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.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Road Trip up the Hudosn Valley

As the COVID crisis continued in the United States, the Hudson Valley of New York started to reopen in June 2020. This offered me the opportunity to get our of New York City and take a road trip. It was a wonderful chance to visit some of the small towns that I haven’t been to in a while, and to see how they have fared through this time.

Garrison Landing Depot

My goal was to avoid the New York State Thruway, so I stayed on the eastern side of the Hudson, driving north along route NY-9 and its off-shoots. My first stop was in the Hamlet of Garrison. Garrison sits across the river from West Point, and is named after Isaac Garrison, who ran a ferry that crossed the Hudson at this point. Today it has a population of approximately 4300 people and is home to the Boscobel historic mansion. My target was the its beautiful train station. Not the relatively new Metro-North station, but the historic stone station, built in 1982. It is a beautiful Italianate, gothic building that, today, serves as the Phillipstown Depot Theater. The depot and the surrounding buildings served as the town of Yonkers in the movie “Hello Dolly.”

West Point

Continuing up route NY-9D, my next stop was Cold Spring (pop. 2300). The town was founded in 1846 as a place for workers at the nearby West Point Foundry to live. It sits on a hill side that slopes down to the Hudson River. I have been visiting Cold Spring for many years. Its Main Street stretches from NY-9D to the river and is lined with restaurants, boutiques and antique stores and co-ops. A walk along Main Street is a really nice way to window shop for knick-knacks, find some modern fashions, or have a tasty lunch or snack. If you take the pedestrian tunnel under the Metro-North tracks, you get to the Cold Spring Pier, where there is a great view of Storm King Mountain, and West Point, across the Hudson. Most of the shops in Cold Spring were open on a recent Sunday, and the town has devised an interesting way to help people maintain personal distancing on Main Street. They have designated the north sidewalk for people walking westbound (toward the river) and the south sidewalk for those walking east

Sidewalk marking

Parrot Gun, recreation of cannon made at The West Point Foundry

Storm King Mountain

My final stop was the city of Hudson. This area was home to members of the Mahican peoples for hundreds of years, and Europeans settled the area in 1662. The city marks the northernmost point of Henry Hudson’s exploration of river that today bears his name. In the 1700’s Hudson was the home to whaling fleets and had become an active port, bringing goods all of the way upstate. It developed in to a factory town in the 1800’s and had a population of over 12,000 at its peak in 1930. By the 1960’s industry in the Hudson Valley was in a period of decline, and Hudson hit a rough patch. Today it is undergoing a period of revival as a tourist destination, artist colony and bedroom community for Albany. Its old factory buildings offer space for studios and its low real estate prices and rent make it a place for bargain seekers to live.

Warren Street is the main shopping and dining area of the city. It has a wide variety of stores and restaurants. On Sunday’s they have turned the street into a semi-pedestrian mall. Restaurants had tables et up in the street, and car traffic was severely limited. It is a great place to walk around, window shop and grab a bite to eat. Hudson has also developed its waterfront. The Henry Hudson Riverfront Park offers a place to sit and enjoy the view, go for a canoe or kayak trip or enjoy a picnic. The park sits across from The Middle Ground Flats, a large island in the river. It also offers a view of the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, built is 1874, which sits in the middle of the Hudson and to offer warnings about the Middle Ground Flats to ships traveling the river.
Hudson Amtrak Station

A drive up the Hudson Valley is a great way to spend a day, or two. There are plenty of places to stop, shop and eat.

Nuts and Bolts
Garrison NY - 45 miles north of NYC. Take NY-9D to Upper Station Road. Turn west and head to Garrison Landing.

Cold Spring. - 50 miles north of NYC. Take NY-9D and turn west onto Main Street.

Hudson - 110 miles north of NYC. Take NY-9G into the center of town. 9G becomes Columbia Street, which runs parallel to Warren Street through town.