Saratoga Springs, like Niagara Falls, was a tourist hub during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and it was also the premier spa/resort area in the northeast. The interest in the purported therapeutic value of the mineral spring waters of Saratoga dates back several centuries. Tradition says that American Indians were visiting High Rock Spring (figure 1) before the arrival of Europeans to gain strength from the "Medicine Spring of the Great Spirit." It’s unclear who the first non-Natives were to visit there, however, Sir William Johnson, the colonial era Indian Superintendent, who was wounded at the Battle of Lake George, was carried there by a group of Mohawks in 1771. After a stay of several days, his health improved so that he was able to walk during a portion of the return trip. Due to Sir William's distinguished stature, the reputation of the spring grew quickly.
Figure 1 – This is one of many postcard versions of this painting depicting an Indian family at High Rock Spring in Saratoga, NY. Postmarked 1907.
Early settlers built an inn at High Rock spring and covered it with an enclosure (figure 2). With the advent of the railroad in 1831, Saratoga quickly developed into a tourist mecca (figure 3).
Figure 2 – One panel from a circa 1870 stereoview of the enclosure over High Rock Spring. Photographer: C.S. Sterry of Saratoga Spring, NY.
Figure 3 – Grounds of the Union Hotel, Opera House and Bath Houses, Saratoga Springs, NY, 1868.
Despite the hardships of travel, respite from cities ravaged by epidemics such as cholera, influenza and typhoid, was considered healthful and beneficial. Most cities lacked modern hygiene/sanitation practices; many were filthy and unhealthy places to live, so there was a motive to travel. Resort areas such as Saratoga Springs and Lake George, with their scenic beauty, clean air, and the reputed health benefits of the mineral spring baths, became favorite destinations for the well-to-do. Saratoga, in particular, quickly turned into a bustling social hub, and as early as 1803, had a hotel catering to those seeking refuge from oppressive metropolitan centers (figure 4). The mineral springs of Saratoga were sometimes outfitted with elaborate stone-works — including artificial pools, retaining walls, colonnades and roofs — sometimes in the form of fanciful "Greek temples", gazebos or pagodas. Others were entirely enclosed within spring houses (figure 5).
Figure 4 – An early French print (1829) of the burgeoning village of Saratoga Springs, NY.
|Figure 5 – An illustration from an August, 1873 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. The caption reads: New York – The Hathorn Spring at Saratoga – Guests from the different Hotels “Taking the Waters” in the early morning.|
The Saratoga Springs Visitor Center website explains how the area offered other diversions to visitors as well. “Hot air balloon ascensions, hops, balls, Indian encampments, and afternoon carriage promenades down Broadway where people and horses were adorned in the latest finery. The wide porches on the huge hotels were also part of the social scene, a place for the influential to meet and mingle (figures 6 and 7). Many a business deal was sealed during an afternoon meeting there. Excursions to Saratoga Lake were popular; lakeside strolls, steamboat rides, or regattas were often followed by fine dining at a lake house restaurant overlooking the water. Legend has it that during one such feast at Moon’s Lake House, the potato chip was created in 1853.”
Figure 6 – 1834 print illustrating the large porch on the plaza of Congress Hall in Saratoga Springs. Congress Hall was a large resort hotel, which brought Saratoga Springs international fame as a health spa and gambling site.
Figure 7 – On panel from a circa 1870 stereoview of an unidentified hotel in Saratoga Springs showing the hotel piazza. Photographer: W.H. Baker of Saratoga Springs, NY.
Elegant hotels were built for affluent guests (figure 8) who were encouraged to walk, soak-in the fresh air and of course “take in the waters.” In his history of Saratoga County, Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester wrote that “The hotels of Saratoga are its pride and crowning glory. Nowhere else in the world can such a splendid array be seen in the same city or village so near each other. And now, during these centennial years of the first rude openings of the springs in the northern wilds, this whole village is crowded with hotels, the largest, grandest, best appointed in the world, within a stone's throw of each other, and glittering with more than oriental splendor (figure 9). When all lighted up on a summer evening, the streets filled with gay promenaders, - the wit, the wealth, the fashion, and the beauty of half the world all there, - the scene presented is like that of some fairy-land. Surely has some enchanter touched with magic wand those old rude hotels of a century ago, and transformed them into palaces like those famous in eastern story” (Sylvester 1878).
|Figure 9 – Circa 1870 stereoview revealing the splendor of the parlor in the Grand Union Hotel.|
Period photographs and engravings reveal that there were several Indian encampments in and around Saratoga Springs. The Abenaki and the Mohawk would set up for the summer at both Saratoga (figures 10, 11 and 12) and nearby Lake George (figures 13 and 14) where they sold their craft work as souvenirs to area visitors. The encampment scene, with its many concession stands, brings to mind images of modern-day arts and crafts fairs. Like their ancestors, the 19th century Mohawk and Abenaki were drawn to the mineral springs not just as vendors but because they also considered the healing properties of the spring waters to be sacred. The mineral springs of Saratoga were the only naturally carbonated spring waters east of the Rocky Mountains.
Figure 13 – Circa 1872 albumen print of the Indian Encampment at Lake George. Photographer: Seneca Ray Stoddard (1844–1917).
Figure 14 – One panel from a circa 1870 stereoview of the Indian encampment at Lake George. The two images on the right are close-ups revealing more details. Bows and baskets can be seen in this view as the predominant items that were for sale.
Emily Rolandson wrote that:
One of the earliest camps was located at Pine Grove, near North Broadway.... It was more like a festival where the Indians happened to gather than an actual encampment, but Pine Grove set the standard for other encampments of the area (figure 15).
The largest and most famous of these camps was located in Congress Park. This encampment, also referred to as the Gypsy Camp, was originally founded in 1848 where Broadway and Ballston Avenue meet. A band of Indians arrived each year (probably from Canada) to staff the encampment. They arrived in late spring, and stayed through the end of autumn or whenever the first snow arrived.
The camp was moved to Congress Park in the 1870s, on the corner of Circular Street and Spring Street. It remained there until 1902, when Richard Canfield purchased the property and replaced the camp with the Italian Gardens and Trout Pond of Congress Park (Rolandson 2005).
Figure 15 – An engraving of the Pine Grove Indian Camp in Saratoga Springs, NY. Published in an 1876 issue of Harpers New Monthly Magazine.
Art historian Ruth Phillips interviewed a number of beadworkers from the Mohawk community at Kahnawake who fondly recalled the great quantities of material that were produced for an extended selling stint at Saratoga Springs (Phillips 1998:65) and there are traditions among the Abenaki that they were selling there as well.
Todd DeGarmo, the Director of Folklife Programs, Crandall Public Library, Glens Falls, NY has written that “summer resorts and other tourist centers throughout the Northeast became ideal locations for Native entrepreneurship. Beginning in the late 18th century with mineral springs resorts, and continuing well into the 20th century with roadside attractions, people of Abenaki and Iroquois descent actively participated in the upstate [NY] tourist trade as hunting and fishing guides, cooks, vendors of baskets and souvenirs, and players in pageants and re-creations… Indian camps often became the center of this activity (figure 16). Located on the fringes of resorts, they were visited by seasonal clients, often including prominent politicians and industrialists of the day. The products offered were adaptations of traditional arts: woodslore skills such as hunting, trapping, and guiding; and manufacture of baskets from black ash and sweetgrass, deerskin moccasins, beaded whimseys, and miniature birchbark canoes (DeGarmo 1993). You can read the entire article by DeGarmo here.
There were renowned Native guides in the area such as Mitchell Sabattis (1824-1906) an Abanaki hunter and trapper who is believed to have been a leading contributor to the development of the Adirondack guide boat (DeGarmo 1993).
DeGarmo says that most of the Native people who frequented the resort areas “remained anonymous, segregated into enclaves throughout the region. The Fox Hill Indian settlement northwest of Saratoga Springs, whose inhabitants worked in the white oak barrel factory and usually traded at Batchlerville or Middle Grove is a case in point. Lake George was home to descendant of the St. Francis Abenaki. Though they sent their children to the local school … and buried their dead in the Catholic Church cemetery, they, too, largely kept to themselves within their own section of town. Others made their permanent homes in Canada on the reservations, with ties to the resorts. Each to which they usually returned year after year….
DeGarmo goes on to say that “some [Indian] families were sufficiently affluent to hire less independent basket makers, such as single girls and widows, to make baskets during the winter and to demonstrate basketry and tend shop at the resorts. Local people were also hired to do household chores so the women could spend more time making baskets. By the late 19th century the successful Abenaki basket makers are said to have had the luxury of buying prepared splints from the French at Pierreville and cleaned sweet grass, braided or plain, from the farmers who cultivated it. Some even purchased from French women small sweetgrass baskets such as thimble cases, scissors holders and pin cushions to be inserted into the work baskets (DeGarmo 1993).
Native people “set up booths at local fairs and traveled to other resorts in the vicinity. The Fox Hill Indians made the trip into Saratoga Springs to sell provisions to the large hotels. They also marketed furs and wild medicinal plants, and sold homemade items to the tourists, including baskets, snowshoes, moccasins, gloves and mittens and small novelty birch bark canoes. The inhabitants of the Lake George Indian Encampment (figures 17, 18, & 19) who were in the basket and souvenir business on site, traveled to the smaller outlying hotels to the north and at one time held classes in basket weaving for fashionable guests at the exclusive hotels on Lake George. The late Andrew Joseph (born 1892), half Abenaki and a renowned black ash basket maker, was born at an Indian Encampment in Saratoga Springs and learned the craft from his father, who sold baskets every summer to the large hotels on Long Lake and Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks. Added attractions like the game, set-up-a-cent, pitting the bow shooting skills of young boys against pennies set up by visitors, were used to attract tourist to the Indian Camp in Saratoga Springs (DeGarmo 1993).
Figure 17 – One panel from a stereoview of what was likely an Abenaki basketmaker. Titled: The Young Basket Maker, Lake George. Photographer: Seneca Ray Stoddard of Glens Falls, NY. 1870s.
Figure 18 – One panel from a stereoview of what was likely a group of young Abenakis. Titled: Group of Young Indians, Lake George. Photographer: Seneca Ray Stoddard of Glens Falls, NY. 1870s.
Figure 19a – Cabinet card of Peter Lawrences’ concession at the Indian encampment, Lake George, NY. Dated August 6, 1892 on the back.
Figure 19b – Detail view of the cabinet card in figure 19a. Some of his baskets can be seen on the display table.
Shooting skills were highly regarded during this period. Entertainers who could perform exciting and dangerous feats, such as those demonstrated by sharpshooters such as Annie Oakley and Prairie Flower (figure 20), earned their fame in the Wild West shows. Before the invention of movies, TV and the internet, Wild West and medicine shows were one of the major entertainment events of the time and that only added to the interest the public had in the abilities of Annie Oakley and other exciting entertainers. The Ohio History Central website relates that “Oakley became known as "Miss Annie Oakley, the Peerless Lady Wing-Shot (wing shots were experts at shooting birds in flight).” In her act, Oakley routinely split a card in two edge-wise with a single shot from thirty paces. She shot cigarettes out of her husband's mouth and, on a tour of Europe, even performed this same act with Crown Prince Wilhelm, who eventually became Kaiser Wilhelm II, the leader of Germany. Oakley also shot dimes thrown into the air.”
These incredible feats of marksmanship amazed and excited people and in many of the encampment images, shooting booths can be seen where visitors could demonstrate their sharpshooting skills. The detail shot in figure 12 shows a tent with a large sign across the top that reads “BIRD SHOOTING.” There are large targets in the background and some bows are hung from a rafter on the right. Figure 21 appears to be a shooting range at an Indian encampment is Saratoga Springs. Several men can be seen in the center detail shot holding rifles and one appears to be shooting at a target down range from the booth. Target shooting can also be seen in the foreground of figure 22.
Figure 21 – One panel from a circa 1870 stereoview of a shooting range at an Indian encampment in Saratoga Springs. Photographer: Hall Brothers of Brooklyn, NY.
Figure 23b – Detail view of figure 16a. On display just below and to the left of the large “encampment” sign are two large racks offering postcards for sale.
Figure 24b – Detail view of figure 24a. What looks like a beaded barrel purse can be seen on the display table in the background; fancy baskets can be seen in the case behind the young lady on the right.
Figure 25 – A six-lobed Mohawk pincushion with the beaded inscription that it was from Saratoga. Dated 1903 in beads. From the collection of Karlis Karklins.