“Health, History, Horses,” has been the well-known slogan of Saratoga Springs for many decades.
The Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois nation believed that the mineral springs found in the area were a gift of the great god Manitou and were to be used wisely to restore health and well-being.
The naturally carbonated mineral waters of Saratoga Springs, NY are a precious natural resource and are the area’s greatest asset. These waters flow from the earth heavily charged with carbon dioxide gas and many vital minerals in solution. The various springs have diverse characteristics all of which were purported to offer specific remedies.
From the beginning people believed that drinking or bathing in the waters was helpful in treating a wide variety of medical conditions. The first bathing tubs were primitive wood troughs. As Saratoga Springs grew, more attractive bathing facilities were provided.
Alexander Bryan built the first bath house at Red Spring, just north of High Rock Spring. Waters here were said to be particularly effective in treating skin diseases and eye inflammation. As other springs were discovered, bathhouses sprang up nearby.
Cure institutes, popular during the second half of the 19th century, provided room, board and water related medical treatment for health seekers. The day began at 4:00 a.m. with the first bath, followed by a walk and a drink of spring water, the first of more than 20 per day. In addition to full baths, half baths and foot baths, patients might also receive water injections. Many of these institutions included a regimen of temperance in which patients had to lead a quiet life and avoid swearing, gambling, tobacco and alcohol.
State ownership brought an emphasis on improving the facilities surrounding the springs. Large bath houses were built to accommodate thousands of daily visitors, including large numbers of ethnic groups from Europe for whom taking the waters was a way of life. The major development was the opening in 1935 of the Saratoga Spa, a health complex designed to rival the best of the European spas. Holistic in approach, it encouraged a regimen of diet, sleep, exercise and recreation, in addition to taking the waters. The Spa featured a new drink hall, a concert hall, the Roosevelt bath houses, the Gideon Putnam Hotel, a research laboratory, heated swimming pool, tennis and archery. A 9-hole “therapeutic” golf course was built on level ground to allow even heart patients to play, and was laid out so that weaker patients could play 1, 3, 5 or 9 holes and still finish at the clubhouse.
Today, Saratoga Spa State Park is home to a hotel and conference center, public swimming and many recreational facilities, but it is still the Baths that draw the most interest and use from visitors. Learn more by visiting the Heritage Area Visitor Center, 297 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. We offer self-guided walking tour brochures and information about the mineral springs throughout the city.