Gideon Putnam; his Great Services to Saratoga Springs .

{For a portion of this sketch I am indebted to the Hand Book of my lamented friend, the late Dr. R.L. Allen – a book which, for thoroughness and accuracy, up to the period of its date, will perhaps never be equalled.}


"When time with moss

Shall overgrow his monumental stone,

And crumble the pale marble into dust,

His memory shall live; his name shall shine

On history’s page."


GIDEON PUTNAM, the grandfather of Mrs. Dr. R.L. Allen, and of the late Washington, Rockwell, and Lewis Putnam, was the son of Rufus and Mary Putnam, and was born in the town of Sutton, Mass., in 1764. Purchasing his majority of his father for one hundred dollars, and marrying a Miss Risley of Hartford, Conn., he at once set out to seek his fortune – his only means of support being a strong arm and a determined will. Reaching Middlebury, Vt., he halted, and in a primeval wilderness erected a log-cabin. {The site of this cabin is now occupied by the Middlebury College buildings.} This cabin was built around a white-oak stump, squared upon the top, and which served as a table. The cabin was without a chimney; the seats of three logs of wood; and the entire household furniture of the young couple consisted of three tea-cups and saucers, three plates, three knives and forks, a kettle, an earthen tea-pot, and a spider! There was a grist-mill forty miles from them, but a dense forest lay between, "blazed" trees alone pointing out the way. In this dilemma they cut out the top of the stump, and with a wooden pestle fitted to the excavation ground their grain. At length, not finding this situation quite to their minds, they removed to Rutland, Vt., and while here their eldest son, Benjamin, was born. From Rutland they removed to the "Five Nations," or "Bemis Flats," where they were joined by Dr. Clement Blakesley and his wife, who was a sister of Mrs. Putnam. The lay of the country, the quality of the soil, and the appearance of the timber suited him; and he immediately put up a log-house, which was occupied by the two families. But the elements were against him, and proved more than a match even for Putnam’s indomitable energy. A terrific rain-storm, falling in the middle of the night, flooded the surrounding country, and drove the hardy pioneers, with their wives and children, on to their beds and furniture out of reach of the water, which covered the cabin floor. Without, as far as they could see, was one vast sheet of water. In this condition was this bold, vigorous, and determined man caged, and unable to extricate either himself or his household. But fortune had not deserted them; for in the midst of this seeming helplessness – while naught was around them save the roaring waters and the "blackness of darkness" – a kind neighbor, by the name of Zophar Scidmore, living on the east shore of the Lake, on the present "Cleveland Place," came to their rescue with his sail-boat and a light canoe in tow. On nearing the cabin he fastened the sail-boat to some flood-wood which they piled upon the bank, rowed his canoe up to the door of the cabin, and conveyed Mrs. Putnam and her young child to his sail-boat. Scidmore then took Mrs. Putnam and the child and conveyed them to his own house. After safely disposing of his passengers, he returned to the flood-wood, whither during his absence the remainder of the family had been conveyed in the canoe by Putnam. Reloading his little craft with Mrs. Blakesley and the other child, he returned to his house, and in the course of the day rescued the whole family, and lodged them safely beneath his hospitable roof. This calamity induced Putnam to abandon his improvements at Bemis Flats. Accordingly, after the storm was over, he, with his family, and in company with Dr. and Mrs. Blakesley, left the house of his benefactor, and entered on an Indian trail, which he followed to the Springs, then scarcely known. This occurred in 1789. On arriving at what is now the village of Saratoga Springs, he selected a piece of land near a fresh-water spring, where he built a log-cabin. This land is now owned by Mr. William H. Clement, whose stone house, in the western part of the village, stands a few rods east of the site of Putnam’s primitive residence.

On reviewing his position at Saratoga, Putnam said to his wife: "This is a healthy place; the mineral springs are valuable, and the timber is good and in great abundance, and I can build me a great house ," a desire which had haunted him from childhood. He at once leased three hundred acres of land, girdled the trees about him, put in crops, and when he could not work upon the farm he employed himself in making staves and shingles, which he carried to the Hudson River, at the mouth of Fish Creek. The ensuing spring he put them in a raft, and floated them to New York City, where he met with a ready sale and returned with means to build a saw-mill. On his arrival home he found a new neighbor, by the name of William Patchen, a wheelwright by trade, with whose help he soon had his mill in successful operation. This mill was northwest from his house, and the pond belonging to it has been known to many generations of boys of the village by the name of "Put’s Pond," and has been a favorite swimming-place ever since. The next spring, Putnam’s sawed lumber, together with his staves and shingles, which he took to New York, brought him a handsome sum for his year’s labor. With the funds he thus obtained, he clothed himself and family, provided himself with a great variety of necessaries, and brought home besides a peck-measure of silver coin in an old-fashioned pair of saddle-bags, with which money he paid for the three hundred acres of land he had previously held by a lease. But his new garments had so changed his personal appearance that his wife did not know him on his return. One fancy article, brought back with him, was a new silk umbrella, which his eldest daughter sported on the next Sunday. Near the saw-mill pond was the "Indian Joe Field," which had been cleared and cultivated by the Indians. Some of the herbs now growing there are said to have been originally planted by the Indians. {A few rods north of President Allen’s house on the Bryan farm, near the old "Pest House," there is yet standing an old orchard (called to this day "The Indian Orchard"), planted by the Mohawks about 1776.}

The third year after, Putnam and his brother-in-law Blakesley built their cabins on opposite sides of the road, the latter left, and the former enlarged his cabin and occupied it himself. From this cabin Putnam moved back into the locality which is now the present village, and occupied for the year the house owned by Thaddeus Smith, and which was destroyed by fire in 1863. Shortly afterwards, however, he moved into a new log cabin which stood upon the spot where the building occupied by the SARATOGIAN office and First National Bank now stands. While living here he purchased, in 1802, of Henry Walton, one acre of land, removed a few of the primitive trees, and built seventy feet of the present Grand Union – his mechanics meanwhile lodging in the attic of the cabin, to which they went up on the outside by a ladder, their table being set out of doors. The spot was then in the midst of the forest, and so large a building was a novel thing for the period. A wagon-way had been made at this time between Saratoga and Ballston; and just as Putnam had his house completed, some gentlemen riding past, and observing the house, said, in the hearing of Putnam, "That man has forgotten the admonition of John Rogers, ‘Build not your house-top too high.’ " This was the realization of the day-dreams of Putnam’s childhood. His sign, which was a rudely-painted representation of the adventure of "General Putnam and the wolf," is now in the possession of one of his grandsons, Dr. Loren B. Putnam. The painting on the sign – a facsimile of which is given on the opposite page {below – BC} – shows Putnam at the mouth of the cave grasping a wolf by the ears, while one of the neighbors holds the adventurous youth by the boots in readiness to pull him out in case the animal proves too much for him. His colored servant, with musket and powder-horn, stands near, while his friends and faithful dogs are intently watching the results of the adventure. {In Saratoga and How to See it , the author has made a singular historical mistake in confounding Gideon Putnam with the hero of the "Battle of Long Island" – General Israel Putnam, of Revolutionary fame. The writer says: "The painting illustrates an incident of General Putnam’s bravery while a citizen of Connecticut and before he emigrated to Saratoga"!! This is almost as bad as the story told by a correspondent of a New York paper a few years since, when he located the "Battle of Saratoga" on the high ground overlooking [ sic ] Congress Spring – further stating, also, that Burgoine surrendered to General Greene! Even during the College Regatta of 1874 another correspondent gravely asserted that one of the boat crews was staying near the Schuyler mansion which Burgoyne fired during his retreat! Is not the schoolmaster on American history "abroad"?}

This sign used to afford much mirth for the wits of the day, one of whom – the editor of the Literary Picture Gallery , published at Ballston in 1808 – writes as follows: "The celebrated painting of Putnam and the Wolf, of Saratoga, has of late been a subject of animated discussion between an American artist of high celebrity, and a travelled gentleman of New York well known for his exquisite taste in the fine arts. The connoisseur contends that this admirable piece, exhibiting all the terrible graces of Salvator Rosa, must be the production of some Italian artist of the seventeenth century, and consequently can have no allusion to any adventure of the American hero whose name is inscribed on the picture. Colonel T-----, on the contrary, maintains that it is evident from the internal marks that the artist can be no other than the illustrious Vander Daub, who came over to this country in the suite of the Dutch Ambassador soon after the Peace. Who shall decide where doctors disagree?" {For this anecdote I am indebted to Mr. C.C. Dawson, who furnished it to me in his letter printed in Appendix I. of this work.}

The old Putnam tavern was on the site of the present Grand Union, owned and occupied by his descendants until 1864, when it was purchased by the Leland Brothers, who, with a strange lack of good taste, changed its name from "Union Hall" to the one it now bears.

In 1805, Putnam purchased of Henry Walton another strip of land, which was forty-four rods wide and four hundred and seventy-two rods and seven feet long, and extended from the east side of what is now Franklin Street to the lands of Jacobus Barhydt, containing one hundred and thirty acres. On the west end of this purchase he laid out a village, at the same time appropriating, at its southwest corner, a piece of land as a burying-ground. This he afterward gave to the village.

Nor was the giving of the ground for a grave-yard the extent of this noble man’s generosity. At the time he laid out the village, he set apart the site of the present Baptist Church, on which to erect a house of worship; and, with a truly catholic spirit, directed it to be given to any religious society who should place upon it a suitable building. The Baptist Society were, in 1821, the first applicants, and it was accordingly deeded to them by the heirs of Gideon Putnam.

Indeed, it is to Putnam that the village is indebted, more than to any other individual, for improvements at the Springs during this period of history. His enterprise and energy cleared away the forest trees from the adjacent plains, converted the rich pineries into materials and means for the further development of the town, erected public buildings for the accommodation of visitors, opened highways about the village, improved and laid out its streets, and excavated, tubed, and secured the mineral springs. He was, emphatically, the man of his day in the locality; and he made such an impression on the place of his choice, that his name must co-exist with the history of the village which his energy did so much to develop. He possessed a will which no ordinary obstacle could long withstand; and by his exertions the din and hum of civilization soon took the place of the deep and solemn murmur of the primitive pine forest.

In 1806, he excavated and tubed the Washington (Clarendon) Spring, and soon afterwards tubed the present Columbian Spring. The number of strangers at Saratoga began now to increase annually, some of whom would call up from the neighboring village of Ballston, take dinner with Putnam at Union Hall, drink the Congress water, and return to Ballston. About this time he built a bath-house on the ground directly north of Congress Spring, and to supply it with mineral water he excavated a mineral spring, about fifteen feet west of the present Congress Fountain.

Putnam next tubed the Hamilton Spring, and some time afterwards moved his bathing-house from its former site near the Congress Spring to the Hamilton. In 1811, he began the erection of Congress Hall; but while the masons were plastering the north end of the piazza, the scaffolding on which he was walking at the time gave way, and the entire party were precipitated on to the timbers and rocks below, the floor not having yet been laid. The master-mason, Sullard, died instantly, his neck being broken, and all the workmen who fell being more or less injured. Putnam, who had some of his ribs broken, and was confined to his bed for several weeks after the accident, never fully recovered from the injuries he received by this fall. In the following November he was attacked by inflammation of the lungs, of which he died on the first day of December, 1812. He was the first to be laid in the burying-ground which he had presented to the village. Thus ended the earthly career of this hardy, resolute, and enterprising pioneer, whose labors were so interwoven with the early history of Saratoga.



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