Category Archives: Saratoga

James Knight Moves His Tavern

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Knight's Tavern and Lock 22

So many things to stare at on this beautiful map of Rexford and Aqueduct Crossing, from somewhere after 1842 when the original Erie Canal was expanded. The first aqueduct, now too narrow for the new specifications, was replaced by an entirely new aqueduct, and the narrow old lock was replaced by a double-lock, the new Lock 22.

Just to the west of the locks, old and new, we noticed the land and tavern of James Knight, and it made us curious. It turns out that James Knight was none too happy about the relocation of the lock.

A petition to the Committee on Claims indicated that Knight owned land at “Rexford-Flats, a short distance from the upper aqueduct, and directly opposite the upper lock, on which was erected a large and commodious building occupied as a tavern and grocery.” Location was everything, and “the site was rendered valuable by the unavoidable detention of boats at that place.” So widening the canal and doubling the lock was already not going to be in Knight’s favor, because boats would no longer be forced to linger, and the canal itself was going to be relocated to the west of its original course, pretty much through Knight’s grocery. So, he moved it. The Canal Commissioners appropriated forty feet of land in front of the tavern, and Knight moved his building. All cool, right?

Well, no. Because at some point after that decision was made in 1834, the Canal Commission changed the path. Instead of putting the new canal to the west of the existing canal, it would go to the east. That not only “leaves the petitioner much further from the enlarged canal, but forty feet farther from the old canal; that the use of said petitioner’s buildings has been worth much less since the removal; and that the basement room before removal would command a rent of $300, now not over $25 or $30.” To add insult to injury, “a building stands directly opposite that of the petitioner, on the other side of the canal, and is occupied for a similar purpose, and about the same distance from the canal the building of the petitioner was before it was removed. And the said building of the petitioner being now forty feet farther from the canal, it renders it almost useless for a grocery, in consequence of the building on the other side being now so much nearer the canal.”

We’re of the mind that people who were capable of life on the canal, arduous by all reports, were capable of hauling themselves an extra forty feet, but perhaps he had a point. An act was submitted to the Legislature and passed in 1842, requiring the canal to ascertain the amount of damages sustained by Knight going back to 1835. What was done, and whether he moved the Tavern again, we don’t know.


Rochefoucauld visits the Saratoga Battlefield

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Schuyler House, Schuylerville

Schuyler House, Schuylerville

I have seen John Schuyler, the eldest son of the General; for a few minutes I had already conversed with him at Skenectady, and was now with him at Saratoga. The journey to this place was extremely painful, on account of the scorching heat, but Saratoga is a township of too great importance to be passed by unobserved. If you love the English, are fond of conversing with them, and live with them on terms of familiarity and friendship, it is no bad thing, if occasionally you can say to them, “I have seen Saratoga.

As the Duke de la Rochefoucauld traveled through upstate New York in 1795 (finding Albany somewhat inhospitable and missing some business opportunities), he visited Saratoga and noted its tremendous importance as the place “where the independence of America was sealed.” There he visited John Schuyler, whose dwelling-house still stands eight miles north of the battlefield. John was the son of General Philip Schuyler, who had substantial holdings in Saratoga; John managed them until the very year of Rochefoucauld’s visit; he died in August of that year, aged only 30.

You see the spot, where General Burgoyne surrendered up his sword to General Gates; where the man, who two months before had threatened all the rebels, their parents, their wives, and their children with pillage, sacking, firing, and scalping, if they did not join the English banners, was compelled to bend British pride under the yoke of these rebels, . . . This memorable spot lies in a corner of the court-yard of John Schuyler; he was then a youth, twelve years old, and placed on an eminence, at the foot of which stood General Gates, and near which the American Army was drawn up, to see their disarmed enemies pass by. His estate includes all the tract of ground, on which both armies were encamped, and he knows, as it were, their every step.

Rochefoucauld expressed astonishment that the site itself was, to that point, unmarked:

It is a matter of astonishment, that neither Congress nor the Legislature of New York should have erected a monument on this spot, reciting in plain terms this glorious event, and thus calling it to the recollection of all, who should pass this way, to keep alive the sentiments of intrepidity and courage, and the sense of glory, which for the benefit of America should long be handed down among Americans from generation to generation. The English would not have suffered a similar occasion to pass unimproved. John Schuyler at least should have relieved the modesty of government, were it only by marking the spot with a plain, simple stone, which no American would behold but with those brave and glorious feelings, which might be turned to the greatest advantage to the state.

It took a little while. The site wouldn’t fall to control of New York State until 1927, and became a National Historical Park in 1938.

Schuyler was, according to Rochefoucauld, then managing an estate of about 1500 acres, “five hundred of which are completely cleared of wood.” He said it primarily produced Indian corn, and that there was a corn mill and two saw mills. “John Schuyler makes more hay, than is necessary for the use of his farm; but by a calculation, founded on indolence rather than mature deliberation, it appears to him more profitable to sell the hay, than to fatten cattle.” Despite the size of the estate, it was noted that the aggregate of his taxes (including poor tax and county assessments to built a court-house and jail) didn’t exceed $35 a year.

John Schuyler received me in a manner extremely hospitable and polite. He is a young man of good sense, and mild, amiable manners, constantly engaged in the management of his affairs, which, we understood, he conducts with prudence and punctuality. He is married to a daughter of Mr. Rensselaer [Elizabeth Van Rensselaer, daughter of Stephen Van Rensselaer II], who passes all her time at their own house, which is a very handsome mansion, but without any neighbours. She sees no company, but her relations, who now and then pay her a visit. Her husband, on whom she doats [sic], is frequently absent; she complains with much meekness of this solitary life, yet bears it, occupied with her children and the management of her household. She is charitable, good, and universally respected.

The exciting SPAC lineup, 1976

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SPAC lineup 1976.pngThe Saratoga Performing Arts Center 1976 summer lineup featured an interesting array of acts. In addition to those fabulous Philadelphians, there was the Third Annual Upstate Jazz Festival, featuring Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald all in one weekend. There was the D’oyly Carte Opera Company, presenting three Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. And there were the SPAC Specials, aimed at the popular music crowd. So what popular music was featured during that Bicentennial Summer?

Well, there was Judy Collins,  Harry Chapin, Neal Sedaka, and Seals and Crofts. There was Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow, and, of course, James Taylor.

And then there were the acts that were pictured here in the SPAC program. Can you name them? Answers after the jump.

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Taking the Waters

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So of course the main point to going to Saratoga in the late 1800s was to take the curative waters from its many mineral springs. As Saratoga Illustrated pointed out in 1876, it’s just good science:

“The medicinal action of mineral waters differs in almost every respect from that of cathartics and diuretics, or eliminators in the materia medica. Medicines frequently act by counter-irritation, curing one organ by exciting and irritating another . . . The most important ingredients of the Saratoga waters are natural to the body, and are also powerful oxydizers of the disintegrated tissues, carrying out of the body the waste matter. Mineral waters are similar to the blood, minus its organic constituents, and are true restorative medicines, as well as powerful modifiers of the tissues themselves.”

Hoxsie isn’t sure which is more depressing: the utter lack of truth in any of those statements, or the fact that such statements are still made today about any number of nonsense cure-alls.

“The diseases affected by the waters are numerous. To give a list in detail would be useless and confusing, and perhaps harmful. There is but one course to pursue in drinking the spring waters for the health’s sake. Consult a resident physician, let him make a diagnosis of your case, and, under his advice, select the particular spring of most value to you, and govern yourself, in all things, by his experience and acquaintance with the waters….

“Each user of these healing waters must in a measure, be a law unto himself. To drink any and all of the waters would be simply unreasonable.”

The guide did offer a helpful, by which we mean completely confusing, chemical analysis of each of the springs of Saratoga, giving the levels (in unnamed units)  of chloride of sodium, chloride of potassium, bicarbonate of lithia, sulphate of potassa, and others, so the gullible could make an effective choice. On the other hand, it was noted that the effects of the waters were “seldom injurious,” which is more than can be said for many, many cures doled out by physicians at the time.

The Springs of Saratoga Springs

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Champion Spouting Springs.pngIn 1876, people went to Saratoga Springs for the waters. (Unlike Sam in “Casablanca,” they were not misinformed.) “Its mineral waters flow in exhaustless abundance from year to year; and, though given away freely to all who care to ask for them, and, in bottles or barrels, sent to every State, and half over Europe, they run to waste in countless thousands of gallons. Upon these free-flowing rivers, bubbling from the hillside, or spouting in snow-white fountains half a hundred feet into the air, Saratoga has built her faith and her hotels, and has not been disappointed. While the waters flow, Saratoga will flourish and bloom in all the glory of splendid palaces.” The springs were explained in geological terms, a collection of water percolating through porous strata of Laurentian rock to a fault, where the combination of water under pressure and carbonic acid gas forced the water to the surface. “If shut off for a moment, the gas will collect in the top of the pipe-wells in such quantities, and under such pressure, as to blow a steam-whistle….

“When first dipped from the wells, the water is limpid and pearly, and full of bubbles. That from the spouting wells gushes forth in creamy whiteness, and resembles soda-water in color and action. The gas quickly escapes, and the still water has a wonderful purity. When allowed to stand open in a glass or uncorked bottle, the transparent water becomes cloudy, a fine white skin forms on the surface, and, in  a time, a reddish-brown precipitate is formed. A glass left empty, and not properly wiped dry, becomes coated with a white film of salts; and round the base of the spouting wells a white incrustation soon forms on the ground, where the spray shivers and spatters on the stones….

“In cooking, the spring waters are worse than useless, unless made into that great American insanity known as ‘hot cakes.’ None but the stupid ever eat them.”

There were at least a dozen well-known springs: Champion Spouting Spring; Crystal Spring; Empire Spring; Excelsior Spring; Geyser Spouting Spring; Hathorn Spring; High Rock Spring; Pavilion Spring; Star Spring; Triton Spring, and Union Spring. Even today, Saratoga boasts 17 public springs.

Wandering Saratoga, 1876

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Congress Hall.pngWe’ll continue with what “Saratoga Illustrated” had to say about the city of springs in 1876:

Saratoga Springs is a village of hotels and dwelling houses. There are few or no manufactories, and its streets seem devoted to elegant leisure or abundant shopping. Its surface is mainly level, except where a shallow valley winds in a general north-easterly direction through the center. Through this runs a little brook, and, by its banks, at the bottom of the valley, may be found most of the more famous mineral springs….

The Town Hall, on the corner of Broadway and Lake Street, marks the center of population. The geographical center is, perhaps, a quarter of a mile to the south-east of this point. Immediately beyond the village, and in nearly every direction, the country becomes broken, so that the outskirts are varied and pleasing, while the village itself is sufficiently level for comfortable walking.

The principal street is Broadway, extending a little east of north through the entire village, and making the grand drive and promenade, where all the life, business, and pleasure of the place may be seen in a five-minutes’ walk. This concentration of the hotels and stores in one street, and in the immediate neighborhood of nearly all of the springs, gives the village a singular aspect; for, away from this center, there is nothing but houses, cottages, and villas, each in prim fashion facing its quiet, shady street – a village of homes.

Broadway is peculiar and original. The hotels, the elegant stores, the fine rows of trees, the broad borders of sod, and the throng of carriages and people that crowd its walks and roads, present a spectacle unlike anything else in the world . . . No other resort can show two such palaces as the Grand Union and Congress Hall, facing each other on one street. Perhaps no other place would lug two such monster buildings into such pronounced rivalry. Be that as it may, here they stand, and the general effect is remarkable, and a trifle oppressive. There is too much of architectural glory; but the American likes grandeur, and here he has it, in a profusion perfectly dazzling. There is a slight bend in the street, in the neighborhood of Congress Hall, and standing here, one may look in either direction, and feel a natural pride in his country, that such monuments to American wealth, skill, and culture, can be taken in at a single glance. Certainly, there is but one Saratoga in the world.

How to Arrive at Saratoga Springs

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Saratoga Springs 1876.pngSaratoga Illustrated, 1876:

In approaching Saratoga Springs, over its one railway, either from the north or south, the traveler meets with a surprise. The change from open farms to close-built town is abrupt, and the cars are among the houses, and at the station, almost before the fields are missed. From the south, the first intimation is the little group of cottages, clustered about the Geyser Springs, perhaps three minutes before the train stops. From the north, the brand-new villas and embryo streets of Excelsior Park, the towers and the mansard roofs of the great hotels, flash past just as the brakes begin to pull up for the depot. In either case the train slides along the same covered platform, and “Saratoga” is announced. The intelligent brakeman knows the station is really “Saratoga Springs,” but, with that freedom for which he is famous, he clips the “Springs.” Saratoga is quite another place. This is Saratoga Springs, properly so called. The long platform swarms with importunate hackmen, and, were it not for good policing, the arrival would be a trifle formidable. The prudent passenger will provide for the transportation of his baggage, before he reaches the depot, by giving up his checks to the agent of the

Saratoga Baggage Express.

This company transports baggage to any part of the town for the small sum of twenty-five or fifty cents, and is a regularly organized and responsible concern. The agent will pass through the cars, just before the train reaches Saratoga, soliciting checks. He can be readily recognized by the badge on his hat, and passengers need have no doubts of his integrity or authority, for none but the reliable agent of the Express Company is allowed on the cars. By giving him your checks, you will save much inconvenience, and have your baggage promptly delivered at your boarding-house, without further trouble. To find the porter of your house, a glance at the row of signs overhead will show just where the correct man stands, and where you should go to find him. Each hotel has a reliable man under its sign, and the badge on his hat will make the assurance sure. Give him your checks, and then walk to the house. The most distant hotel, except the Mansion House, is only four blocks away, and the little walk will properly introduce one to the place. Unless there are boat or horse-races going on, there is no need to hasten to secure rooms. This is the land of vast hotels, and a party of six or more is a small affair where twenty thousand people may be lodged at once.

How grand were Saratoga’s grand hotels?

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Congress Hall.png

In 1876: pretty grand. Here’s Congress Hall, just feet from Saratoga’s most celebrated springs.

United States Hotel.png

Here’s The United States Hotel. 232 feet fronting Broadway, and 656 feet on Division Street.
Interior Court United States Hotel.png Here is the slightly immodest interior courtyard of the United States Hotel. The piazzas aroundt he courtyard were 2,300 feet in length (“for promenades”), and it was ornamented with “beautiful shade-trees, sparkling fountains, graceful lawn-statuary, and meandering walks; and, during the evening, when illuminated with colored lights and lanterns, and enlivened with exquisite music, the scene is brilliant and fascinating in the extreme.”
Grand Union Hotel.png Then there was the Grand Union Hotel, which fronted three streets, affording a large number of outside rooms. It overlooked Congress Park from Broadway.

The Hotels of Saratoga Springs

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Grand Union Hotel Saratoga Springs postcard BPL.jpgSaratoga Springs became one of America’s great resorts on the basis of its springs, to which the wealthy and the wishful flocked for their alleged restorative powers. Once they flocked there, they needed somewhere to stay, and the hotels of Saratoga were legendarily grand. “Saratoga Illustrated: A Visitor’s Guide of Saratoga” in 1876 described them:

“The hotels at Saratoga Springs are among the largest, the most costly, elegant and comfortable in the world. For nearly a century people have journeyed to these springs to drink their healing waters; and as one day’s visit is hardly worth the while they have sought a home here during the summer season. It is this that has caused the village to open its doors so freely, and to build up, from a small beginning, a system of hotels and boarding-houses unlike anything else to be found . . . From year to year the hotels have grown, expanding their wings and adding room beyond room, till they cover acres of ground, and the halls and piazzas stretch out into miles. They have a bewildering fashion here of repeating the wondrous tale of these things. They talk about the miles of carpeting; the thousands upon thousands of doors and windows; the hundreds of miles of telegraph wires; vast acres of marble floors; and tons of eatables stored in the pantries, till one is lost in admirable confusion. It is all true, and that is the wonder of it….

“Ask for anything you like in the known world, and, if it can be found, it will be provided.”

The guide went on to name the major hotels, including:

  • Congress Hall, which replaced the previous hotel of the same name that burned in 1866, and which took up most of the square bounded by Broadway, East Congress, Spring and Putnam streets. It was simply enormous. It had Otis elevators (in 1876), hot and cold water on every floor, and a steam heating apparatus on the main floor “for use whenever changes in the temperature require it.” It could accommodate more than 1,000 guests.
  • The Grand Union Hotel featured a grand dining room (and a fire-proof kitchen!), and there was hot and cold running spring water in every room. Plus also, three elevators, billiard tables and bowling alleys. Started as a simple boarding-house by Gideon Putnam, it was at one point the largest hotel in America.
  • The United States Hotel, on the block bounded by Broadway and Division Street, also replaced an older hotel of the same name. It had 917 guest rooms and in 1876 was the largest hotel in the world. It covered seven acres, had a “cottage wing” and an expansive interior court yard. And running water in every room. And elevators.
  • The Clarendon Hotel, on Broadway south of Congress Street, was “the only hotel in Saratoga which is painted white, with green blinds, presenting that clean, neat appearance which distinguishes so many New England villages . . . It pleasantly contrasts with the more metropolitan architecture and colors which obtain among the other hotels.” A cynic might read that to mean no running water, and no elevators. It was owned by Charles Leland, who also owned the famous Delavan House in Albany.

Avenue of the Pines

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Avenue of Pines Saratoga Springs postcard BPL.jpgApparently, Saratoga’s Avenue of the Pines has been such for quite some time. It’s unclear when this lovely postcard was made. The name of the avenue can be found in reports of the State Conservation Commission going back into the 1920s. A 1922 report to the Legislature told of the efforts to repave the road:

“A considerable amount of excavation was completed for this [Karista spring to Hathorn No. 2 spring] road, however, in taking gravel for the resurfacing of a portion of the ‘Avenue of the Pines.’ This work of resurfacing was carried out to about 80 per cent of the total length of the Avenue, and all of the heavy summer traffic on the State highway was diverted to our road by a resurfacing job of the City of Saratoga Springs on Ballston Avenue. By the use of calcium chloride to lay the dust and a weekly scraping with a road hone, the Avenue of Pines stood up remarkably well under the large amount of traffic over the main north and south route.”

Still, whenever this postcard was made, it wasn’t 1922, because this is the picturesque view of the Avenue of the Pines that was presented to the Legislature that year:

Avenue of the Pines.pngStately, ain’t it?