An Interior View of Saratoga Springs fifty years ago .


"He speaks as a spectator, not officially ,

And always, reader, in a modest way;

Perhaps, too, in no very great degree, shall he

Appear to have offended in this lay."

Note to Beppo , Stanza xlvi.


IN presenting a view of Saratoga Springs and its inhabitants as it appeared fifty years ago, I cannot, perhaps, do better, than by giving my readers an extract from the diary of an English traveller, James Stewart, who visited Saratoga, while on a tour in the United States in 1828. { Three Years in North America , by James Stewart, Esq. From the Second London Edition. New York, published by J. & J. Harper, 82 Cliff Street, New York. 1833.} It would have been comparatively easy for the author to have written this chapter from his own conversations with residents themselves, but as a view from a foreigner unbiassed is of more value, I quote him entire.

"Saratoga Springs, the great watering-place of the United States, is situated on high, dry ground, at the distance of seventeen miles southward from Glen’s Falls. We came here on the 20 th of September (1828). The weather had previously become comparatively cool, and the multitude had taken their departure. The great hotels were about to close. Intending to remain for some time, we went to one of the lesser houses, open for visitors during the whole year, and afterwards to a private boarding-house. The gentleman who had accompanied us from Britain left us, to our regret. On his return, a few days after, we reached this village. It consists of a fine broad street, fringed with trees, having so many large and splendid hotels, that it appeared to me that there were more extensive accommodation for company than at Harrowgate. Fifteen hundred people have been known to arrive in a week. They come from all parts of the States, even from New Orleans, at the distance of between two and three thousand miles, to avoid the heat and unhealthy weather which prevail in the southern part of the States during the end of the summer, and to enjoy the very wholesome and pleasant mineral waters of Saratoga.

"The Indians were acquainted with the medicinal qualities of those waters before the country was known to Europeans. Their attention was attracted by the great quantity of game, and occasionally of wild cattle, that frequented the place. The first communication by the Indians was made to Sir William Johnson on the Mohawk River, when he was in bad health in the year 1767. They conveyed him to the springs, cutting a road for him through the forests. Sir William’s health improved, and he made known the virtues of the water. The Revolutionary war prevented the springs from being resorted to for many years; and in 1787, {The writer here is in error – the Springs at Ballston having been discovered much earlier. See chapter on Ballston. – Author .} similar springs were discovered at Ballston, seven miles from Saratoga Springs. Hotels were erected there, the land being at that time the property of more enterprising persons; and it was not till the Congress Water at Saratoga Springs was discovered, about twenty-five years ago, that much was done with a view to provide accommodation for strangers. The medical properties of the waters at the different springs, of which there are fourteen here, and four at Ballston, are owing to their containing, in various proportions, muriate of soda, carbonate of soda, carbonate of lime, carbonate of magnesia, carbonate of iron, and carbonic acid gas.

"The quantity of fixed air in the Congress Water is much greater than any of the waters here or at Ballston, and vastly exceeds anything yet discovered in this or any other country. The medical gentlemen say that the large quantity of the gas, combined with the marine salt and various carbonates, give to the Congress Water, in its cathartic properties, a decided superiority over every water of the same kind hitherto discovered. The temperature at the bottom of the spring is 50 degrees of Fahrenheit; and suffers no change in winter or summer; neither does the season of the year affect the quantity of the water. The taste is very agreeable, and the briskness of the water at the fountain delightful. Three or four pint tumblers are generally taken in the morning before breakfast.

"We also, as most people do, use it at meals from choice, although it is never so good as at the fountain, before there is any escape of gas. The people resident in the village and its neighborhood, within six or eight miles of the place, have it carried to their houses, preferring it very much to ordinary spring water. The quantity of gas is such that a very nice sort of breakfast bread is baked with Congress Water instead of yeast. So large a quantity of it is bottled, and sent all over the States, that the proprietors, Messrs. Lynch & Clarke, are said to derive a very great revenue from it. Even the American packet-ships are supplied with it in abundance. Seltzer Water, in the bottled state, is as pleasant as Congress Water, except at the fountain.

"The use of the water is chiefly recommended in bilious, dyspeptic, and calculous complaints, for diseases of the skin, and for chronic rheumatism; but the great bulk of the people who resort to these celebrated springs, many of them regularly once a year, come for amusement, and for the preservation rather than the recovery of health, at a period of the year when the violence of the heat renders a visit to a high and comparatively a cold country very desirable. I found the water and baths of Harrowgate so beneficial for a trifling complaint, for which I tried them last year, that we resolved to remain here and at Ballston Springs for a couple of months. The gay people had almost disappeared before we arrived. The invalids seem to live very sparingly – hardly tasting any liquid but the water, and tea, which here, and at other places where we have been, we sometimes observe ladies take at dinner. Many of those invalids are quite able to take exercise in the open air on foot, and would, if I am not much mistaken, derive as much benefit from it, if taken in moderation, as from the use of the water; but they seem to confine themselves to a five or ten minutes’ walk in the morning, when they go to the fountain, and to a drive in an open carriage for an hour or an hour and a half. When they meet us walking several miles for exercise and the pleasure of being in the open air, they, whether acquainted with us or not, frequently stop their vehicles, and very civilly offer us a ride with them, and can hardly believe us serious when we, in declining to avail ourselves of their kindly-meant offer, tell them that we prefer walking. There are few more striking points of difference between this country and Britain than in the numbers of people who ride and walk on the public roads. It absolutely seems disgraceful to be seen walking; and though there are no fine equipages here, every one rides in his gig, dearborn, or open carriage of some description or other. This, no doubt, proves the easy circumstances of the mass of people, as well as the value of time to a mechanic or laborer, whose wages may be from one to two dollars a day, and who, in consequence of the saving of time, finds it better to pay for a conveyance than to walk. Still, I am persuaded that our habits in this respect are far more favorable to health, and that dyspepsia, a very general complaint in New York State and in this country, is in no inconsiderable degree owing to the people supposing that enough of exercise can be had in carriages and wagons, especially be people who partake largely of animal food three times a day, or who hardly ever walk a mile, or mount on horseback.

"‘There are four great hotels. Congress Hall, the largest, is 200 feet long, with two immense wings. The United States Hotel contains as much accommodation. This is the hotel to which the ex-King Joseph Bonaparte resorts when he pays an annual visit to the Springs. He now associates at the public table as an American citizen, which he did not do at first on coming to this country. There are, of course, public reading-rooms, library, and ball-rooms, and a newspaper press. Backgammon boards and draught or checquer boards, as they are called here, are in the bar-rooms generally all over the country; the bar-keeper not unfrequently plays at checquers with the people, who appear as respectable as any in the house. Backgammon is not so often played here. Cards are seldom seen.

"We have here, and in the whole of our excursion hitherto, been much less annoyed with mosquitoes than we expected. The common fly has been far more troublesome; and in the canal-boat, and twice or thrice in hotels, we have had to submit to be tortured by bugs.

"Apples are very abundant in this neighborhood, sold 3d. sterling per bushel. We see large quantities of them dried by exposure to the sun; first pared and cut in quarters, and then laid in any convenient situation, frequently on the house-tops. Peaches are dried in the same way. Apple-sauce is made of the apples thus prepared, which is used with roast beef and many other dishes, without any mixture of sugar.

"The whole appearance of the place is cheerful – the population residing in the village between 2,000 and 3,000. There are four or five churches, with spires covered with tin glittering through the trees – Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Universalist, the first two rather handsome houses of some size. There was not public worship regularly in all the churches, the crowded season being over, but two of them at least were open every Sunday; the sermons good plain discourses, but there was no eminent preacher when we were there. In the Methodist and Universalist churches the males occupy the pews on one side of the church, and the females on the other. The practice we afterwards found not unusual in the Methodist churches in the United States. The Methodists generally kneel at prayer, and stand while singing, but the practice varies in different churches. Ladles are common, as they used to be in Scotland, handed about by the church officers or deacons for offerings of money, previously to the last prayer; the singing good, usually accompanied by instrumental music, and but few of the congregation joining. Everywhere there is a band of singers. The deacons and congregation very attentive in giving seats to strangers. There is no whispering or speaking in church before the clergyman comes in. There are few people of color in the churches, and such of them as are there, assemble in a corner separate from the rest of the people. Such of the inhabitants as do not go to church seem to be under no restrictions. They shoot, or work, or amuse themselves as they choose. We saw a house get a thorough repair on two Sundays, but this is not usual.


"On the 12 th of October, we were, for the first time, and quite accidentally, present at a funeral. It was on a Sunday, when it so happened that there was no service at the Baptist church, to which we went in the afternoon. We were surprised to find it much more crowded than when we had been there previously, and took our seats on the front row in the low part of the church, which was the only one empty. One of the deacons observing this, procured accommodation for us in an adjoining seat, whispering that the seat in which we had placed ourselves was reserved for the mourners of a funeral about to take place. The family and their relations soon appeared, but before they were seated the body of the deceased, a respectable farmer and proprietor’s wife, of the name of ------, who had died on the preceding day, laid in a coffin of cherry-tree wood, was set down on four chairs in the front of the seat appropriated for the mourners, and between it and the pulpit. The body remained in church during the service, the clergyman of course preaching a sermon suited to the occasion. When the service was concluded, the coffin was carried to the churchyard, and there, very near the church door, was placed on a bench. The upper part of the lid of the coffin, which was hinged, was opened, and the face of the deceased, which was covered by a piece of glass, was looked at by her friends, and the body not removed until all the congregation who wished had an opportunity of looking at the countenance of the deceased. The coffin was then placed in a very small, plain hearse, being drawn by a single horse to the burying-ground at some little distance, followed first of all by the clergyman, and then, in pairs, by relations and friends, the congregation following in such order as they liked. The body was deposited in the grave, and after a few spadefuls of earth were thrown into it, the clergyman expressed in a few words the gratitude of the family for the attendance on the occasion. The relations, with only one or two exceptions, then went away, leaving it to the grave-digger and assistants to complete the work.

"Burying ground is very generally unconnected with a church, and very frequently farmers rail in a small piece of ground near their houses, to be used as such. The people pay little attention to their dress on such occasions as that I have mentioned. Several of the mourners wore white gowns, and yellow straw bonnets with black ribbons. Even at New York, where the mourners were in coaches, I observed many of the men without any other mourning clothes than a piece of crape on the hat. Women generally attend funerals in this country.

"Both here and at Ballston doors are very generally left unlocked during the night. Shutters to the windows are not common. Clothes are left out to bleach during the night on the unenclosed greens in the villages. On my wife applying for a washer-woman two or three days ago to wash some clothes, our landlady said that they should be washed in the house, and she would get a lady to assist. The lady, when she appeared, turned out to be a lady of color. It will not do here to talk of the lower classes; ‘send for that fellow, – order such a woman to come here.’ Language of that kind will not be tolerated by any part of the community. The feeling of self-respect exists almost universally.

"Soap and candles are very generally manufactured at home. Wax candles are much used even in ordinary boarding-houses, and said to be almost as cheap as those made of tallow; much use is made in washing of water run off wood-ashes. Where tallow candles are not made at home, it is usual to exchange the wood-ashes, and the fat offals from meat used in the family, with the manufacturer, for soap and candles.

"In the beginning of October, the morning became frosty, and the ice occasionally of some thickness, but the sun had great influence in the middle of the day, so that Fahrenheit’s thermometer generally rose, in the course of the day, to 70 degrees, sometimes to 78 degrees. –and during the whole month we had a cloudless sky and pure atmosphere – finer weather than I ever before witnessed at this season. The leaves of the trees began to change their colors soon after the month commenced, and acquired at different periods colors of such beauty and brilliancy as are not to be seen in Britain. The maple became of a fine scarlet, the hickory and walnut as yellow as a crocus, and the sumach of a deep red or scarlet. The appearance of an American forest at this season is altogether superior in magnificence, beauty, and clearness of tint to any similar scene in other countries. During this spell of charming autumn weather, which is called by the Americans the Indian summer, we made various excursions to the neighboring country. There is no object to be compared to York Minster, or Fountain’s Abbey, or to many noble parks within reach of the multitude who annually resort to Harrowgate for their health or amusement; but the neighborhood of Lake George, of the Hudson and its falls, Saratoga Lake, and Ballston Lake, offers many temptations to those who take pleasure in the beauties of nature. Saratoga Lake, about five miles from the spring, is a fine sheet of water, where there is good fishing, and where pleasure boats can be had. There is also a fishing-pond conveniently situated, only two miles from the Springs, the proprietor of which, Mr. Barhydt, of German extraction, makes strangers very welcome to enjoy the sport. Although he has considerable property, not of trifling value, we found him, the first time that we called in the evening to see the place, at work with the necessary implements, mending his shoes. I positively at first took him for a shoemaker, but he received us so hospitably that I soon was convinced of the mistake I had so nearly committed. Every one in this country is taught to do much more for himself than with us. I have never met an American who, when put to it, could not use the needle well. Mr. Barhydt set down cider and peach brandy, and forced us to partake before he would show us his grounds. The pond is not of great extent, but the scenery about it, though on a small scale, is sweet. It pleased Joseph Bonaparte so much that Mr. Barhydt told us he would have been very glad to acquire it as a retired situation for himself on his annual visit to the Springs, but Mr. Barhydt was not inclined to sell. King Joseph got the first lesson in fishing from Mr. Barhydt, in which, however, he say, he is by no means a proficient."



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