Saratoga Springs - there are 17 of the mineral springs in the town - first came to the attention of European settlers in the 1770s. From the beginning those who arrived here cast an eye to catering to potential visitors to the waters rather than carving out farmland in the wilderness. The first permanent resident is considered to be Samuel Norton who was soon operating a crude log hotel near the High Rock Spring. As the area around this spring developed it would become known as the “Upper Village.”
About a mile to the south the Congress Spring that would become the cornerstone of the village was discovered in 1792. Gideon Putnam, who had been in the area since 1789 making a living shipping wooden staves and shingles down the Hudson River, tapped the Congress Spring and constructed the Tavern and Boarding House in 1802. He then set about platting a street grid and grand hotels soon followed. By 1819 Saratoga Springs was cleaved from the Town of Saratoga and in 1826 it was incorporated as a village.
The railroad accelerated growth and in 1864 John Hunter and William R. Travers introduced thoroughbred horse racing to Saratoga Springs with a four-day meet. Gambling mixed well with the carbonated natural spring water and Saratoga moved easily to the head of resort destinations for wealthy Americans in the Gilded Age from the 1880s to the 1910s.
The glory days did not last. By the middle of the 20th century gambling was illegal and Americans had no interest in medicinal waters. The rich and famous could jet to resorts around the world. One by one the rambling luxury hotels were torn down and scores of old “cottages” were pressed into service as boarding houses, college dorms or just left vacant.
The “idea” of Saratoga Springs never died, however, and by the 1990s the appeal of a summer at the spa had returned. Much of the fabled building stock for the 19th century is gone but enough remains to experience what it was like when each summer high society settled comfortably in the “Queen of Spas.” So grab a cup to sample the waters and our walking tour will begin hard by the most famous spring of them all...
Heritage Area Visitor Center
This ornate single-story building began life in 1915 as a Trolley Station for the Hudson Valley Railroad where summer resort guests could hop the trolley and ride to the Saratoga Spa a little ways south of town. The station came from the drawing rooms of architects William Orr Ludlow and Charles S. Peabody, who were busy around New York from 1895 until 1935 and contributed several memorable buildings such as the Chase Tower, the Johns Manville Building and the New York Times Building in New York City. In 1908 Peabody had attended the famed Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts and ranked at the top of the class of 200 graduates and he applied those principles learned to the Saratoga Springs Trolley Station, creating an elegance seldom seen in similar structures. Inside, much of the original chestnut woodwork has been preserved. Exterior relief murals depict the legend of Sir William Johnson being carried to the High Rock Springs by the Mohawks, and the surrender of General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. After the dissolution of the trolley line in 1940 the building was converted into a Drink Hall where tourists could gather and enjoy bottles of mineral water. The Drink Hall was shuttered in 1965 and eventually evolved into an informational center. In 1992 it was converted into a New York State Heritage Area Visitor Center.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET INTO CONGRESS PARK.
south side of Broadway
The current 17-acre, grassy basin park dates to 1913 when it was landscaped by Charles Leavitt and Henry Bacon. Bacon would shortly afterward begin work on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Congress Spring was named in 1792 when it was visited by a group that included two members of the newly established United States Congress. A decade later, in 1803, Gideon Putnam built a hotel around the spring in what was still a largely unsettled frontier and the resort was off and running. The Congress Spring Bottling Plant would eventually operate here as well. In addition to Congress Spring, the park boasts three other naturally carbonated mineral springs - Columbian Spring, Deer Park Spring and Hathorn #1. The water is used to fill formal Italian gardens and lagoons that are decorated with sculptures, including The Spirit of Life, a statue by Daniel Chester French memorializing Spencer Trask, a great benefactor of the Saratoga area who founded the Yaddo writers’ colony.
WALK OVER TO THE MAIN BUILDING IN THE CENTER OF THE PARK THAT IS...
Irish-born John Morrissey rose from the street gangs and jails of New York City to become a much-loved United States Congressman. During a gang fight as a youth Morrissey had his back pinned against a coal-burning stove and as smoke from his burning flesh filled the room he battered his opponent, earning the enduring nickname “Old Smoke.” Morrissey found his way into the professional boxing ring and at the age of 22 in 1853 he became the American Champion. His career after boxing led into gambling and politics. He owned a stake in as many as 16 casinos, opening this one in 1866. Morrissey died of pneumonia at the age of 47 in 1878 but the casino continued in operation. In 1894, John Canfield purchased the casino and made it more luxurious than ever in the Gilded Age of Saratoga Springs. Gambling was banned in 1907, however, and Canfield retired, selling the hotel to the city. The city shortly demolished the hotel and the neighboring bottling plant and today only the brick Italianate casino with sandstone trim from 1870 is the only surviving building from the resort era. It houses the Museum of the Historical Society of Saratoga Springs that was founded in 1883.
FROM THE FRONT OF THE CASINO, WALK STRAIGHT THROUGH CONGRESS PARK PAST THE HISTORICAL PONDS AND UP THE STEPS TO CIRCULAR STREET ON THE WEST EDGE OF THE PARK. TURN LEFT.
Batcheller Mansion Inn
20 Circular Street
George Sherman Batcheller was born in the family village of Batchellerville in 1837 descended from Daniel Webster, America’s premier orator, and Roger Sherman, the only person to sign all four great state papers of the United States: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Batcheller wasted little time in making his own mark - he graduated Harvard Law School at the age of 19 and two years later he became the youngest member to be elected to the New York State Assembly. In 1872 Batcheller retained Albany architects Charles C. Nichols and John B. Halcott to build the home he would call “Kaser-el-nouzha,” Arabic for “palace of pleasure.” Combining French Renaissance Revival, Italianate and Egyptian influences, the plans by Nichols and Halcott were considered so special they were patented. The busy Batcheller would be appointed Judge and American Representative in the Court of First Instance in Cairo, Egypt by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 and thereafter he and his wife and daughter spent much of the next three decades abroad. The long stretches of sitting unoccupied would prepare the house for its life during much of the 20th century. It did duty as a rooming house and retirement home and suffered periods of vacancy. In the 1980s it was rescued and rehabilitated and has operated as a boutique inn since 1994.
24 Circular Street
Michael Nicholas Nolan entered the brewing business in Albany in 1865, helming the Quinn & Nolan Ale Brewing Company. He became one of the state’s leading sportsmen and horse owners while serving one term in Congress and in 1878 was elected the first Irish-born mayor of Albany. He built this splendid brick Second Empire mansion with an eye-catching mansard roof as a summer home from where he was able to oversee his stable of steeplechasers and racehorses. Today it serves as the home for the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church.
TURN RIGHT ON UNION AVENUE. THIS TREE-LINED STREET EXTENDS FROM THE TOWN DOWN THROUGH THE HISTORIC RACE TRACK AND WAS GRACED BY ELEGANT VICTORIAN COTTAGES IN THE LATE 1800S. BEGINNING IN MAY EACH YEAR THESE HOUSES WOULD BE OCCUPIED BY THEIR OWNERS OR PROMINENT VISITORS, WHICH WERE DUTIFULLY NOTED BY PAPERS SUCH AS THE NEW YORK TIMES. STAY ON THE SOUTH (RIGHT SIDE) OF THE ROAD.
Saratoga Race Course
William Riggin Travers, a 44-year old lawyer flush with cash from Wall Street, and his partner John Hunter founded Saratoga Race Course in 1863. The original track was built across Union Avenue but the current venue - the oldest sporting venue of any kind in the United States - was ready by the following year. Saratoga Race Course has played host to many of horse racing’s most historic moments, including the 1919 defeat of the immortal Man O’War to the aptly named colt Upset. It was the only loss of his 21-race career. The grounds at Saratoga contain several unique features. There is a mineral spring called the Big Red Spring in the picnic grounds where patrons can partake of the water that made Saratoga Springs famous. A lake in the middle of the track contains a canoe that is painted annually in the colors of the winning stable for that year’s Travers Stakes winner. If the race course is not open the Main track can be viewed a little ways past the main gate from Union Avenue.
CROSS THE STREET.
National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
191 Union Avenue
The New York summer resort famous for its mineral spas has been synonymous with horse racing since the 1800s. The oldest continually run stakes race in America - the Travers Stakes - has been contested each August in Saratoga since 1869. The museum began modestly in space in the Canfield Casino in 1951 and moved into this brick building four years later. The location, directly across from the race course, was first developed in 1894 by Joseph J. Gleason, a famous bookmaker of the time known as “one, two, three Gleason.” Gracing the courtyard is a statue of Triple Crown winner Secretariat. On the front lawn sits an eighth pole that was on Belmont Racetrack when Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by a remarkable 31 lengths in 1973. True to legend, one of the great chestnut colt’s few losses took place here in Saratoga, at the “Graveyard of Favorites.”
TURN LEFT AND WALK BACK UP UNION AVENUE TOWARDS CONGRESS PARK AND THE CENTER OF TOWN.
The Furness House
55 Union Avenue
R. Newton Brezee, a popular Queen Anne style architect, contributed this eclectic mansion with corner tower to the Saratoga streetscape for George Crippen, owner of a dry goods business and later a women’s dress manufacturer. It was later purchased in 1920 by Charles Furness, owner of the Glens Falls Times and spent more than 30 years as a freshman dorm for Skidmore College, which salvaged many of the crumbling Saratoga mansions. In 1992 the 91-year old house underwent a complete facelift and now operates as a guest house.
TURN RIGHT ON CIRCULAR STREET AND MAKE YOUR FIRST LEFT ON SPRING STREET.
In 1910 Marcus Charles Illions carved these basswood horses using real horsehair for the tails. The carousel led a peripatetic existence around Saratoga County until 1987 when it appeared the wooden steeds would be put permanently out to pasture. The community of Saratoga Springs then offered $150,000 to bring the carousel to Congress Park where it has since been restored.
Saratoga Arts Center
320 Broadway at southeast corner of Spring Street
Founded in 1986 by artists, Saratoga Arts moved into this corner home in 1997, converting the Colonial Revival brick building into a gallery and performance space.
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY.
The Adelphi Hotel
This is your chance to glimpse what it meant to arrive in style in Saratoga in the glamour days of the resort in the 1800s - it is the last surviving grand hotel from the 19th century. Constructed in 1877 in the Italianate style, the Adelphi boasts a trademark three-story, 90-foot “Saratoga porch” with slender columns and open spandrels. The Adelphi was never among the most luxurious of Saratoga’s grandest hotels, which may have contributed to its escaping the wrecking ball. In the wave of urban renewal across Saratoga in the 1970s the Adelphi presented an affordable renovation option. A century earlier it had been the dream of William McCaffery, a railroad conductor, who inherited an earlier hotel called the Old Adelphia from his wife’s family. He tore that building down to make room for his four-story inn designed in the manner of an Italian villa.
S.W. Ainsworth Building
Seymour Ainsworth was born one of twelve children - all of whom would live at least into their fifties - in Woodbury, Vermont in 1821. Trained in the carriage-making trade, he migrated to Saratoga at the age of 19. Ainsworth built his fortune peddling items of Indian manufacture - deerskin moccasins, woven baskets and the the like. An energetic inventor, Ainsworth would obtain nearly thirty patents for devices and processes connected with his many lines of business. He developed a manufacturing process for creating fans from ostrich feathers and for a number of years he furnished A. T. Stewart, Lord & Taylor, and other large retail houses with all the feather fans they sold. Active in Saratoga real estate, Ainsworth constructed this ornate High Victorian brick three-story commercial block in 1871.
Adirondack Trust Company Building
Founded by State Senator Edgar T. Brackett, Adirondack Trust opened its doors on January 2, 1902 and by the next decade was successful enough to construct this impressive marble-faced Beaux-Arts vault in 1916. S. Alfred Hopkins, a celebrated architect who built his reputation on sprawling rural New York estates drew up the design that features Adirondack-themed decorations inside and out. More than a century after its inception Adirondack Trust is the largest independent community Bank in Saratoga County.
The imposing City Hall that dominates its corner today was even more impressive when it was constructed in 1871. The three-story brick Italianate building designed by Cummings & Burt of Troy originally sported a central tower that held a bell weighing 5,276 pounds. At the peak of the tower wasa four-sided clock with a face six feet across. The price tag for the new government center, which included a two-story theater, was$109,999.46. In 1934 the belltower was declared unsafe and dismantled. The bronze lions that have stood guard at the entrance since the building’s completion received a restoration in 2009, along with new granite steps.
U.S. Post Office
Treasury Department supervising architect James Knox Taylor designed this Classical Revival building in 1910. If the post office is open, walk through the bronze doors to experience what was considered the most elaborate lobby of any post office in the state in its day.
Stretching across 18 bays, this large 1884 commercial building festooned with tiny turrets along its roofline was constructed in 1884.
The block-filling Algonquin Building was constructed in 1893 with Romanesque-inspired arches everywhere in the brick and stone and terra-cotta facade. From the beginning it was part of the new wave of multi-use downtown buildings that featured roomy upscale living space on the upper floors above the retail shops on the ground floor.
TURN LEFT ON WALTON STREET. TURN LEFT ON WOODLAWN STREET. TURN RIGHT ON DIVISION STREET.
4 Franklin Square
Thomas Marvin, a nephew of the founder of the United States Hotel, one of Saratoga Springs’ early resorts, built this Greek Revival house in the 1830s to the rear of the landmark hotel. In the ensuing 175 years the building has seen virtually no alterations and in 1972 was the first property in Saratoga Springs to be listed onthe National Register of Historic Places. Franklin Square, which contains 87 mostly upscale mid-19th century residences surrounding the village railroad station, was the city’s first historic district, also designated in 1972.
TURN LEFT ON FRANKLIN STREET. TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
First Baptist Church
45 Washington Street
The oldest church in town is the First Baptist church, organized in 1793 by ten members of the First Baptist church of Stillwater. This grand brick Greek Revival house of worship with a broad triangular pediment was the largest meetinghouse in Saratoga when it was constructed in 1855. The original church once boasted a clocktower on its present truncated octagonal tower.
Universal Preservation Hall
25 Washington Street
Originally constructed for the Methodist church to host their annual regional meeting, the hall developed into one of the most impressive assembly places in the state. William Jennings Bryan, Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, Senator Edgar T. Brackett and President William Howard Taft all appeared on its stage. Prominent architect Elbridge Boyden of Worcester, Massachusetts created one of his finest examples of High Victorian architecture by contrasting rose colored brick and light Ohio sandstone across the richly decorated facade. The majestic bell tower, which is the tallest structure in Saratoga Springs, houses a 3,000 pound Meneely bell cast in nearby Troy. The building was condemned in 1999 and a consortium of local citizens rallied to save the historic gathering space.
Bethesda Episcopal Church
41 Washington Street
Richard Upjohn, America’s leading proponent of the Gothic ecclesiastical style, came to Saratoga Springs to build this stone church for the congregation that had formed in 1830. Rockwell Putnam, son of first city planner Gideon Putnam, donated the land for the church and cleared his own house off the property to make way for Upjohn’s church that was ready by 1844. Church design was fickle in the 1800s and the building was redesigned twice before the century was out, leaving it with a more castle-like appearance evocative of the Norman Romanesque conquerors of England in 1066. The different colors of the stone and the different sizes show the various renovations of the church through the years.
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY AND WALK ONE BLOCK BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.