Upstate New York

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Upstate New York is the region of New York State outside of the core of the New York metropolitan area. It has a population of 7,121,911.



There is no clear or official boundary between Upstate New York and "Downstate New York", with the term "Upstate" sometimes used to refer to the whole of the state besides New York City and Long Island, and by others to refer only to the portion of the state north of Poughkeepsie and west of the Catskill Mountains. Because Westchester County and Rockland County contain many communities of New York City commuters, they are rarely if ever considered part of Upstate New York.

This is the traditional definition, and in fact is the one accepted by the Internal Revenue Service ... traditionally residents of the upper 53 counties sent their tax returns to Andover, Massachusetts for processing; while downstate returns were handled in the Long Island hamlet of Holtsville (however, since 2003 tax returns for the entire state now go to Andover, the Holtsville facility no longer processes any consumer tax returns).

Putnam County, Orange County, and Dutchess County, while once universally considered part of the Upstate region, are often no longer considered so as more and more New York City commuters have moved there and turned rural areas into exurbs of the metropolis. All purchases in or from those three counties are charged the same additional 0.25% sales tax to support the commuter rail service provided them by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Metro North lines as the downstate counties.

However, the most common and perhaps most accurate boundary between the two regions is one delineating suburbs from exurbs. This line would place most, but not all, of Westchester and Rockland counties south of the boundary, putting the northwestern edge of Rockland as well as the northernmost quarter of Westchester (such as Peekskill) in Upstate New York. Many residents of decidedly suburban Lower Westchester regard Peekskill as having a great deal in common with other rust belt Hudson Valley cities such as Newburgh, Beacon, or Poughkeepsie, much more so than with the affluent towns located as little as 5-10 minutes outside the Bronx (as opposed to Peekskill, which is 30 minutes outside the Bronx, let alone Midtown Manhattan, leading some to identify it as an exurb.). But complicating this definition is the major population growth (compared to the rest of "upstate" New York, whose population is declining) in this area in the last 20 years (as well as bordering counties). Most of the new residents are moving from the "downstate" region, either to live in a less urbanized (or even suburbanized) area, and/or because they cannot afford ever-increasing housing prices closer to New York City and have to trade a long commute for affordability.

Nonetheless, since most of these "New York City bedroom communities" in Dutchess and Orange counties exist in only the southern parts closer to the city, some say the "Upstate/Downstate" boundary can be gleaned as running roughly from Dover Plains (where one line of the Metro North commuter railroad to Manhattan ends) across to Poughkeepsie down to Newburgh and then across to Middletown and Port Jervis. This imaginary line also seems to delineate the very high housing prices of the "Downstate" region vs. the relatively low housing costs of the "Upstate" region (though as more people move up to the area this line may shift further north and west).

Some residents use the term in a sense relative to their location, and might consider only the far north 'upstate'. Others consider Upstate New York as only those areas that are actually more-or-less due north of New York City. The term "upstate" is often interpreted as mildly pejorative, especially in reference to regions whose status as "upstate" by the above definitions is ambiguous. The term "upstate" for some evokes connotations of rural, backward lands whose ways are contrary to those of the big city. Conversely, many "upstate" New Yorkers specify themselves as "upstaters," preferring not to be associated with the urban values and lifestyle of New York City.

Still others view "upstate" vs. "downstate" in terms of weather and climate, particularly that of the wintertime. While cold weather and snow are certainly a part of winter in the New York metropolitan area, there is a point somewhere north of New York City where due to a combination of higher terrain and distance from the coast winter mornings suddenly average 10 degrees colder and what would be a rainstorm in Manhattan more often than not becomes a snowstorm. An example of this occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 1971, where a TV viewer in Poughkeepsie watching the Macy's parade just 65 miles (105 km) away in Manhattan saw heavy rain on TV while he or she was experiencing a blizzard that would leave 2 feet (61 cm) of snow. Some say that point (usually said to be north of I-287, the Bear Mountain Bridge, or I-84; or sometimes the point at which ZIP Codes begin with "12" instead of "10"; a distinction accentuated when the 914 area code was split in 2000: today only Westchester retains it while the other areas it once applied to are in 845), in the area usually indicated by city-based television weather forecasters as "north and west", marks the beginnings of Upstate New York.

Ultimately, most use the term 'upstate' to denote areas that are both somewhat north of and considerably more rural than their home location. Only residents north and west to a certain degree of Albany tend to embrace the term "upstate" as describing their location; south of the Capital Region people tend to find it to be an insulting manifestation of the famous New Yorker magazine's view of the world.


The region is culturally and economically distinct from the New York City area, though in the Hudson Valley Dutchess, Putnam, and Orange Counties are increasingly considered peripheral sections of the New York City metro area. The true upstate area consists of a handful of small and medium-sized cities, squarely in the Rust Belt, which are spread out across the broader region, astride a number of suburban communities, and are all set amid what is a largely rural landscape. Though there are some centers of wealth, most notably in the Rochester and Buffalo suburbs, much of the area is relatively economically depressed compared to the downstate areas.

Culturally, the region is no more homogeneous than downstate, despite perceptions to the contrary. While anyone looking for a typically rural American culture and society will find it, the region's many small college towns and cities hold their own for diversity and cultural offerings.


Perhaps stemming from the region's semi-rural character, there is a stronger tendency toward conservatism in culture and politics than found in the more urban downstate area, and Upstate is the power base of the state's Republican Party.

There are several exceptions to this rule, including Erie County (Buffalo), Monroe County (Rochester), Onondaga County (Syracuse), Broome County (Binghamton), Tompkins County (Ithaca), Albany County (Albany), Clinton, 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, making the University the political center of liberal U.S. congressman Maurice Hinchey's district.

As a whole, Upstate New York is roughly equally divided in Federal elections between Democrats and Republicans. In 2004, George W. Bush won the region, but only with a slim margin, over John Kerry (1,557,503 votes to 1,577,166).

The conservatism of the upstate region more closely resembles the limited-government libertarian conservatism of many of the western states instead of the large-government authoritarian 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 Republicans such as Amo Houghton and Jack Quinn.

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," overturning Nelson Rockefeller's veto (In fairness, 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. [1].

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 D'Amato's 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, lobbying for larger Homeland Security funding for the Buffalo area than its size would normally warrant on the dual basis of it being on the Canadian border and the finding of a putative sleeper cell in the nearby town of Lackawanna in 2002).

But while politicians based upstate rarely win elections for governor or U.S. Senator, some have been elected to other statewide offices, such as lieutenant governor (Stan Lundine and the current incumbent, Mary Donohue, for instance), comptroller (Ned 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 had grown 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, 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.


The headwaters of the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Hudson rivers are located in the region. The region is characterized by the major mountain ranges and large lakes.

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 Algonquin-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 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 continued through the early 19th century. The lands were then settled by Revolutionary War veterans and others from New England states.

In the 19th century, with the opening of the Erie Canal, the area became an important component of the manufacturing industry in the United States. 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.

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. 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.

Important features

Political figures

The region is considered to be the cradle of Mormonism, as well as the Women's Suffrage movement. It was important historically in the Shaker movment.


Major cities

Major universities and colleges

Major tourist attractions and destinations

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