Tuesday, July 21, 2009

History and math walks in Schenectady

Albany Area Math Circle's advisors are delighted that the New York City Middle School Math Teacher Circle will be coming to Schenectady to hold their summer immersion problem-solving retreat at Union College next week.

I have volunteered to lead two optional early morning walking tours to help our visiting colleagues from the Big Apple discover some of the beautiful historic areas on and near campus.

Tuesday's walk will take us through the Union College campus and then eastward toward a beautiful historic neighborhood General Electric Realty Plot. The college campus is exceptionally beautiful and provided the setting for the college scenes in the movie The Way We Were with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. The GE Realty Plot is filled with an eclectic collection of elegant mansions built by GE executives circa 1900, including revival styles of Tudor, Queen Anne, Georgian, Dutch Colonial, and Spanish Colonial. The neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wednesday's tour will take us westward to the historic Stockade neighborhood, filled with many beautifully restored houses and gardens, some of which go back to the Dutch settlement along the Mohawk River in the 1600s. After its restoration, this neighborhood was recognized as New York State's very first historic district.

We'll be surrounded by Schenectady's mathematical traditions as well as history and beauty on our two early morning walks.

The campus centerpiece is the Nott Memorial, a 16-sided building that has been called a "Pythagorean temple." The overall campus design has very marked geometric and symmetric elements, originally conceived by noted French architect Joseph-Jacques Ramée in 1813. Union College was the first planned college campus in this country and influenced Thomas Jefferson's design for the University of Virginia campus four years later.

Both day's walks will take us through the former stomping grounds of a truly remarkable and legendary Schenectady mathematical wizard, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, "who could generate electricity from the square root of negative one." [UPDATE: The picture below shows NYC Math Teacher Circle early morning walkers at the monument marking the site of Steinmetz' former home in GE Plot.]

My two posts below will provide more details for the curious.

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