Hi everyone! A few Saturdays ago, my sweet husband and I took a guided walking tour of Congress Park in Saratoga Springs (NY), a 45 minute drive north of us. Frederick Law Olmsted, of NYC Central Park fame, designed portions of the 43 acre park, and Chester French, the man behind the Lincoln Memorial, designed The Spirit of Life, one of the park’s many statues.
When one hears the name Saratoga, one’s mind typically turns to horses because of the famous track in town, but in its heighday (during the 19th century), it was known for its healing mineral waters. And unbeknownst to me, it was also known as the “Monte Carlo of America,” drawing families like the Whitney’s and Vanderbilt’s to town to gamble.
The historic Canfield Casino, built in 1870, sits inside the boundaries of Congress Park. It now houses the Saratoga Springs History Museum, which we had the pleasure of visiting after our walking tour.
I’m going backwards, I know, starting with the museum, but here we are(!). One floor is dedicated to the history of gambling in Saratoga. The “high stakes” room displays a number of games of chance, like this roulette wheel.
It is quite opulent.
Filled with many opportunities to lose big money.
And a stunning Tiffany window.
A separate room tells the story of the seedier side of Saratoga, including the illegal gambling and prostitution that went on. An enlarged version of this photo of “Diamond” Jim Brady and Lillian Russell fills one wall in the room, giving evidence of Saratoga’s darker past.
But let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? Once the city’s trolly station, this beautiful old building now houses the Saratoga Visitor Center. Our 10:30 am tour ($8.00 pp) started at this point.
Our tour guide did a terrific job describing Saratoga’s history and pointing out all the important features of the park.
At our first stop, he introduced us to Congress Spring, one of several in the Park. It is protected by it’s own Greek Pavilion. Many more such springs can be found in the greater Saratoga Springs area. This spring, perhaps the most famous, trickles with the purest, least mineral-ly water of all the springs I’ve tasted over the years. Our guide supplied us with cups to sample it, and as we stood around savoring the flavor, several walkers, joggers, and bicyclists stopped by to fill their bottles. It’s a very popular spot.
As we began to wend our way through the park, we stopped at a second spring that tasted much stronger, fun to try, but not something I need to taste again. [Isn’t my sweet husband handsome?]
It looks so clear and refreshing, but it’s not! A few of the springs in the area are tapped for baths because going back to Native American days, it was thought the minerals had healing properties. I’d much rather bathe in it than drink it.
As I’m sure you can tell, we were blessed with a perfect day for a walking tour.
Dr. John Clark, who bought Congress Spring in 1826 and touted its healing powers, lived in this mansion on the back boundary of the park.
Not too far down the street we passed this magnificent home.
On the back edge of the park, looking down, we could see this WWI Memorial Pavilion.
Swinging back down into the park proper, we found a small “pool” surrounded by fabulous urns.
I couldn’t get enough of them and the Boston ferns that cascaded from them.
Farther along, we passed the WWI Pavilion, at ground level this time.
The park has so many lovely features.
It is extremely popular with a variety of duck species, I’m sure because they are well-fed, despite numerous signs asking visitors to avoid feeding them(!).
The water features throughout the park make strolling through it so enjoyable.
Curving around toward the a back corner of the park, we passed through the Italian Renaissance garden that included several statues similar to this faun.
A little further along, we encountered “Spit and Spat,” (Triton & Misenus) in the Triton Pool, which strongly reminded me of Italy.
They are carved from Italian Carrara marble by an unknown artist.
In the 1990’s, Congress Park became home to a Coney Island carousel, protected from the elements by this eight-sided building. Rides cost just one dollar.
We made our final stop at a memorial for Spencer Trask (d.1909), in recognition of his significant contribution to the city of Saratoga Springs.
As I mentioned, Chester French, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, also designed The Spirit of Life statue that adorns the memorial. His home in Stockbridge (MA), now a museum, is on my “to do” list.
Thanks so much for stopping by to tour Congress Park with me and my sweet husband.
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Bye for now,
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