In writing about Albany’s prospects in 1815, a writer for the “American Magazine” (credited only as “A.B.”) saw fit to try to enumerate some of the improvements the city had seen, including the efforts of his publisher, Mr. John Cook, to dispense mineral waters from Saratoga and Ballston here in the City Without a Nickname.
“Some years ago the city of Albany was without any place of public resort – ‘as dull as Albany’ was a common reproach in the mouth of travellers. Mr. Cook tried the dubious experiment of establishing a reading room, with which he connected fountains of the mineral waters from Ballston and Saratoga Spas; this first attempt languished ….
“Subsequently he removed to a more public situation … it soon became a matter of surprize [sic] how the public could ever have done without him. This situation where he remained a few years, although central, had some disadvantages: the room was small, and did not admit of sufficient light sometimes to see even Mr. Cook himself, for he is the converse of Bonaparte, good but not great, and the entrance was up a narrow stairs not broad enough for two persons to pass each other conveniently. This stairs was exactly betwixt two of the banks of the city, and received the name of Cook’s Streights.”
His latest location, at the time of Spafford’s writing, was much improved:
“A large room at the entrance contains the domestic and foreign papers, the mineral waters are in an alcove adjoining … Annexed to this, and with a private communication to the stair case is a neat small room for ladies appropriately furnished. The whole establishment is arranged very neatly and the greatest decorum prevails there. Mr. Cook it is said has even succeeded in abolishing the practice of smoking cigars in the evening, which had obtained to great excess in his former situation.”