Thursday, August 13, 2020

Empire State Plaza - Albany NY


The term urban renewal is very charged. To some people it is the replacement of “urban blight” with new, clean, and useful centers. To others it is the destruction of the working class neighborhoods, replacing them with places that do not serve or welcome them. In either case, it involves displacing though sands of, usually poor, people and the neighborhood they live in.

Nelson Rockefeller

In the early 1960’s, then governor Nelson Rockefeller decided that the area surrounding the new York State capital building, built in 1898, was suitable for showing visiting dignitaries. He took control of one-hundred acres of buildings, that housed around seven thousand people, by eminent domain.  In 1965, he began construction on his grand scheme, The Empire State Plaza, to build a governmental mega-complex. Architect Wallace Harrison designed the seven buildings, using the brutalist style was popular at the time. These include the New York Legislative Office Building, the Cultural Education Center and New York State Museum, and The Egg, a performing arts center.

New York State Capital

The Egg


The buildings surround an open plaza that has several reflecting pools. The plaza is home to many activities, and markets. Under the plaza is a concourse that connects the buildings to each other, the parking garages and State Capital Building. The concourse provides weather safe travel between the offices, along with stores and restaurants. During normal times this area is packed, especially on “Lobby Tuesdays” the traditional day for groups to come to Albany to meet with their elected representatives.


the plaza concourse

Some people hate the architectural style of brutalism. It is raw and can be over-powering. Personally, I find the whole complex fascinating, if not powerful. What no one can argue with is that Gov. Rockefeller viewed this as a lasting legacy to himself and his family, much in the way that his father had built Rockefeller Center forty years earlier.

To me, Empire State Plaza represents the best and worst of governmental building projects. In my opinion, its origin is disgraceful, but it carries out its job through thoughtful design. It is worth a visit.

Nuts and Bolts:

You can get to the parking garage at Empire State Plaza from I-787. Take exit 3to US-9/US-20 E and follow the signs to the garage. Parking is available for $10/day before 11 AM, $5/day after 11 AM

The NYS Museum is open Tues-Sun 9:30 - 5:00 Admission is $5/person $10/family. The Museum is currently closed due to the COVID crisis.    

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Saratoga Spa State Park is a great place for a nature hike.

Geyser Creek

Usually, if you was to take a long hike in nature, you have to out of town. That is even true when you are in a smaller town or city. However, in Saratoga Springs there is a place to go for just such a an experience that is still in town, Saratoga Spa State Park.

Roosevelt Baths

Saratoga Spa State Park is located at the southern end of the city and sits in between two major roads, routes NY-9 and NY-50. It is home to a golf course, The Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the National Museum of Dance and the Saratoga Automobile Museum. But I went there to take advantage of its miles of trails. There are also six of Saratoga’s mineral springs in the park. Back in the 19th century, the area was a center of manufacturing, bottling to naturally carbonated water to be shipped and sold. In 1907, evidence in a court case showed that all of the springs in the area were interconnected, and many of the plants were forced to close. In 1909, a law was signed that made the springs and surrounding area a state reservation and all commercial bottling halted. In 1935 the Roosevelt Bath and Spa opened in the park, offering a full range of mineral soaks using the spring water, massages and a steam room. In 1962 the area was named a state park, and the trails and facilities were developed.

Admistration Building

I came to Saratoga Spa SP for a hike. The southern part of the park offer several trails, all of which are easy walks, with few hills. One option is to follow the 5-Mile Trail, which ties together parts of those trails into one long hike. The 5-Mile Trail offers a mix a wooded dirt trails and paved park paths. Because it is really an urban park, the trail has many facilities along it, including picnic pavilions and bathrooms. The trail starts near the Administration Building, an area that provides plenty of free parking. It weaves its way among the woods, and down to Geyser Creek, where you will find four of the park’s springs. Then it climbs back up to an area that paved, near the Peerless Pool complex. It also passes along the park’s “disc golf” course. From here it heads to the isolated part of the walk, in the southwest corner of the park. It passes through both woods and along a marshy pond, before heading toward the SPAC area. It then returns to Geyser Creek and back to the its start.

Saratoga Stryders - Monday Trail Fun Run #11 – 5 Mile Trail at ...

Karista Spring

Geyser Creek

Playing Disc Golf

Geyser Brook Geyser tap

The walk is easy. The park is beautiful. It is a great place to spend an afternoon.

Nuts And Bolts:

Saratoga Spa State Park has entrances along both Route 9 (Broadway) and Route 50 (Ballston Spa Road). The Avenue of the Pines will take you to the parking area near the Administration Building.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Congress Park, Saratoga Springs

Pan and the Meneads

I was looking for a chance to get out of New York City. COVID had kept me home for three months, but by June, it seemed to be under control in our state. So, I got myself tested (negative), and looked for a place to spend a few days away. I found Saratoga Springs. It offered some really nice walks, and was solidly into its Phase 4 reopening.

On my trip, I stayed at the Embassy Suites in Saratoga, run by Hilton Hotels. It is located in a shopping plaza at the southern end of downtown. I felt very safe in terms of the virus. Everyone on staff was wearing masks, personal distancing was the norm among guests and staff, and the rooms were thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between guests. Hilton also offers a “digital key” through its smart phone app, so I had a contactless checkin. The Embassy Suites included breakfast , but instead of the usual buffet, they provided hot breakfast cafeteria style, and cold choices are provided in pre-portioned containers.

Salt and Char Restaurant

Adelphi Hotel

Saratoga Springs is home to twenty-one naturally carbonated mineral springs. The gas pressure forces the water up to the surface, and minerals flavor the water and, some people believe, have health benefits. The town has created publicly accessible spouts for those springs that are still active. Anyone can come and taste or even collect gallons from the spring of their choice. The idea of “taking the waters” to improve ones health dates back centuries, in both Europe and among the native peoples of the Americas. Saratoga became a destination in the early 1800’s as people began to build hotels and Spain the area. In 1803, Gideon Putnam bought land around Congress Spring, so named because it was visited in 1792 by a group of travelers that included two members of Congress. Putnam built a hotel near the spring. Two years later he bought up 130 acres near his hotel and laid out the town of Saratoga Springs. As fame of the waters spread, so did the opportunity to make money. In 1820, John Clarke moved from New York City to Saratoga, purchased property around Congress Spring, and built a factory to bottle the water from it to ship and sell.

In 1866, John Morrissey opened the Saratoga Race Track and the Canfield Casino, which was located near Congress Springs. Morrissey also expanded the grounds around the Casino and Hotel hiring several landscape designers, including Frederick Law Olmsted. By the early 1900’s crackdowns on gambling and a drop in sales due to the FDA’s Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) had taken their toll on Saratoga’s economy and the Congress Spring Bottled Water Plant, along with the Casino went out of business. In 1911, the City of Saratoga bought the land, demolished the plant and hotel, and turned the area into a park.

Saratoga Springs Visitors' Center

Today, Congress Park is a beautiful place to take a walk, or just spend some time. Before you enter the park, stop at the Visitors’ Center, across Broadway from the main entrance. It is in an old trolley station that was built in 1915. When you enter, stop first at the Spirit of Life. This statue by Daniel Church French sits at the top of a reflecting pool surrounded by flowers. Continue to the Northeast corner the park where you will find the Carousel. The horses of the carousel were carved in 1910 for a ride at Saratoga Lake. When that part of the city was up for development, people came forward and raised over $200,000 to keep the horses in Saratoga. The carousel was renovated and moved to Congress Park in 2002. Past the carousel you will find the Italianate Garden. Built in 1902, there is a reflecting pool guarded by the Tritons “Spit” and “Spat”. Past them are replica statues of Pan and the Meneads surrounding a sundial.

Spirit of Life



Spit and Spat

Walk south from the Garden and you will arrive at the center piece of park the Canfield Casino. The building was constructed in 1867 and then expanded in 1890, and it is the last of the original buildings in the area that is left. “The term casino may mean a small country villa, summerhouse, or social club. During the 19th century, casino came to include other public buildings where pleasurable activities took place; such edifices were usually built on the grounds of a larger Italian villa or palazzo, and were used to host civic town functions, including dancing, gambling, music listening, and sports.” (Wikipedia) So, while there may or may not have been gambling at Canfield, its function was much wider that that.  And that function continues today, where the building is available to host a multitude of events. It is also home to the Saratoga Springs History Museum. In front of the Casino the Morrissey Fountain, upon which, legend has it, a red ball was placed if the gambling tables were open.

Canfield Casino

Canfield Casino

Morrissey Fountain

Cross Congress Street and walk between the Cast Iron Vases that decorate the path. To your left, and a peninsula in the lake, you will see a bandstand built in 1932 to honor the veterans of World War I. You will also find spigots for two of Saratoga’s twenty-one springs. Between the two ponds is the Deer Park Spring, while the Congress Spring tap is under a Greek Revival Pavilion next to Congress Street.

The Cast Iron Vases

World War I Memorial

Deer Park Spring

Congress Spring

Nuts and Bolts:
Embassy Suites Hotel - 86 Congress Street, Saratoga Springs NY
        Rooms available from $125

Congress Park - 1 E. Congress Street, Saratoga Springs NY
        Open Year Round, free admission

Saratoga Springs History Museum - 1 E. Congress Street, Saratoga Springs NY
        Adults $8/ Seniors $7/ Students $5


Thursday, July 23, 2020

West Point Foundry Preserve - A walk through history and nature

The 1865 Office Building and Pattern Shop

The Hudson River Valley of New York is filled with history. It is also filled with beautiful nature trails to walk. Sometimes these overlap, and a visit to Cold Spring brings just such an experience at the West Point Foundry Preserve.

The Village of Cold Spring (50 miles north of New York City) started as a trading post on the Hudson River. It was a place where ships would stop to pick up local produce and lumber and drop off manufactured goods. In the 1820’s, its population of expanded when the West Point Foundry was opened. Cold Spring was a very good place for the foundry. There were local iron mines, forests that provided wood for fuel and charcoal, and a brook that provided power to run the mill. Its established role as a shipping port, and proximity to West Point also were in its favor.

The West Point Foundry produced the iron that was used for many things, including the production of the USS Spencer, the first ironclad ship built in the United States. The foundry grew to occupy over 100 acres in a ravine just north to the town, along what is today called Foundry Brook. At its peak production, during the Civil War, the foundry employed 1400 people. It produced cast iron for steam engines and locomotives, and most of the pipes used to create New York City’s aqueduct system. It is best known for making the the Parrott Rifle Cannon, producing 2000 guns and three million shells. By the 1870’s technology had started to pass by the foundry. Most industries had switched from cast iron to steel. West Point Foundry tried to adapt, but could not match the scale of the new steel mills being built in Pennsylvania, and in 1911, it ceased its operations.

The site was eventually abandoned, and the bricks and stones of many of the buildings were recycled in other construction projects. In the 1970’s, the area became the first EPA Super-fund clean-up site, due to pollution from a nearby battery factory. In 1996, the area was acquired by Scenic Hudson, a conservation organization, to prevent development of the ravine. They cleaned up years of garbage that had been dumped on the site, and created trails among what is left of the buildings.

When arrive, you visit will start at the parking area, where there is a display to orient yourself to the preserve. There are three trails to follow, Yellow (which stays closest to the old foundry buildings), Red (which branches off along the water routes through the ravine), and Blue (which connects the preserve to other sites, including the Putnam History Museum). If you head along the wide path, which follows an old railroad bed, you will arrive at the Gun Platform. Every cannon built at the foundry was brought by rail car to the platform, where it  was test fired before being shipped out. The target of these tests was Crow’s Nest Mountain on the opposite side of the Hudson River.

Gun Platform

Crow's nest Mountain, through the fog

1865 Office Building

Leaving the Gun Platform, you follow the metal path up the ravine. The path follow the internal rails that carried the guns down to the test site. You will pass the floor of the carpentry shop and the last remaining wall of the pattern shop. The only building that is still fully standing is the Office Building that was built in 1865. Continuing on, there are remnants of the machine shop, and the molding and casting shops. At the top of the path, you can follow of the Red Paths further up along Foundry Brook, where you will find the remains of the dam that created the Battery Pool, where held water to provide power to the mill. You will also be able to the dam that sits at the top of ravine, which still controls the water flow, and protects the Preserve from flooding.

Machine Shop Wall

Rail turn-table

Battery Pond Dam

Dam at the head of the ravine

Come back to the Yellow path, and climb the stairs. You will get a great view of the ravine, and see the statue that presents the actual size of the water wheel that powered the mill. From the top of stairs, you can follow the Yellow path back to the parking area, or follow the Red and Blue paths for more exploration.

When you are finished walking through the area, head to Main Street for some lunch. I suggest Hudson Hil’s Cafe. They offer a choice of indoor or outdoor seating, and have a menu that includes sandwiches, salads, and an all-day breakfast menu. I loved their blueberry pancakes.

Nuts and Bolts:
The West Point Foundry Preserve is open all year and is free. It is located at the south end of Kemble Ave. There is parking available on site, and a well developed path from the Metro-North Station.

If you go to you will find a map, and audio tour and information about the flora and fauna of the area.