Preservation Matters: Honoring collaborative spirit of Saratoga Spa State Park and its partners
The Saratoga Spa State Park is considered one of the crown jewels of the New York State Park system, not only because it is a National Historic Landmark, but because of all it has to offer. What we have at the Saratoga Spa State Park is extra special. “Our park” is host to many different venues and activities not by chance, but because of our community.
The park was established in 1909, following the passage of legislation championed by Spencer Trask, Edgar Brackett and George Whitney to protect the springs that were being depleted by excessive pumping of carbonic acid gas and enable the state to purchase land in order to preserve Saratoga’s spring waters. In 1911, the State Reservation at Saratoga Springs was established.
What followed was an ambitious plan to create a public health resort to rival those in Europe. In 1915, the Hudson Valley Railroad Station (today the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitors Center) was built to deliver people by trolley to the original Lincoln Bath building, the first building opened to the public for baths. Mineral baths proved to be so popular, the Washington Bath building was constructed five years later. Between the two buildings, 2,500 clients were served daily.
In 1929, a new Saratoga Springs Commission was appointed by Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt and launched the second phase of development, the creation of a scientific spa that would focus on hydrotherapeutic treatments for a variety of ailments, including cardiac and circulatory disorders, rheumatic conditions, gastrointestinal ailments, nervous conditions, metabolic diseases and non-infectious skin diseases. With the start of construction taking place in 1932 during the Great Depression, the Spa was funded by a $3.2 million grant from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. By 1934, the two Roosevelt Bath buildings, the Simon Baruch Research Institute that included offices, laboratories and an auditorium, the Victoria Pool, the Bottling Plant, Hall of Springs, a nine-hole golf course, and a hotel were built.
For a time, the baths would remain popular. At their peak in 1946, the four bath houses in the park – Lincoln, Washington and Roosevelt 1 & 2 – gave 200,000 baths annually. The decline of passenger railroad use and the rising popularity of the car forever changed people’s travel habits and destinations. Combined with the impact of medical advances, by the late 1950s the popularity of the baths declined significantly and the state gradually reduced its funding for the park. New York state was left with an extensive campus of buildings that no longer had a use that could underwrite their maintenance.
In 1961, the idea of bringing a first-class performing arts center was born. Prominent Saratoga natives collaborated with Harold G. Wilm, NYS Conservation Department Commissioner, to bring the idea to fruition. The state would commit $600,000 for site preparation, parking and walkways, if the citizens of Saratoga accepted responsibility for the estimated $1.8 million construction expenses. Members of the community took on the challenge and through a grass-roots effort were successful in creating a preeminent arts institution that is the envy of communities across the country. Not many parks can say that they are host to internationally acclaimed performers, much less serve as the summer home of the world-class New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra.
What followed in more recent years was a series of other creative collaborations that have allowed the beautiful park that we know today to be preserved and thrive. The park is now not only home to a dedicated staff; it is home to a diverse group of friends and partners that include a variety of nonprofits and private businesses. The park has adapted from its original single purpose, a health resort, to a diverse mix of attractions. According to Alane Ball-Chinian, regional director for state parks, “this extraordinary level of preservation would have not been possible without a vibrant community within such close proximity that has continually demonstrated its commitment to preserving its historic downtown, neighborhoods and parks.”
The National Museum of Dance and the Saratoga Automobile Museum have each taken historic structures that were no longer serving their original purpose and have successfully adapted them as major cultural destinations. The Friends of the Saratoga Spa State Park and the Save the Victoria Pool Society have been vocal advocates for specific features within the park and have raised funds to assist with projects. The Home Made Theater, Opera Saratoga, New York State Court System, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and the Waldorf School all make use of buildings that would otherwise remain vacant or under-utilized. Various private businesses have also played a critical role in preserving park amenities such as the Spa Golf Course, the Gideon Putnam Hotel, and the Roosevelt Bath House
The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation invites the community member to join Honorary Chair Cheryl Gold, former assistant regional director for state parks and Saratoga Springs Public Library trustee, in recognizing the Saratoga Spa State Park and its many partners and the Saratoga Room with a Spirit of Preservation Award at 6 p.m. Friday, May 9, at the Saratoga Automobile Museum. The award recognizes those who through their vision and dedication have fostered historic preservation efforts in Saratoga Springs and contributed to the overall quality of life in our city.
That evening, Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, will present the Spirit of Preservation Award to longtime Chair of New York State Parks Saratoga-Capital District Region Commission Heather Mabee, who will accept the award on behalf of the park and its many partners.
“I’m so incredibly honored to accept this worthy award on the behalf of the park and its partners” Mabee said. Over the years, she has seen the value of these different relationships. “The park is extremely fortunate to have so many of different partners who work together to provide park patrons with a wealth of unique experiences.”
However, according to Ball-Chinian, “the puzzle of public-private partnerships is still not complete.” The state just recently completed a million dollar investment in the long-vacant Roosevelt Bath No. 2 for abatement and to install a new roof and electrical system. “We are ready for the next phase of shared investment to revitalize this magnificent structure and contribute to the park’s appeal as a wonderful multi-faceted destination long into the future.”
I hope you will join me as we recognize the Saratoga Spa State Park and its partners for their commitment to preserving the park’s historic resources and contributing to the overall quality of life of our community.
Tickets are $55 for SSPF members, $65 for non-members, and $40 for those age 40 and younger. The event comprises of an award ceremony and reception with culinary delights from Kim Klopstock’s The Lily and the Rose and cash bar. To purchase tickets or for more information, please visit www.saratogapreservation.org or call (518) 587-5030.
Samantha Bosshart is executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, a not-for-profit membership-based organization founded in 1977 that promotes preservation and enhancement of the architectural, cultural, and landscaped heritage of Saratoga Springs. www.saratogapreservation.org.