The Hotels of Saratoga Springs

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.

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