Saratoga Springs is located approximately 25 miles north of Albany, New York and just south of the Adirondack Park. Approximately 18 springs and hot wells discharge carbonated mineral water in and around the Saratoga area. The springs have been used for drinking and bathing in spas where it has been considered a cure for everything from skin disorders to digestive problems, and the water and carbon dioxide bottled and sold as a commercial product.
The Mohawk and Iroquois Indian tribes used this area for hunting and frequented the springs, especially High Rock Spring. The Mohawks, a fierce warring tribe, fought to defend their hunting grounds around the springs on many occasions. Saratoga was inhabited by the Indians who called the area “Sarachtogue,” which means "hillside of a great river" or "place of the swift water." Native Americans flocked to the valley each summer for healing and peaceful meditation by the natural springs. Much blood was spilled between settlers and Native Americans as the Mohawks believed the waters had “mystical powers”.
Early fur trading on the southern border of the city was indicative of its fur and game potential. The mineral springs were used as medicine by the Indians and the superior quality of the fur was attributed to the saline springs from which the animals drank.
Fort Saratoga was built in 1691 on the west bank of the Hudson River about a 5 miles south of the current city. In 1767, Sir William Johnson, British soldier and a hero of the French and Indian Wars, was brought about ten miles west to what would become the city of Saratoga Springs, by Native American friends, to treat war wounds at a spring thought to have medicinal properties. The spring is now known as High Rock Spring, and may be visited today. A lone Mohawk figure has been sighted many times on the bluffs overlooking the High Rock spring.
The landscape turned bloody once again in 1777 as the famous Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the Revolutionary War, took place in Saratoga. There is a museum and graveyard dedicated to this battle located on the field where the battle was fought. In hopes of crushing the American rebellion before foreign powers might intervene, the British concocted a plan to invade New York from their base in Canada in 1777. Essentially, two armies would follow waterways into the Rebel territory, unite and capture Albany, New York. The architect of the plan, General John Burgoyne, commanded the main thrust through the Lake Champlain valley. Although the invasion had some initial success with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the realities of untamed terrain soon slowed the British triumphant advance into an agonizing crawl.
On September 19th 1777, his columns collided with part of General Gates’ army near the abandoned farm of Loyalist John Freeman. During the long afternoon, the British were unable to maintain any initiative or momentum. Pinned in place, they suffered galling American gunfire as they strove to hold their lines. Through the fierce fighting the British and their allies were routed and driven back to their fortifications. At dusk, one position held by German troops, was overwhelmed by attacking Americans. Burgoyne had to withdraw to his inner works near the river and the following day tried to withdraw northward toward safety. Hampered by bad roads made worse by frigid downpours, the British retreat made only eight miles in two days to a small hamlet called Saratoga; Gates’ army followed and surrounded Burgoyne and his army. With no other option Burgoyne capitulated on 17 October 1777.
Rumors abound about visions of a British patrol that vanished in the thick woods and was never seen again. Many people have claimed to have seen them wandering in the woods to this day. Denied a proper burial their spirits seem to be earth bound forever.
After the American Revolution, colonization began to accelerate, and the great forest then covering a large part of Saratoga was cleared and lumbered for timber. The lumber and by-products were carried by many streams to the Hudson River and distant markets. Because of the density of the forest, the pine trees grew tall and straight and were in great demand for ship masts. In 1783, General Philip Schuyler cut a path through the wilderness, from his home in Old Saratoga, by the Hudson River near Fish Creek, to the High Rock Spring, and built a cabin. While on a northern tour in 1784, General George Washington traveled to the High Rock Spring with his party, and drank the waters before continuing their journey southward.
The famed doctor Simon Baruch encouraged bringing European style spas to the US, and thus the Saratoga, with its wealth of mineral waters developed as a spa, seeing many hotels built, including the colossal Grand Union Hotel that was in its day, the largest hotel in the world, and the famed United States Hotel. Gideon Putnam, an early Saratoga settler, secured the city’s successful future in the early decades of the 1800’s when he erected the Grand Union Hotel and Congress Hall, the first two hotels in the area.
Soon after, hotels began appearing all over Saratoga Springs as the area grew rapidly in popularity and population. The mineral springs in Saratoga Springs became the lodestar for fashionable society; and the city claimed the title of "Queen of the Spas."
Famous names from all over the United States such as Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren, Washington Irving, Andrew Jackson and Franklin Pierce were found on hotel registers. Life was fast, money even more so and death came quickly as well. Violence seems to follow gambling wherever it turns up. Many of the Victorian homes in the city are said to be haunted.
The 1860’s brought more growth and development to Saratoga with the birth of the Victorian and Gambling Era. In 1864, John Hunter and William R. Travers went in on a joint venture to establish a thoroughbred racetrack. The Saratoga Race Course drew in large crowds, marking a new Gambling Era for the Saratoga Springs area and adding yet another reason for its growing popularity.
Saratoga’s fame continued to rise to international acclaim. The Vanderbilt’s, Whitney’s, Rockefellers, J.P Morgan, "Diamond Jim" Brady, Lillian Russell and others added glamour to the City. With the influx of the social elite and the wealthy, horse racing was the natural development; it flourished until the name Saratoga became internationally synonymous with racing.
1910 brought three years of despair with the prohibition of gambling. Along with the 1920's came a resurgence slightly tinged with a more exuberant and flamboyant style. Survivors of the Depression maintained the grandeur and energy until the 1930's when natives began to complain about the influx of gamblers, gangsters, bookies, pimps and prostitutes and the violence they brought with them. Life in Saratoga began to ebb. The years during WWII brought with them the stark realization that a glorious century had ended. Racing was suspended for three years, and the great hotels suffered and declined. It seemed that the celebrated past had been neatly swept into Edna Ferber's famed novel Saratoga Trunk to preserve an era.
After the closing and demolition of many of the famed hotels, including the Grand Union and United States, in the 1940s and 1950s, Saratoga Springs fell on hard times. During the 1950s, the famed gambling houses were also shut down, which hurt Saratoga Springs' popularity even more.
It was against this back drop that the infamous “MacArthur Manor” was built and operated. The Manor was originally constructed to serve as a sanatorium for TB patients. Later, when the disease became less prevalent, it was used as a home for debtors, and later, as a convalescent home. The main building is very institutional-looking, with a brick facade, and white columns. Early on rumors abounded about experiments on patients and Doctors who had run amok. Interestingly patients were not buried on the grounds. Those of wealth received a proper burial in one of the many city cemeteries. However people without means were placed in a more common resting place on the outskirts of the city in the MacArthur Manor Cemetery. The date of it the Manor’s closure seems to be a mystery but photographic evidence accumulated by some adventuresome souls who dared to go inside seems to show that everyone left in a hurry. Equipment and medical records can be seen strewn about the abandoned building.
The city's rebirth began in the 1960s with the completion of the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87), which allowed visitors from the New York City area much easier access and resurgence in horse racing.
The city is perhaps most famous for the Saratoga Race Course which opened on August 3, 1863. The initial track was located across Union Avenue from the present Saratoga Race Course, which opened the following year. Founded by John Hunter and William R. Travers, it is the oldest continuously-operating Thoroughbred track in the United States. The track holds a summer meet lasting six weeks, from late July to Labor Day. The meet features a number of major stakes races, with the Travers Stakes the most important known as the "Summer Derby." The track season sees a dramatic influx of people into the city. Hotels fill to capacity, and many Saratogians rent out their homes. In addition, the construction of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the NYC Ballet, the NYC Opera, and top performers of jazz, pop and rock music adds to the draw.
With all of this prosperity there came the need to expand, and that’s what the city did. Growing by leaps and bounds, what was once the outskirts of town now became prime real estate for homes. MacArthur Manor Cemetery was in the way of development. The City Council voted to relocate the graves and allow building to proceed. Interestingly no one seems to know where the inhabitants of the cemetery were re-buried.
Many families moved into this new development, but there was one family who was about to have their whole world turned upside down. From the first night they moved in, things didn’t seem right. Located on a corner lot on the aptly named MacArthur Drive, they could hear voices talking, floors creaking, and the sound of children playing in the middle of the night. At first they thought it was just people walking outside with their families and the house settling. The new homeowners continued to hear voices coming from the basement even during the day, but whenever they would go to investigate the noises, no one was there.
The family was getting very concerned by what was going on in their home and called in a ghost hunter to investigate. They couldn’t believe what they were about to learn of the paranormal activity that was going on in their home. The ghost hunters spent several weeks gathering research and were astonished to discover that there were more than 30 active spirits residing in their home. After further review with the City of Saratoga, they found out that their house was built on the exact location of the MacArthur Manor cemetery. The family refuses to talk about what goes in their home to the press, although they have had other ghost hunters investigate over the years. The home cannot be sold as the State of New York ended up putting a historical marker at the site of their home. Now everyone knows there used to be a cemetery on the grounds.
So stuck in a house they cannot sell, they have to co-exist with the ghosts that inhabit their home. Once a year the family decorates their home for Halloween with a cemetery theme. They believe that by having the property decorated for Halloween it shows a sign of respect to the ghosts. The ghost hunters also told them that this is a way to cleanse the ghosts from the house. Since they have started this ritual, things have calmed down but have not stopped.
The Halloween yard haunt is for outside viewing pleasure only; as the family refuses to let anyone enter their home because they are afraid for their safety and most of importantly of “yours”.