Keeping ‘historic’ in Cohoes to attract investors and Hollywood

COHOES – Preserving the city’s 19th-century architecture so television and film crews want to use the city as a historic backdrop for productions can start with just fixing the windows.

The city replaced three of City Hall’s 330 windows in mid-June as part of a demonstration to see how the new panes and frames will fit into the historic building at 97 Ontario Street, where almost all the windows are originals dating from 1895.

The new windows are working as the municipal authorities had hoped. They have a snug fit that will keep snow and wind from blowing, keep heat from escaping, and help reduce energy costs.

“We know we have gems in the city. We have been working on restoring them,” Mayor Bill Keeler said.

The architecture caught the attention of the production team of “The Gilded Age,” the HBO period drama which filmed part of its second season at Cohoes. Troy’s historic architecture prompted the producers to shoot scenes for the first season in this city.

Historic is the singular adjective that officials and residents utter when they mention local gems: it’s “historic” Cohoes Music Hall, “historic” Harmony Mills, “historic” Cohoes Public Library and the historic city “. The city injected funds, used tax breaks and sought grants to ensure its architectural awards survive and thrive.

That work paid off: scouts and production managers chose the Music Hall and Harmony Mills as sites to film important scenes for “The Gilded Age.”

The show, which premiered earlier this year with its nine episodes set in 1882, was created and written by Julian Fellowes, the creative force behind the popular ‘Downton Abbey’ series set in Britain. “The Gilded Age” is set in New York City at the end of the 19th century and depicts life in high society. “Downtown Abbey” is set several decades later in the 20th century, depicting the lives of British aristocrats.

The architecture of the market hall and mill is solidly a product of the late 19th century Golden Age in the United States.


Assemblyman John T. McDonald III, D-Cohoes, was mayor when the successful campaign to save Harmony Mills began more than 15 years ago. Developer Uri Kaufman bought the factory property in 2000 and used historic tax credits and other funding to redevelop the site into apartments.

“I’m glad that when you take the Capital Region, Cohoes is an integral part of it with real historical significance,” McDonald said.

City Hall is a dominant building in Cohoes with its tower a landmark visible in three counties: Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga. It is near the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. The city secured $2.49 million for roof repairs through state grants and bonds and an additional $1 million in grants for heating and air conditioning upgrades. The city spent approximately $54,000 on its initial window project. Officials determine how much it will cost to replace all the windows.

“It’s hard to tell a business owner or landlord what to do if you don’t do it yourself,” city planner Joe Seman-Graves said of the commitment to retrofit historic buildings owned in the city.

Restore Historic Cohoes is the program Keeler promoted to repair the music hall, library, and city hall.

“The buildings are a treasure,” said Theresa Bourgeois, the city’s director of operations, which works with Seman-Graves to secure grants.