Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saratoga Gilded Age--Spas and Gambling

You might think that health and gambling weren't necessarily compatible ingredients for profitable success but in the Gilded Age, health and speculation were very much on the mind of the population. As the industrial age moved the populace from merely sustaining life to having choices in what one ate and drank, an interest in a healthy lifestyle took root, particularly amongst those with money to make those choices. And with the advent of the stock exchange and the rise in capital speculation came wide spread interest in gambling, again by those with money to entertain such pursuits. Saratoga offered both to its patrons and they flocked to it. While it probably wasn't solely demarcated along gender lines, health did seem on the minds of the ladies while gambling was the preferred leisure of the male population. Saratoga offered something for them both.

With several mineral springs, visitors to Saratoga Springs had their favorites. For instance the Old Red Spring, which today is located near commercial enterprises on a busy street, has an abundance of calcium bicarbonate and a great deal of iron and was known as the Beauty Spring because it helped with anemia (restoring a glow to the skin) and was thought an effective treatment for many skin diseases as calcium was used to treat skin lesions in days gone by. A note to those who take a gulp--beware--it tastes like its ingredients! Indeed, much of the various springs offer water that is metallic and alkaline in taste.

Congress Spring, located on Broadway in Congress Park is an exception to the taste warning as is the State Seal Spring located in Saratoga Spa State Park. Congress Spring supplied the original Saratoga Spring Water, bottled and sold for it's mineral properties and taste.

Many other springs besides the State Seal Spring are located in Saratoga Spa State Park--a short buggy ride/car ride from the center of Broadway. I've listed them along with their purported properties.

Geyser Spring--works as an antacid, aids in digestion

Hayes Spring--used as a treatment of liver, gall bladder and digestive tract disorders. The high salt content in this spring produces a laxative effect!

Orenda Spring--high potassium iodide and possesses laxative properties!

Beware of the Polaris Spring which perches handily beside the roadway with no signage (none of the springs in the park have very much in the way of signs which makes finding them a bit of an adventure.) It has high radioactive content, yet sits ready to be tasted. I made the mistake of taking a gulp in my quest to have an authentic taste experience of all the springs not realizing it was the Polaris Spring until too late. So far, no ill effects.

The park also contains the Roosevelt Bath Houses (built in the 1930s and restored) where you can take a mineral bath, duplicating the bath houses that were popular in the park back in the day.

Pictures of the various springs are below.

A trip back to Congress State Park and the Congress spring and you'll find Canfield Hall, the original building that was opened in 1870 as a gambling facility (despite the fact that gambling was never legal in the city) by John Morrissey. Known quaintly as The Clubhouse, women were allowed in the saloon but not in the gambling halls--though there are many stories about some determined efforts by a few women to gain entry. Nor did John allow permanent residents of the city to gamble in his casino for fear that a losing resident would seek revenge via enforcement of the town ordinances. It must have worked because the club thrived for a long time, eventually being sold to Richard Canfield in 1894. It is now Saratoga's museum with part of it still set up as a gambling hall (pictures below) People bet and lost fortunes in The Clubhouse where Wall Street elites such as Morgans and Vanderbilts mingled with other bankers, railroad men, congressmen and cattle barons. Along with the famous race track, the casino was a major attraction to those who liked to speculate with their money.

Coming next will be the great houses of Saratoga Springs and that will be the last about my vacation to the Queen of the Spas.


Kathye Quick said...

Love the photos and your post.

Makes me want to try my hand at a western

Anne Carrole said...

I know you'd do a great job, Kathye!