Tuesday, February 14, 2023

New York's Saratoga Springs Spa & Ballston Spa

 Congress Spring, Saratoga, 1849

The mineral springs in upstate New York were valued by Native Americans for their medicinal properties. In 1767, the Mohawks revealed the location of High Rock Spring, which they regarded as sacred, stirred by the god Manitou,

Sir William Johnson, the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies suffered from pain resulting from a bullet wound at the Battle of Lake George in 1755, drank some of the water, felt his health notably improved, and afterwards wrote to a friend: “I have just returned from a visit to a most amazing Spring, which almost effected my cure; and I have sent for Dr. Stringer, of New York, to come up and analyze it.”   William Leete Stone, Reminiscences of Saratoga and Ballston (New York, 1875)

As settlers drank the water, accounts of its healthful benefits spread. The 1st permanent dwelling was built around 1776. An inn was constructed above High Rock Spring, and, in 1802, a 3-story tavern was built across from Congress Spring. 

 Some 16 miles to the west, the mineral springs at Ballston Spa were noted by surveyors in 1771. The 1st tavern was built there in 1787, & a hotel was added in 1792. In 1803, the impressive Sans Souci hotel was built at Ballston Spa. Guests included Henry ClayJohn C. Calhoun, Martin Van Buren, James Fenimore Cooper, Franklin Pierce, & Andrew Jackson.

Elkanah Watson visited the mineral springs at Saratoga and Ballston in September of 1790. I spent a day, bathing in a trough, and drinking the exhilarating water, which gushes from the centre of a rock. I met with about a dozen respectable people, sojourning at a wretched tavern. The wildness of the region, and the excessively bad accommodation, made me recur to the condition of Bath, in the barbarous ages, when, several centuries before Christ, as the legend says, the springs were discovered by their salutary effect upon a herd of distempered swine wallowing in the mud.

The Saratoga waters were discovered, about twenty years ago, as I was informed by Mr. Ball of Ballston, in following a deer track; but, it is supposed, their existence was known to the Indians. The remarkable medicinal qualities of these springs, and their accessible position, must render this spot, at some future period, the Bath of America. At present, it is enveloped in rudeness and seclusion, with no accommodations appropriate to civilized man. The rock through which the water issues by a narrow passage, has been probably formed by petrifaction. Vessels are let down, through this fissure or natural well, to procure the water for drinking.

There is no convenience for bathing, except an open log hut with a large trough, similar to those in use for feeding swine, which receives water from a spring. Into this you roll from a bench. This water appears to be strongly impregnated with saline ingredients, highly charged with fixed air, and is almost as animated as champagne wine. Its taste is grateful, but it leaves an unpleasant impression upon the palate. Those accustomed to it, however, regard it as a great luxury. It is in high estimation, as a specific in all scorbutic affections, gout, rheumatism, etc. These springs are situated in a marsh, partially encompassed by slight and pretty eminences, along the margin of which the road winds. A little off from the highway, I visited a new spring, which is much more highly charged with mineral elements. This is called the Congress Spring.

From Saratoga I proceeded to Tryon’s, a low one-story tavern on a hill in Ballston. At the foot of this hill, I found an old barrel with the staves open, stuck into the mud in the midst of a quagmire, surrounded with trees, stumps, and logs. This was the Ballston Spring. I observed two or three ladies, walking along a fallen tree, so as to reach the fountain; and I was disgusted at seeing as many men washing their loathsome sores near the barrel. There was also a shower bath, with no protection except a bower of bushes. Tryon’s was the only public house, no buildings having been erected below the hill. The greatest number of visitors at one period, the past summer, was ten or twelve, and these were as many as could be accommodated.     Winslow C. Watson, Men and Times of the Revolution; or, Memoirs of Elkanah Watson (New York, 1856)

Elkanah Watson stayed at the more impressive Sans Souci in 1805. We seated ourselves at a sumptuous table, with about a hundred guests of all classes, but generally, from their appearance and deportment, of first respectability, assembled here from every part of the Union and from Europe…. This is the most splendid watering place in America and is scarcely surpassed in Europe in its dimensions, and the taste and elegance of its arrangement. The building contains about one hundred apartments, all respectably furnished. The plan upon which it is constructed, the architecture, the style of the outbuildings and the gravel walks girted with shrubbery,—are all on a magnificent scale...

In the evening, we attended a ball in the spacious hall, brilliantly illuminated with chandeliers, and adorned with various other appliances of elegance and luxury. Here was congregated a fine exhibition of refinement of the ‘beau monde.’ A large proportion of the assembly was from the Southern States, and was distinguished by elegant and polished manners. Instead of the old-fashioned country dances and four-hand reels of revolutionary days, I was pleased to notice the advance of refined customs, and the introduction of the graces of Paris, in the elegant cotillion and quadrille. At table, I was delighted in observing the style and appearance of the company, males and females, intermixed in the true French usage of ‘sans souci.’ The board was supplied in profusion, not only with a rich variety, but with the luxuries of more sunny climes. There was a great display of servants, handsomely dressed, while the music of a choice band enlivened the festivities.    Winslow C. Watson, Men and Times of the Revolution; or, Memoirs of Elkanah Watson (New York, 1856)

James Stuart visited Saratoga Springs in 1828. The taste [of the water from the Congress Spring] is very agreeable; and the briskness of the water at the fountain delightful. Three or four pint tumblers are generally taken in the morning before breakfast. We also, as most people do, use it at meals from choice, although it is never so good as at the fountain, before there is any escape of gas. The people resident in the village and its neighbourhood, within six or eight miles of the place, have it carried to their houses, preferring it very much to ordinary spring water. The quantity of gas is such, that a very nice sort of breakfast bread is baked with Congress water, instead of yeast. So large a quantity of it is bottled, and sent all over the states, that the proprietors, Messrs Lynch and Clarke, are said to be making a fortune of it. Even the American packet ships are supplied with it in abundance; but there is a very considerable loss of the gas in bottling, which renders the taste insipid, and the least loss of gas occasions a precipitation of iron, which gives the water a muddy appearance. Seltzer water in the bottled state is as pleasant as Congress water, except at the fountain.

The use of the water is chiefly recommended in bilious, dyspeptic, and calculous complaints, for diseases of the skin, and for chronic rheumatism ; but the great bulk of the people who resort to these celebrated springs, many of them regularly once a year, come for amusement, and for the preservation, rather than the recovery, of health, at a period of the year, when the violence of the heat renders a visit to a high and comparatively a cold country very desirable. I have found the use of the water and the baths so beneficial for a trifling complaint, for which I had last year tried the water at Harrowgate, that we resolved to remain here and at Ballston springs for a couple of months.

The gay people had almost disappeared before we arrived. The invalids seem to live very sparingly, — hardly tasting any liquid but the water, and tea, which here, and at other places where we have been, we sometimes observe ladies take at dinner. Many of those invalids are quite able to take exercise in the open air, and would, if I am not much, mistaken, derive as much benefit from it, if taken in moderation, as from the use of the water ; but they seem to confine themselves to a five or ten minutes walk in the morning, when they go to the fountain, and to a drive in an open carriage for an hour, or an hour and a-half. When they meet us walking several miles for exercise, and the pleasure of being in the open air, they, whether acquainted with us or not, frequently stop their vehicles, and very civilly offer us a ride with them, and can hardly believe us serious, when we, in declining to avail ourselves of their kindly meant offer, tell them that we prefer to walk.

There are few more striking points of difference between this country and Britain, than in the numbers of the people who ride and walk on the public roads. It absolutely seems disgraceful to be seen walking; and, though there are no fine equipages here, every one rides in his gig, dearborn, or open carriage of some description or other. This circumstance no doubt proves the easy circumstances of the mass of the people, as well as the value of time to a mechanic, or labourer, whose wages may be from one to two dollars a-day, and can better afford to pay for a conveyance, and spend less time, than to walk, and spend more. Still I am persuaded that our habits in this respect are far more favourable for health; and that dyspepsia, a very general complaint in New York State, and in this country, is in no inconsiderable degree owing to the people supposing, that enough of exercise can be had in carriages and waggons, especially by persons almost always partaking of animal food largely three times a-day, who hardly ever walk a mile, or mount on horseback.” 

Stuart also checked into the Ballston Spa, On the 31st of October, we changed our quarters from Saratoga springs to Ballston Spa, in a pleasant situation, in a hollow surrounded on all sides by high grounds. The Kayaderoseras, a small river, runs through the village, containing 800 or 1000 people.

There are only two great hotels here, the Sans Souci, which is on the largest scale, and Mr. Aldridge’s. There are several small hotels and boarding-houses. The baths are equally good here as at Saratoga springs; but the water is obviously not so pleasant to the taste, nor are its effects so powerful. The quantity of carbonic acid gas in a gallon of the water is only 210 cubic inches, while in the Congress water it is 343 cubic inches. The substances common to both are here in smaller quantity.

We are in the boarding-house of Mrs. Macmaster, one of the most comfortable we have seen in this country. The house is managed by herself, two daughters, and a little girl. Every thing good of its kind ; poultry the best that we have met with; dinners well-cooked; and coffee as well prepared as in the best restaurateurs in the Palais Royal. The charge four dollars per week. But this is not the gay season, when the rate is of course greater.  James Stuart, Three Years in North America, Vol. I (Edinburgh, 1833).