My last stop on my two-week amble around upstate New York was wonderful Saratoga Springs. I was there in the autumn, the racing season over and the summer tourists long gone. Fall foliage was peaking, and I spent two full days footing around this outstanding small city (and savoring two excellent dinners, at Maestro’s at the Van Dam and Olde Bryan Inn). I could only imagine the construction boom in the 1800s, when one gorgeous building after the next went up throughout the city, including in the Broadway Historic District, one of the most beautiful historical districts in the United States. These are my favorites >
#1 Batcheller Mansion
Picture the setting for a Victorian murder mystery. Or a haunted house episode of Scooby-Doo. Then you have Batcheller Mansion. Fronting the southern tip of Congress Park, the mansion is an architectural mashup of Victorian, French Renaissance, Italianate, and Egyptian styles. The ivory stucco façade is a riot of bays and little porches and balconets. Dormer windows jut out from the red and gray slate mansard room, each one accented by a clamshell arch. The conical tower resembles a minaret, topped by a gold dome and a weathervane. The magnificent home was built in 1873 at a cost of $100,000 for George Batcheller, a Harvard-educated lawyer related to statesman Daniel Webster and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He christened his new home Kaser-el-Nouzha, Arabic for “palace of pleasure.” Among its three floors were 11 bedrooms, five bathrooms, a music room, a library, a butler’s pantry, and dumbwaiters. Batcheller’s spectacular career included election to the New York State Assembly at age 21; appointment of judge and American representative in the Court of First Instance in Cairo by President Grant; another stint in the State Assembly; U.S. minister to Portugal; president of the Universal Postal Congress; a return to his position in Egypt, courtesy of President McKinley; and, thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt, an appointment to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Alexandria, Egypt. Batcheller died in 1908, five years after his wife, and their only surviving child sold the home in 1916. After the new buyer sold it in 1937, the mansion’s sad decline began. It became a boarding room house, followed by its desecration into 28 rooms for a retirement home. Later abandoned for seven years, the home was subject to nature’s destruction, as well as damage and theft by vandals and vagrants, and the city condemned the house in 1973. A sensitive new owner, however, swooped in before it was too late, restoring the building at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars. The following owner continued the restoration and lived there until 1994, when it became the remarkable inn it remains today. Guests can now relive the sophisticated elegance of the Old World—hand-carved marble fireplaces, intricately carved European woodwork, original furnishings and items from the Bathceller family—in this meticulously restored accommodation.
#2 Nolan House
Surrounded by a generous lawn with trees that burst into flaming reds and yellows every autumn, the striking Nolan House has been around since 1872. And it got off to a bumpy start. The original owner was unable to pay for its construction, so he was forced to sell it. The new owner unloaded it shortly after, so by 1874 it was already on its third owner, and by 1883, its fourth, Michael Nolan, former mayor of Albany and owner of a brewing company. Stability reigned, finally, until 1959, when the Nolan family donated it to a church for its use as a convent. In 1976, it was purchased by its present owner, the Presbyterian–New England Congregational Church. Throughout all the tumult, the house has remained a grand structure, a Second Empire brick beauty with two porches with handsome columns and delicate balustrades, brackets and pronounced dentils, and outstanding lintels. The spectacular mansard roof is still topped with the original filigree ironwork. Although the steeplechasers and race horses that Nolan maintained are long gone, his exceptionally handsome home carries on.
#3 Union Gables Inn
In the heart of the Union Avenue Historic District, this sprawling Queen Anne Victorian has one of the grandest porches I’ve ever seen, running along the entire width of the front of the building, wrapping around the corner tower, and continuing down the side. Built in 1901, the Union Gables Inn derives its name from the half dozen gables at the roofline of the porch and the building itself as well as the separate carriage house. Lovely details include elliptical windows, finials at the roof peak, balustrades along the porch, brackets, and flowerboxes. It’s an outstanding structure on a street populated by other outstanding structures, and its lucky guests get to enjoy oversized rooms and suites, period antiques, private patios, a heated Romanesque-style pool, and more than an acre of trees, flowering Japanese and perennial gardens, two gazebos, and Romanesque state fountains. Originally christened “Sunnyside House,” Union Gables maintains that cheery moniker today.
#4 George Harvey Mansion
One of the largest homes in the entire city stands in the Franklin Square Historic District. Built in 1870 for George Harvey, who owned a local lumber company, this Italianate-Victorian spectacle features plenty of bays and balustrades, two terraces with two-story columns, a prominent chimney, and a fantastic mansard roof of gray tiles with red diamond accents and windows with at least five different treatments. The lumber owner sold it in the late 1880s to a doctor, who used the building as both his residence and a medical institute promoting the healing powers of the abundant local mineral springs until it was sold to a widow in 1894. She converted it into the Adirondack Lodge, a hotel that boasted private baths. The lodge closed in the 1940s, morphing into a boarding house that suffered several decades of neglect until it was purchased by a developer and restored. Today, this fantastically eye-catching building houses offices, retailers, and residential units.
#5 Adelphi Hotel
In 1877, the Adelphi Hotel opened, beginning a tradition of welcoming well-heeled visitors to a temporary life of luxury that continues until this day. It all began when a railroad conductor inherited the old Adelphi Hotel from his wife. Making a fresh start of things, he remodeled and enlarged the hotel, attracting both Saratoga society and upper-class guests. One of the first guests was John Morrissey, heavyweight champion, congressman, state senator, and founder of the city’s thoroughbred racecourse. Among his guests to the hotel were the likes of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Unfortunately, Morrissey died only one year later, in the hotel.) Over time, as anti-gambling sentiment surged, casinos and gambling establishments in Saratoga closed, which directly curtailed the number of visitors, which directly led to the closing and razing of major hotels, including one that had been the largest hotel in the world. The Adelphi building survived, but its business did not, closing in 1973. New owners purchased the vacant hotel in 1978 and brought it back to life. This big four-story presence along Broadway, the city’s main drag, boasts a second-floor terrace that spans the entire width of the building. Three-story columns support arches that wouldn’t look out of place in Tunisia, and the bracketed cornice is masterful. Even if you’re not staying here, pop in for a meal at one of the restaurants and soak up the luxury all around you.
- Saratoga Dreams Bed & Breakfast (1888)
- Kilmer House (1887)
- Yaddo Mansion (1891)
- Grande House (1876)
- Milligan Mansion (1855)
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