Retrospective – The Mineral Fountains of Saratoga.


"If but one leper cured made Jordan’s stream

In sacred writ a venerable theme;

What honors to thy sovereign waters due,

Where sick by thousands do their health renew."

– " Congress Water ," 1815.



"O comfortable streams! With eager lips

And trembling hand the languid thirsty quaff

New life in you."



WHAT a beautiful town Saratoga has grown to be! What a change since Sir William Johnson was first brought hither through the primeval forest from Johnstown upon a litter borne upon the shoulders of his faithful Indians! Compare its sand-heaps, and the few houses scattered along the broad avenue running between the "Upper" and "Lower" villages, {As late as 1816, the present village of Saratoga Springs consisted of two villages. The Southern portion was then called "Congress Spring Village," in contradistinction to "Saratoga Springs" or the "Upper Village." Spafford’s Gazetteer of New York for 1813, speaking of Saratoga, says: "There are handsome villages of twenty to thirty houses at Rock Spring and at Congress Spring, where is also a post-office."} through which, fifty years ago, one was compelled literally to wade half-leg deep in heated, pulverized silex, with its present well-graded and macadamized Broadway, handsomely built for nearly two miles upon both sides – to say nothing of numerous other streets, parallel and at right angles – likewise well built – and all adorned with spreading elms and the yet more beautiful maple. Nay, what a change within the last fifteen years, when the inhabitants set seriously to work in mending their ways , and planting therein trees! The grounds, too, of the hotels have been improved until they appear like the Elysian Fields, while the additions to the buildings are grand and imposing beyond parallel in this country. Nor are the improvements less striking in the country adjacent. It is only a few years since the pine plains, by which the village was environed, were considered nearly worthless. But an increase of knowledge in the department of husbandry has wrought a wonderful change; and those waste lands have been transformed into well-cultivated and productive farms.

"The garden blooms with vegetable gold,

And all Pomona in the orchard glows."

I have watched the growth of this place with great interest for many years – convinced, as I have ever been, from the variety and excellence of its mineral waters, that it is destined to be a very large and beautiful town, and that at no very distant day. Almost every year some new fountain, differing in its properties from those previously discovered, is obtained, while those before known are improved in their fixtures so as to bring up the waters in greater purity, and render them more easy and agreeable of access. It was a rare good fortune that attended honest Gideon Putnam in the early days of Saratoga (1804) in his efforts to recover Congress Spring from the creek that – now itself at this point lost to sight – then overflowed and concealed it. When the spring was first discovered, its point of discharge was a fissure in the rocky bank of the creek; but impatient hands had sought to enlarge the opening with the result of a temporary loss of the fountain itself. Putnam discovered bubbles of gas rising in the stream, and sought for and secured the spring at its source in the underlying rocks. Ever since, it has continued to effect invaluable medical purposes, and has a character of its own for its peculiar properties the world over, high above all other mineral waters in the known world.

But what shall be said of the new fountains in the village and in the "Ellis Neighborhood" the "Hathorn and the Champion?" They are indeed beautiful, and as wonderful as beautiful. Physicians, I believe, are passing favorably upon both; and from my own practical, rather than scientific, experiments, I am inclined to think that they will be found as reliable in a medicinal point of view as any other spring in this remarkable place. Indeed, no one can look on the "Champion Spouting Spring" – throwing a column an inch in diameter to the height of eighty feet, and boiling up every moment in millions of silver globules which sparkle as though rejoicing at their liberation from the dark caverns of the Gnomes – without being struck by the wonderful powers of nature.

Had these and other medicinal fountains in the little valley whence they spring been placed in Greece or Rome, instead of Saratoga, they would have been invested with all that was beautiful in the mythology of the heroic and classic ages. Hygeia would herself have assigned to every spring a nymph, or a minor deity, and the chisels of Phidias and Praxiteles would have been put in requisition to ornament the beautiful temples that would have been reared over them. The Goddess of Health might herself have been chosen to preside over the "Congress," while Ægle, the fairest of the Naiades, would have been assigned to the "Excelsior." But, perhaps, after all, the ancients were in error as to the local habitations of their divinities. May they not, even now, be sporting and dancing among the pine groves of Saratoga? These groves are prolific of flowers; and I have more than once seen beautiful forms gliding among the trees, as lovely, at least, as ever were seen in the Isles of Greece.

Nor does it seem probable that these wonderful fountains will ever fail. The famous spring at Wiesbaden, Nassau, Germany, has remained unchanged, both as regards flow and medicinal properties, for more than fifteen hundred years. Why, then, should not a like permanence be safely predicted for our own medicinal fountains, many of which are doubtless as old as our rivers, through not so long known to history or tradition? "Had the High Rock Spring," says Dr. Seaman, "stood on the borders of the Lago d’Agnans, the noted Grotto del Cani, which, since the peculiar properties of carbonic acid have been known, burdens almost every book that treats upon the gas, would never have been heard of beyond the environs of Naples; while this fountain, in its place, would have been deservedly celebrated in story and spread upon canvas, to the admiration of the world, as one of the greatest curiosities!"



Transcribed from the original text and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 2/8/00.

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