator (for example, he lobbied for Jet Blue to provide flights to Buffalo and Syracuse, producing more competition and lower fares at those airports).
Downstate candidates seeking statewide office have often sealed their fate by displaying profound ignorance of upstate geography. One candidate at a forum in Buffalo once referred to "your airport in Albany" ... a city more than 200 miles (320 km) away. In the 2000 Senate race, Rudolph Giuliani confused the Orange County village of Monroe with Monroe County, and the ultimate Republican nominee, Rick Lazio, later released an itinerary confusing Owego and Oswego, two communities a considerable distance from each other. Hillary Clinton won the race, doing much better upstate than expected. Like Charles Schumer, she too has "given back" and lobbied for "upstate" interests more than most past "downstate" Democratic senators (for example, unsuccessfully lobbying for larger Homeland Security funding for the Buffalo area than its size would normally warrant on the basis of it being on the Canadian border, the finding of a putative sleeper cell in the nearby city of Lackawanna in 2002, and the presence of the Eastern United States' most vital electrical power generation facilities, the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant and the Lewiston Pump Generating Plant).
But while politicians based upstate rarely win elections for governor or U.S. Senator, some have been elected to other lesser statewide offices, such as lieutenant governor (Stan Lundine, Maryanne Krupsak and the current incumbent, Mary Donohue, for instance), comptroller (Edward Regan) and attorney general (Dennis Vacco). The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan officially lived on a farm in Delaware County while serving in the Senate, but he grew up in New York City and spent much of his career there, making him a familiar face to downstate voters.
This has historically fueled many political struggles with largely downstate-based Democrats in the New York Legislature; however the feuds quite often tend to be more on regional lines than on party lines, with the most recent major example being the failed attempt by Syracuse-area assemblyman Michael Bragman, the majority leader of that body to seize control of the downstate-dominated state Democratic party in 2000, which was immediately followed by a strong retaliatory backlash against all upstate politicians in state government.
In the midterm elections of 2006, many upstate Congressional seats historically held by Republicans came under serious challenge by Democratic contenders, and some (such as the 20th and 24th districts) were lost to Democrats.
The Allegheny Plateau extends into west and central New York from the south. The Catskill Mountains lie in the southeastern part of the state, closer to New York City. The Catskills and the Allegheny Plateau are both part of the Appalachian Mountains. The northernmost part of the state contains the Adirondack Mountains, which are sometimes considered part of the Appalachians but are geologically separate.
In the more mountainous eastern part of Upstate New York, the valleys of the Hudson River and the Mohawk River were historically important travel corridors and remain so today.
Upstate has a long shared border with Canadian province of Ontario divided by water; including the Lake Erie, Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. It shares a land border with the province of Quebec in the northernmost part of the state.
The sizes of upstate counties and towns are generally larger in area and smaller in population, compared with the downstate region, although there are exceptions. The state's smallest county in population (Hamilton County) and largest county in area (St. Lawrence County on the state's northern border) are both in upstate New York, while the largest in population (Kings County) and smallest in area (New York County) are both part of New York City.
Before the arrival of European settlement, the area was inhabited by a mixture of Iroquois-speaking people (mainly west of the Hudson) and Algonquian-speaking people (mainly east of the Hudson). The conflict between the two peoples was an important historical force in the days of the early European colonization. The Iroquois confederacy of the Five (later Six) Nations was a powerful force in its home territory that extended from the Mohawk River Valley to the western part of the state, and the Iroquois controlled large swaths of territory at various times throughout the northeastern U.S. from this home base.
The region was important beginning in the very early days of both the French Colonization and Dutch colonization, where much of the fur trade of the New Netherland colony was located in the upper Hudson Valley. The area was the scene of much of the fighting in the French and Indian War, events which were depicted in the work of James Fenimore Cooper.
The region was strategically important in the American Revolution, and was the scene of several important battles, including the Battle of Saratoga, which is considered to have been a significant turning point in the war. While New York City remained in the hands of the British during most of the war, the upstate region was firmly in the hands of the Colonial forces. In 1779, the Sullivan Expedition, a military campaign ordered by Gen. George Washington, drove thousands of Iroquois from their lands in the region.
Following the American Revolution, the United States signed a federal treaty, the Treaty of Canandaigua, with the Six Nations of the Iroquois, affirming their land rights in the region. Nevertheless, extinguishing of Indian title to these lands via non-Federally-sanctioned treaties continued through the early 19th century. The lands were then settled by Revolutionary War veterans and others from New England states.
By 1825, the Erie Canal opened, allowing the area to become an important component of the 19th century industrial expansion in the United States. This also promoted trade with British North America and settlement of newer states in western territories.
In the pre-Civil War era, upstate New York became a major center of radical abolitionist activity and was an important nexus of the Underground Railroad. Resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act was particularly heated in the region. The American women's rights movement was also born in upstate New York at this time; the first women's rights convention was held at Seneca Falls in 1848.
Through the mid and late 19th century, Upstate New York became a hotbed of religious revivialism with myriads of sects establishing themselves during that time, such as the Oneida Community. Because of the comparative isolation of the region, many of the sects were non-conformist and had numerous difficulties with other local population as well as government authority because of their non-traditional tenets. This led to evangelist Charles Grandison Finney to coin the term the Burned-over district for the region. The Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Spiritualists are the only 21st century survivors of the hundreds of sects created during this time.
In recent decades, with the decline of manufacturing, the area has generally suffered a net population loss. Five of the six Iroquois nations have filed land claims against New York State (or have sought settlement of pending claims), based on late 18th-century treaties with the United States.
 External links
- A York State of Mind An essay by an Upstate site discussing the many conflicting definitions of the region.
 Important features
 Political figures
- Grover Cleveland
- Frederick Douglass
- Millard Fillmore
- Charles Evans Hughes
- Franklin Roosevelt
- Gerrit Smith
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton
- Martin Van Buren
- John Roberts
- Adirondack Mountains
- Capital District (Albany and the surrounding area)
- Catskill Mountains
- Central New York (includes Syracuse)
- Finger Lakes
- The Holland Purchase
- Hudson Valley (except Rockland County and Westchester County, though in general increasingly part of the New York metro area culturally)
- Mohawk Valley
- North Country (extreme Northern frontier of New York, north of the Adirondacks)
- Shawangunk Ridge
- Southern Tier (just north of Pennsylvania, excluding Western New York; includes Binghamton)
- Western New York (the westernmost tip; includes Buffalo and sometimes Rochester)
- Central Leatherstocking Region (Includes Binghamton and Cooperstown)
 Major cities
- Albany (the state capital)
- Buffalo (the most populous city in Upstate New York)
- Glens Falls
- Niagara Falls
- Saratoga Springs
 Major universities and colleges
- Alfred University
- Canisius College
- Clarkson University
- Colgate University
- Cornell University
- Elmira College
- Hamilton College
- Hartwick College
- Hobart and William Smith Colleges
- Houghton College
- Ithaca College
- Keuka College
- Nazareth College
- Niagara University
- Paul Smith's College
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Roberts Wesleyan College
- Rochester Institute of Technology
- Russell Sage College
- University of Rochester
- St. Bonaventure University
- St John Fisher College
- St. Lawrence University
- Skidmore College
- Syracuse University
- Siena College
- Union College
- Vassar College
- Wells College
 Major tourist attractions and destinations
- Adirondack Mountains
- Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown)
- Black River (in Watertown)
- Carousel Center / Proposed DestiNY USA
- Catskill Mountains
- Corning Museum of Glass
- Erie Canal
- Finger Lakes
- Fort Niagara
- Fort Ontario
- Fort Ticonderoga
- The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom
- Lake Champlain
- Lake George
- Letchworth State Park
- Niagara Falls
- Saratoga Race Course
- Seabreeze Amusement Park
- Six Flags Darien Lake
- Soccer Hall of Fame (in Oneonta)
- Thousand Islands
- Turning Stone Casino and Resort (in Verona)