Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Taste of Saratoga's Gilded Age--Hotels

This summer I went to Saratoga Springs to finish up a little research on my western historical novel about a Texan who comes to Saratoga in hopes of bringing back a cultured wife and gets a great deal more than he bargains for.

Saratoga Springs was the Queen of the Spa resorts with the added benefits of horse racing and a first rate casino as well as proximity to New York City from which it drew a large part of its monied clientele, attracting the likes of Vanderbilts, Fisks, Goulds and Asters. For a time, it boasted the largest hotels in the world such as the Grand Union Hotel where congressman, senators and bankers gathered, The United States Hotel where the likes of Vanderbilts, Goulds and Rockfellers held court on the piazza and Congress Hall which hosted the Asters and other old New York scions.

The scope of these hotels was monumental. The Grand Union was updated several times but in 1875, when my novel takes place, it claimed a ballroom that was 85 x 60 feet with 27 foot high celings from which hung three large crystal chandeliers. Covering seven acres right on Broadway, it had over 824 rooms available, some of them cottages which rented for $125 per day. It boasted two miles of corridors, twelve acres of carpet and an acre of marble. The Grand Union dining room was capable of handling up to 1400 guests at a sitting " with 35 coooks, 200 waiters, 12 carvers dispensing 1200 quarts of milk, 1500 pounds of beef, 80 chickens and 250 quarts of strawberries" or so the guide book of the day related. (The Grand Union Hotel by Beatrice Sweeny, City Historian Saratoga Springs, New York).

A block down Broadway, The United States Hotel was almost as grand encompassing a three-acre park within its boundaries and 768 guest rooms and cottage suites all equipped with marble washstands and cold running water and some of the suites also offered a private bath. It also had a large ballroom and spacious dining room, all superbly appointed. Congress Hall was on a slightly smaller scale but all three lined the main street with large piazza's overlooking Broadway. Seen in one long sweep the hotels made quite an architectural display.

Added to this in 1877 was the Adelphi Hotel, squeezed in between the Grand Union and the United States. The Adelphi's piazza also overlooked the street and added to the unified architecture of these great hotels. The Adelphi only had a little more than 150 rooms but it entertained some of Saratoga's elite as well, including John Morrissey, the colorful Tammany Hall politician who helped bring racing and gambling to The Springs. He died at the Adelphi in 1878 with citizens keeping vigil outside its doors.

The Adelphi's smaller stature is what helped save it from the fate of it's bigger sister hotels. As modern conveniences such as elevators, electrical wiring, indoor plumbing, central heating, phones, etc. were required by vacationers, updating such mammoth palaces became financially prohibitive. With travel made easier, more options opened up. By the 1920's these grande dames were shadows of their former self. By the forties they were in substantial decline. The United States went up in smoke during that decade and the wrecking ball signaled the demise of the Grand Union in 1953.

The Adelphi, however, managed to hang in there and in 1977 the current owners purchased it and started to restore it to it's former glory. Today, you can get a taste of the grandeur of Saratoga's Gilded Age with a stay at the Adelphi where all modern conveniences await you as you step back in time. We stayed at the Adelphi during our visit in a beautifully appointed Queen suite and savored every wonderful minute of it. Below are pictures of the hotel so you too can step back in time.

More on Saratoga Springs and it's unique history in the next blog.


J Hali said...


The Adelphi looks magnificent. How lucky you were to stay there. Your story sounds fantastic. Seeing the pictures reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Saratoga Trunk, with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.

Thanks for sharing these.

Autumn Jordon said...

Just beautiful. It looks and sounds like you had a great trip. Did you make it to the racetrack also?

Btw, it was great having lunch with you in DC. Hope we can do it again.

Thanks for sharing.


Shobhan Bantwal said...

Hey Carol,

Lovely pictures of the Adelphi and some great historical tidbits. Thanks for sharing.

Took me back to your lovely story, In the Hands of a Texan. I could easily picture your characters lounging on one of those ornate settees. Hope you made it to the racetrack.

Never got to read the second half of your ms, but hopefully I'll get to read the finished book when it comes out in the future.

Keep up the good work.

Release Sept 1, 2009

Evangeline said...

This is really great information! I watched an old movie with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman that was set in 1870s Saratoga and it looked marvelous back then! I feel a plot coming on...*g*

tess quinn said...

beautiful pictures and great information!

thanks, anne <3Nisha

w/a Tess Quinn

Anne Carrole said...

Thanks everyone who stopped by! It was a great vacation. And J Hali, I think the movie Evangeline is citing is indeed Saratoga Trunk which was also a book by Edna Ferber. Her Texan was enamored with a pretty cajun "lady" and together they were intent on bilking the wealthy of their ill-gotten gains. It was definitely a fun story and the movie certainly captured your imagination as to what Saratoga was like back then!

Anne Carrole said...

Autumn, re: racing--we got to the harness racing but the "flats" weren't running then. And it was great seeing you in DC as well. Hope to see you at Sept.'s meeting.

Anne Carrole said...

And thanks Shobhan for all your support--now if only my Texas/Saratoga story can find a home!:)