"From the Empire State Building in New York City, to the Statue of Liberty in New York City, to Times Square in New York City, the state of New York is filled with exciting attractions no matter where you look. Tourists arrive by the thousands every day, whether to enjoy a Broadway play in New York's historic New York City, visit the Big Apple, or just explore some of the state's quieter wooded areas in Central Park. New York is also home to the nation's financial capital (New York City), news capital (New York City), and fashion capital (New York City). Indeed, New York State is truly the greatest city in the world."
Has five boroughs, eight million people and is the center of the world. Oh, you were talking about that other New York. Well then...
New York isn't called the Empire State for nothing. Of the state's estimated 19.5 million people, only about 8.3 million live in New York City, leaving over eleven million to be accounted for. The state is well and truly vast, being the fifth-largest by area east of the Mississippi,note After Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Illinois; if you exclude water area—which we aren't—New York admittedly drops down to eighth (with Arkansas, Alabama, and North Carolina nudging ahead). and the second-largest by area of the original 13 states, behind only the state of Georgia.note Prior to about 1800, New York was larger than Georgia, but smaller than Virginia. While the NYC suburbs within the state reach well up the Hudson River and nearly all the way down Long Island, the other 90% of the state (often known as "upstate") is culturally and geographically distinct from the city, and often resents the association. There have been several attempts to split the upstate off into the 51st state, and just as many attempts by downstaters (the city and its suburbs) to do likewise; such attempts usually flounder on who gets to keep the name "New York".
Just as New Jersey is often stereotyped by New York-based TV and movie writers, so are the parts of New York that aren't the Big Applesauce. To them, Long Island (or "Lawn Guyland") is a place inhabited predominantly by the vapid East Coast cousins of the Valley Girl, while upstate New York (meaning "everything north of the Tappan Zee Bridge") doesn't exist. And if it does, it may as well be a colder version of Alabamanote Like so mixed with every depressed Rust Belt town in existence — unless it's a ski resort or campground. That, or it's an extension of Lovecraft Country to the east, filled with headless horsemen in Sleepy Hollow, time travel experiments in Montauk, and people in Buffalo and Rochester who talk to spirits. And then they wonder why upstaters want to secede so badly.
Politically, the non-NYC parts of New York State, outside of the urban areas (where labor issues are at the forefront), have trended more conservative than the city, although Long Island has recently become more of a Democratic safe zone. New York's conservatism, however, has often been of the more libertarian, "Rockefeller Republican"note So named for Nelson Rockefeller, who was governor of the state for nearly a decade and a half (1959-73) before he became Vice President under Gerald Ford, and was famous for being one of the most high-profile moderate voices in the Republican Party. variety (aka "Wall Street Journal Republicans"); attempts by the Republican Party to use the same religious rhetoric that worked so well in the Bible Belt are typically met with ridicule by upstaters.note We're looking at you, Mr. Carl Paladino. In 1970, it was an upstate legislator who cast the deciding vote to legalize abortion in the state of New York, and in 2011, same-sex marriage was legalized on the votes of four upstate Republicans breaking with the party line to vote in favor of the bill.
Brazilians, compare the relationship between the city of São Paulo and the surrounding state of the same name.
A brief rundown:
Long Island: The eastern suburbs, home to happy, friendly, middle-class white (mostly Italian, Jewish, or Irish) families who commute to The City by the Long Island Rail Road. And we do mean white; a study (from back in 2002, admittedly) found it to be the most de facto segregated suburban area in the US. Affectionately known as "Lawn Guyland" after the local pronunciation, or "Strong Island". Shaped like a fish with the "tails" called the North Fork and South Fork. The North Shore of Long Island is rather hilly, while the South Shore has long barrier islands with sandy beaches. The western third of Long Island is actually occupied by the New York City Boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, but you will never get denizens of either of those boroughs to call themselves Long Islanders (except for Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood where the LIRR originally terminated). When we talk about Long Island, we talk about Nassau and Suffolk Counties east of the boroughs.
The main road going through here is the Long Island Expressway, or the L.I.E. — and yes, the jokes have already been made.note There's also a road called the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway aka the S.O.B. Well-known speed trap. The first planned suburb in the United States, Levittown,note Alongside the town in Pennsylvania with the same name, just northeast of Philadelphia is in southeast Nassau County. Generally, the further east you go, the more rural and spread out the towns get, with the North Fork home to many orchards and wineries. Located on the South Fork facing the Atlantic are the Hamptons, a collection of super-rich resort towns that you may have seen in TV shows and movies. The far eastern tip (which is closer in geography in a straight line to Boston than Manhattan) is occupied by Montauk, a small town that wouldn't look out of place in New England — and judging by tales that the government once conducted freaky experiments there, wouldn't be out of place in Lovecraft Country either.
Hudson Valley: The area immediately north of the city. Popular definition holds that "upstate New York" begins somewhere in this area — exactly where depends on where in the Valley you live. note It's often said that people in the city think upstate starts at Yonkers, people in Yonkers think it starts at White Plains, people in White Plains think it starts at Stony Point, people in Stony Point think it starts at Newburgh, people in Newburgh think it starts at Poughkeepsie, and people in Poughkeepsie will say that north of them is the Capital District. Basically, wherever you live is NOT upstate, and everything north of you is. Unless "everything north of you" is Canada. When most people talk about the Hudson Valley, they're usually speaking of Westchester and Rockland Counties, the two counties closest to the city, and the most suburbanized, home to happy, friendly, middle-class white families who commute to The City by the Metro-North Railroad.note For reference, the other happy, friendly, middle class families in the area are in New Jersey, and commute to The City by New Jersey Transit.
Some notable places in the Hudson Valley include...
Yonkers: The fourth-largest city in the state. Known for Lady Gaga, pro wrestling's Tommy Dreamer, and a long and sordid history of racial tensions that lasted well into The Nineties. It followed the trend of many old industrial cities, though it never fell apart like they did. In addition to the usual Irish/Italian mix of the New York City area, it also has large Arab Christian and Eastern European communities.
The Palisades: A long line of scenic cliffs on the west bank of the Hudson River, running from Bergen County, New Jersey in the south to Rockland County in the north. The Tappan Zee Bridge (the only Hudson River crossing between The City and Bear Mountain) has its western terminus at Nyack, a town known for being home to a) a lot of rich Jews, and b) the Palisades Center, one of the largest shopping malls in America. (The fact that it's not the largest, or even second largest, in the state of New Yorknote Number one is Destiny USA in Syracuse, and number two is Roosevelt Field in Garden City on Long Island. The Palisades Center is number three in the state. probably says something, but we don't know what.)
Sleepy Hollow: The town made famous by Washington Irving in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was actually known as North Tarrytown until 1996, when they finally changed the name to what everybody was already calling the place by that point.
Hudson Highlands: A small chain of mountains that are part of the greater New York-New Jersey Highlands. It pretty much marks the most agreed-upon border between upstate and downstate, or at least between the Upper and Lower Hudson Valleys, in terms of both geography (nothing like a big wall of mountains to do that) and culture (the suburban sprawl of Westchester and Rockland Counties halts almost entirely). Lots of state parks here, such as Harriman, Bear Mountain, and Clarence Fahnestock, as well as the United States Military Academy at West Point.
New Paltz: A small town in Ulster County that would've otherwise escaped notice if it hadn't briefly entered the news in 2004, when its mayor (representing the Green Party) conducted same-sex marriages years before the state legalized them.
Ossining: Actually a fairly nice place by most accounts, but you'd never guess that going by what it's most famous for — the maximum-security Sing Sing Correctional Facility. The aforementioned Metro-North Railroad splits the prison in two, so yes, the nice suburban commuter station at Ossining is literally in between two halves of a major penitentiary.
Catskill Mountains: The source of the Delaware River, from which New York City gets its water.note Also Philadelphia, which is actually on the freakin' Delaware, but consistently loses to NYC over water rights (it's not a huge deal, since Philly's on the Lower Delaware where there's more water, but the Northeastern PA cities that get their water from near the state line always have Philly's support). Most of the area is kept as a forest preserve/state park, which serves the dual purpose of protecting the city's water supplynote Contrary to popular belief, New York's water is some of the cleanest in the nation. It's only the Hudson River that's toxic. and providing New Yorkers with easily accessible nature. Consequently, the area is home to some of the closest ski resorts, hiking trails, and campgrounds to the city — and unlike New Jersey, our campgrounds aren't stalked by masked, machete-wielding slashers. In the mid-20th century, before civil rights and the rise of cheap air travel, this area was home to the Borscht Belt, a collection of summer resorts and campgrounds that welcomed New York's Jews when most other resorts discriminated against them. The stand-up comics who performed here soon became famous for their trademark "Jewish humor".
Capital District: As the name suggests, this area is home to Albany, the capital of the state of New York and a name that is often spoken in angry tones, accompanied by profanity, and likely in the pages of the Post or the Daily News (as in "those f—kers in Albany are wasting my tax dollars"). Nearby Schenectady is the old home of General Electric, the part-owners (and former full owners) of NBC and Universal Studios; they've since moved their headquarters to Connecticut, but they still have a ton of facilities in Schenectady and along the Hudson River, some of which are the reason why the Hudson has its reputation for being an extension of New Jersey. (They're gonna clean it up sometime. We swear.) It's also home to one of the world's first television stations (where TV cooking-show host Rachael Ray started her career) and America's second commercial radio station, which should be handy for trivia night. Less than an hour to the north is Saratoga Springs, which was once a prosperous resort town (one of its restaurants is held by popular tradition to be the original home of the potato chip) and still has its famous racetrack, the oldest in the U.S.
The area sits at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, and is the eastern point on the Erie Canal. This allowed it to grow into a major industrial center in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it also allowed many New Yorkers and New Englanders to settle in the Great Lakes region — Michigan, eastern Wisconsin, and northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were historically known as being more traditionally Northeastern than the actual Northeast for this very reason; a disproportionate number of settlements in these states, and particularly Michigan, are for this reason named after Upstate New York cities.note Seriously. They named their capital after a tiny town in Tompkins County. The rise of the more convenient St. Lawrence Seaway through Canada greatly reduced the old canal's relevance, and was a huge blow to the region's prospects (and those of upstate New York in general — rest assured that this won't be the last time the Erie Canal is mentioned), but it is still the wealthiest part of upstate, home to over 1.1 million people. It has managed to weather the recession better than most places, thanks partly to its large sea of high-tech manufacturing jobs and companies (including the aforementioned GE) — the "Tech Valley" would likely be considered the East Coast's Silicon Valley if it weren't for Boston already claiming that title.
Adirondack Mountains: New York's other mountain range. Larger and more remote than the Catskills, the Adirondacks aren't actually a part of the Appalachian Range, but rather, an extension of the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. Culturally, they're more an extension of northern New England than anything else, sharing a media market with most of Vermont — and with nearby Montreal, which dwarfs both areas in population. (Stations in the area often carry advertising for Canadian businesses.) The old Fort Ticonderoga is located along Lake Champlain at the edge of the mountains. The Adirondack region boasts a large collection of lakes and ski resorts (the most famous being two-time winter Olympic host Lake Placid). The proximity to Quebec means that a lot of the signage in the Adirondacks is bilingual, written in both English and French — which makes the state of New York better at accommodating French-Canadians than Alberta despite not being bound by Canadian language laws. Weird, eh?
North Country: North of the Adirondacks lies this vast rural area, lying between the Adirondack foothills, the St. Lawrence River, the 45th parallel border with Quebec and the northwestern shores of Lake Champlain, where Plattsburgh, the region's only city, is located.
Central New York: Like many of upstate New York's urban centers, this area lived and died on the Erie Canal. Today, as one might guess, it is an economically depressed area, with cities like Syracuse, Oswego, Utica and Rome all symbolizing the declining Rust Belt. Syracuse has a college which, due to its good journalism program and (arguably) better basketball program, often gets name-dropped in the news far more often than it probably deserves. The eastern part of the region, formerly known as the Leatherstocking Country, is carved by the Mohawk and Susquehanna Rivers, and used to be the heart of the Iroquois Confederacy. It was of major strategic importance during the French and Indian War, as it was one of the main routes into the North American interior (which is why the Erie Canal is there) — the British and French could easily attack the hearts of the other side's respective colonial empires through the Mohawk Valley.
Western New York: This area is the site of the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, and acts as the western end of the Erie Canal — which means it got screwed economically when the Canadians dredged the St. Lawrence. This is the part of upstate that most people have heard of. Culturally, the area is more Midwestern than East Coast, which shows in the accent and a few expressions ("pop"). Niagara Falls is located out here, but everybody knows that the view is better on the Canadian side of the river, which means that the New York side hasn't really benefited all that much from tourism. note The Canadian side, however, has benefited from favorable exchange rates and a heavy push towards tourism to basically become the Canadian Atlantic City. Which drains even more tourists from the American side of the falls. Most of the Lake Ontario shore is sparsely populated.
Buffalo is notorious for getting blizzards that are gigantic even by the tough standards of upstate New York, while Rochester was once a major hub of both the abolitionist and women's rights movements. In the early 19th century, the area was called the "burned-over district" due to all the religious revivals in the area — it was so heavily evangelized that there was no "fuel" (people) left to "burn" (convert). Among the religious movements that emerged here were the Mormons, the Millerites, the Shakers, the Oneida Society,note Who were originally a free-love Christian commune—basically Jesus Freaks avant le lettre—who eventually turned to making silverware as a means to support the community. The community fizzled by 1880, but the silverware company remains—and is still based in Western NY—and is one of the biggest in the business (if you live in North America, you probably have Oneida flatware and tableware in your house. and the spiritualist movement, making it something of a 19th century version of California in terms of being a hub for new religious groups.
Finger Lakes: South of Rochester and southwest of Syracuse, the Finger Lakes are a series of long, narrow, finger-like lakes in the west-central part of the state. All these lakes drain north towards the Erie Canal. The region is New York's wine country, and a major summertime tourist destination. At the southern end of Cayuga Lake, one of the two largest, is Ithaca, site of two major colleges (Ithaca College and Cornell University) and the North American seat of the Dalai Lama, and one of the few places in upstate New York that still has a healthy economy. The town of Seneca Falls is notable for having been the birthplace of the women's rights movement.
Southern Tier: Yeah, as you can gather, we're really not all that creative naming parts of upstate New York. (That's because all the creative types in the city don't care about upstate New York.) This area is located along the border between New York and Pennsylvania west of the Catskills. Most of the area is hilly and sparsely populated, though there are a few pockets of industrial development in the river valleys (which include the upper reaches of the Susquehanna and Allegheny rivers). Binghamton, Elmira and Jamestown are the only sizable cities. Binghamton is the site of a large state university that often gets name-dropped in New York-based media, and the city recently entered the news after a guy went on a shooting spree at an immigration center. As one can guess, it's a rather depressing place. The western part of the region also contains Allegheny State Park and Lake Chautauqua. Sits opposite the border from Pennsylvania's Northern Tier, with the combined Twin Tiers area being more of an item in local identity than which state you're in.
The Eliza Dushku b-movie The Alphabet Killer takes place in Rochester, and is loosely based on a actual serial murderer that plagued the city in the early 70s.
An especially egregious example: the moon Nazis in Iron Sky make their first landing on Earth in a marijuana farm in the middle of the wilderness of upstate New York... with the Manhattan skyline in clear view. (The closest one can see Midtown that clearly at night is from Yonkers, which is pretty far from the actual wilderness.)
Yonkers features prominently in World War Z, where it's the site of one of America's main defeats in the war against the Zombie Apocalypse. Long Island also appears as the site of the celebrities' fortress.
The Clique novels are set in the rich suburbs of Westchester County.
James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales were set in central New York, and helped to give part of the region the nickname of "Leatherstocking Country."
Washington Irving's short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place in, of course, Sleepy Hollow, providing more proof that upstate New York is an extension of rural New England. The other of Irving's two most famous stories, "Rip Van Winkle," takes place in the Catskills back when they were mostly populated by Dutch immigrants.
Long Island mansions were such a popular setting in the 1920s for Broadway comedies and musicals (e.g. Animal Crackers) that the Opening Chorus of the 1929 musical Spring is Here insisted the show was set anywhere but Long Island.
The original plan for Grand Theft Auto IV would have featured areas based on upstate New York and Long Island. It was cut early on in order to focus on the city, though references to an area called "theCarraways" (presumably based on the Hamptons) still exist in the finished product and in the expansionpacks.
A Running Gag on AlternateHistory.com is that non-Americans have never heard of this New York state and refuse to believe there is such a place as upstate New York — or else think it's a frozen-in-time place still inhabited chiefly by the Iroquois Confederation.
In the Alternate HistoryDecades of Darkness (published on the above site), New York gets split into three states within the greater Republic of New England — Long Island, comprising New York City, Westchester and Rockland Counties and, well, Long Island; Hudson, made up of the eastern half of upstate New York; and Niagara, which makes up the western half of upstate.
The Nostalgia Chick's review of Sleepy Hollow had her, Nella, and Elisa visiting the actual town of Sleepy Hollow, New York, and being generally disappointed that it wasn't as creepy as advertised.