The Approach.
Early postcard featuring The Approach.

Drawing of the Main Building.  The Approach is a massive granite staircase between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and downtown Troy. It was completed in 1907 on the former site of Rensselaer's Main Building, just West of 8th Street overlooking the city and the Hudson River. 
Main Building after 1904 fire. 

Letter from RPI Director P. C. Ricketts to Washington Roebling. 

The staircase was constructed by the City of Troy to emphasize the interdependence of this industrial city and the polytechnic school for which it is known. After devastating fires ravaged Rensselaer's Winslow Chemical Laboratory and destroyed the Main Building in 1904, trustees and administrators considered a variety of rebuilding alternatives, including a proposal to merge with the Columbia University School of Mines in New York City. Institute officials decided to stay in Troy, but to move further East up the hill. The city responded by spending $40,000 to extend Broadway to the new campus in the form of a grand staircase. 
Detail from photo of early Approach.  For many years the Approach remained an important link between the city and the college. Class pictures were often taken on its steps, and students regularly traversed it on their way to the railway station, off-campus rooming houses, and even the gymnasium (which was located at the bottom of the Approach). 
Photo of Approach in disrepair.  As the campus expanded further East and the city's fortunes gradually declined, the once elegant structure fell into disrepair. By the 1970s the Approach was closed due to its precarious condition. Several attempts to refurbish it failed.
October 1999 photo courtesy of John Schatz  In 1994 the Approach was given a new lease on life when the Louis and Hortense Rubin Foundation launched the "Approach and Beyond campaign" with a $100,000 gift. The campaign raised most of the $850,000 needed to rebuild the staircase and to re-connect RPI with downtown Troy. After extensive renovation and landscaping, the Approach was officially reopened at a celebration on October 14, 1999.

Additional Views.
A postcard. Front of a 1910 postcard. Back of a 1910 postcard. Detail from a postcard
Detail from a postcard. Detail from a photo. Wintry view of the Approach. October 1999 photo courtesy of John Schatz

Archives & Special Collections
Subject file: Approach.
Photograph Collection, AC 19: Approach; Campus - Views in general; Class of 1910; Class of 1911; Main Building; Winslow Building.
Oversized Photo Collection: Main Building.
Institute Publications: Polytechnic, Rensselaer Report.
Washington A. Roebling Papers, #89-19.

Rensselaer: Where Imagination Achieves the Impossible, by Thomas Phelan, D. Michael Ross, and Carl Westerdahl (1995).

Related Web Sites.
John Schatz's Approach page

Exhibit designed by: Tammy Gobert
Layout and graphics: Kairy Walker


Each of the archives' online exhibits has been created from a selection of original documents in our collections. In general, many more documents relating to a particular topic can be found in the archives, and viewers are welcome to visit the department to use these materials. Anyone interested in pursuing archival research at Rensselaer, should consult additional online information about the department and its holdings.

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