By JIM HUNT
author, speaker, consultant
When Joanne Yepsen, the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, New York, gave the welcome at the opening of the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials where I was speaking this past week, I knew this city of 27,000 was someplace special. She said that the city has a slogan, “Health, History and Horses”, which gives a good description of this beautiful town that was founded in 1776. The town was popular for the mineral springs that were located there and they attracted many people that felt the springs brought healing qualities to those who soaked in the water. There are still remnants of the hospital-like buildings that housed the spas and the hotels still feature massage and spa facilities.
In 1863, the Saratoga Race Course was opened and became a great tourist attraction for the horse racing and gambling that was popular at the time. For almost a hundred years, Saratoga Springs prospered as the horse racing and gambling grew in popularity. In the 1950’s, there was a crackdown on gambling and it led to the closing of many facilities and the eventual demolition of some of the famous hotels that catered to the out of town visitors.
After several years of decline, the town made investments in facilities such as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and the tourists started coming back to enjoy classical and popular music and other attractions.
I had time to visit Downtown Saratoga Springs and it is one of the nicer Main Streets (Broadway) in America. The streets are very wide for such an historic town and they feature a combination of historic buildings with some newer, modern buildings interspersed in the downtown area. They have large, fiberglass horses placed throughout the downtown area and each is painted in a unique theme. There are also several ‘ballet shoe’ fiberglass sculptures in the downtown which pay tribute to the history of dance and ballet in the area. The National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame is in Saratoga Springs and the New York City Ballet has summer residencies in the town.
Walking along the downtown streets, there was something to be discovered on almost every corner. A beautiful park is located just off Broadway and it features a large carousel that is popular with young children who ride the colorful horses throughout the summer. There is also a public fountain available for people to taste the mineral water. I drank a handful of water and it had a distinctive taste that probably takes a little while to get used to. Dozens of stores and restaurants are located along Broadway and I found a small restaurant named Compton’s to enjoy a delicious breakfast. There is also a lot of restoration work being done to preserve some of the historical buildings and I stopped to watch the meticulous work being done to the exterior of a beautiful old building.
As I was leaving the historic Gideon Putnam Hotel to return to the Albany Airport, I had one last memory while driving down the “Avenue of the Pines”, a two-lane road flanked by huge pine trees. Saratoga Springs is an Amazing city with lots to do and see. I am planning to return with my wife and hopefully, we can stay a few days and take in some of the other sights in this beautiful part of the country.