History of Albany

Follow the original tracks left in Albany

The first inhabitants of the area now known as Albany were the Creek Indians who called their home along the riverbank “Thronateeska,” meaning “the place where flint is picked up.” Fittingly, the river that flows through Albany is called the Flint. Nelson Tift founded the city in 1836, hoping that the settlement would prosper as a trade center like Albany, New York.

Albany grew to incorporate several plantations during the mid 1800s and saw no battles during the Civil War to interfere with the plantations’ production. Rather, the large plantations provided cotton and desperately needed food for the Confederacy.

Albany eventually turned to the rails for transportation, becoming a rail center by the turn of the 20th century after finding that low water and sandbars in the Flint River made steamboat navigation unreliable. Union Station, which united the seven railroads that served as many as 55 trains daily, is now the home of the Thronateeska Heritage Center. Industry and commerce followed the railroads, and an active arts community ensured cultural as well as economic growth.

Today, Albany is riding high, thanks to a private-public partnership that is redeveloping the downtown by playing up the area’s premier natural resource – the Flint River. The centerpiece of the redevelopment is the Flint RiverQuarium, a 175,000 gallon, 22-foot deep Blue Hole aquarium filled with the plants, fish and reptiles – including Albany’s celebrated river turtle – found in the Flint River’s ecosystem, and the Imagination Theater with its three-story IWERKS screen and digital surround sound. Riverfront Park, with its expansive views of the river, Turtle Grove Play Park, water features and riverside trails, gives families the opportunity to play and learn together. The RiverFront Trail now travels north three miles to Cleve Cox Landing on Philema Road. Eventually the trail will connect to Chehaw – “Nature’s Playground” and south to Radium Springs Garden, one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders.

Take time to listen to Ray Charles’ music while sitting on piano keys in the Ray Charles Plaza. This plaza features a life-sized bronze statue of “The Genius of Soul” seated at his piano. Spend the day at the newly expanded and renovated Thronateeska Heritage Center, encompassing the Wetherbee Planetarium, Science Discovery Center and Museum of History, as well as a model train layout.

Tour the Civil Rights Institute, the repository for Albany’s African American civil and human rights legacy, in its beautiful glass-enclosed, state-of-the-art museum adjacent to the 1906 Mt. Zion Baptist Church – one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s main speaking locations. And if you visit on the second Saturday of the month, you’ll hear the authentic songs of the Civil Rights era performed by the SNCC Freedom Singers, a group formed in 1962 to share the freedom songs – and leave their mark, and tracks, in Albany.