Sacandaga Park

1875 to the early 1900’s

It all started in 1875 the area just south of Northville. First the quiet riverside spot was used by a Methodist encampment making the trek there by horseback and stage. Tents were arranged in a circle. Rustic benches were built in the center of the circle to accommodate services held on Sundays. Spending summers among the tall pines by the river was a peaceful place to congregate.

Eventually, tents gave way to cottages and it was then that the pine grove gained attention by groups of businessmen from Northville, Gloversville, and Johnstown. The existing railroad the Fonda, Johnstown, Gloversville (FJ & G) could be extended to points north by additional track. Construction of the track was initiated in 1872 by the businessmen. The Town of Northampton was in support of the construction and raised $200,000 through stock subscriptions. Although the distance was relatively short (16 miles from Gloversville to the park) even with that funding the group had to give up construction and the venture went into bankruptcy. The track was acquired by the FJ&G and completed 1875 .

With the track to the park in place, the first train station in the park was nothing more than a wooden platform with a timber built turntable farther north on the track. After buying 17 acres, the railroad hired out the picnic grove for various groups like the Salvation Army and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. With it’s growing popularity the railroad rented the picnic grounds to a German society who arrived at the station with a railroad car full of barrels of beer. The Methodists, infuriated, put their cottages up for sale and moved on to a quieter retreat in Round Lake. Only a few of the cottages were owned by the railroad at that time which they rented for $50.00 to $100.00 per month or $90.00 to $250.00 per season depending on the accommodations.

The railroad began construction in 1888 on the first hotel, The Adirondack Inn. The Inn was 4 stories high had 100 rooms and could accommodate 250 guests. Two large balconies were built on the first and second floors were people could sit and enjoy the bands and activities that took place on the lawn. The Inn was also across from the railroad platform providing easy access to guests.

Disaster struck in the spring of 1898 when 111 privately built cottages burned in the park. The blaze started in an unoccupied cottage at 10:30 PM. The fire leapt from the cottages to the pine trees which dropped embers on the roofs of other cottages heavily laden with pine needles. An attempt was made to dynamite to provide a firebreak but to no avail. It took only two hours to reduce the cottages to a pile of smoldering ash.

This setback actually facilitated the construction of a more expanded form of the park. The railroad bought 700 acres. They then divided some of the acreage up into 40” by 60” parcels and proceeded to build better cottages, installed water & sewer. The railroad owned all the land and cottages and everyone either leased or rented from them. The vision for an amusement park had begun. In a few short years arbors, gardens, lovers lanes and ponds appeared. Also a midway that included two carousels, roller coaster, shooting gallery, house of fun, bowling alley, souvenir shops, burro rides, roller skating rink, toboggan slides that propelled beach goers directly into the river, picnic grounds, open air rustic theater, a 9 hole golf course, canoes and boats for rent, more hotels, and nearly a mile of sandy shore line on the river.

A bridge was built complete with a miniature train to transport people to a 60 acre island in the middle of the river named Sport Island. This was developed for sporting events complete with a baseball stadium. It also provided a venue for hot air balloon ascensions were daring feats would be performed high above the heads of the spectators. Also boxing matches and militia reenactments of various battles. The wooden bridge was removable to accommodate for log drives and the winter ice.

By 1905 the FJ&G controlled or owned everything in the park. The visitors were coming in droves to spend time enjoying the summer months. The summer of 1906 brought 75,000 visitors and in 1907 90,000. The park had it’s own police dept and upon the building of the new station in 1922 it’s own post office.
By Lorraine Frasier

Sacandaga Park once had the opportunity to share the same enchantment as Saratoga. The finding of a mineral spring and the idea of a casino didn’t happen at the same time, or even in the same decade, but one may have eventually led to the idea of the other. The account of the mineral spring follows:
June 1875: A sulpher and chalybeate spring has been discovered by Mr. John Ressigue on the line of the Northville Railroad, opposite our village. There are traces of soda and minerals, but what kind and how many will only be determined by analysis. There is much jubilation within the community and bordering towns. The curbing will start immediately. A pavilion is being planned to be erected over it but has not yet been completed by the architect. The bottling has already begun, two well known citizens have engaged in it but enterprises have been crippled until better transportation is furnished. Northville is destined to be the site of the new Saratoga.”

Early in the 17th century, chalybeate water was said to have health-giving properties and positive psychological effects. This water was bottled and marketed as Lithia water. One of the main reasons why Lithia Water never was a successful bottled beverage because of the settling of mineral content when the bottle sat for a while. That’s most of the reason why people traveled to drink directly from the spring.

The first draw for visitors to Saratoga were the naturally occurring mineral springs. The springs pre-dated the white man. In 1767 an ailing Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs and friend of the Mohawks, was transported to Saratoga as he had been stricken very ill from a wound . After spending but a few days drinking from the spring and bathing in the spring waters, the long unhealed wound was made sound. Johnson is generally considered the first white man to ‘take the cure.

The FJ& G railroad had finished the Northville line in 1875. Some of the initial work had been started by Northville businessmen who had declared bankruptcy in the endeavor and were bought out by the F.J.&G. In excavation of ground that still needed to be done to complete the line, this celebrated spring must have risen to the surface.

In April 1899 the idea of a casino in Sacandaga Park started with the riverfront property purchase made by the FJ& G Railroad. This purchase was considered the largest and most important real estate transactions that had happened in some time.

In 1898 one hundred and eleven private cottages had burned and the FJ &G had purchased the cottage properties and the entire river front for a mile along it’s shoreline. This allowed the railroad to turn the designated road of 5th avenue, that led east to the riverfront, into the Midway. The cottage of a S.H. Shotwell was to be transformed into a casino. The casino opened in the summer of 1899 for the season and was operated by Patrick H. McDonough of Albany.

In the Fourth Constitution of the State of New York (“The 1894 Constitution”) in Article I § 9 provided: “No lottery or the sale of lottery tickets, pool-selling, book making, or any other kind of gambling hereafter be authorized or allowed within this State; and the Legislature shall pass appropriate laws to prevent offenses against any of the provisions of this section.” Just how well that law was enforced would be the question. According to Saratoga history the Canfield Casino had been opened in the 1870’s, but was closed by reformers in 1907.

After the 1899 July-September summer season of the casino this information March 1900 was found: “The casino at Sacandaga Park, which created such a commotion among the church people and general public last summer, is to be discontinued. This will be joyfully received as a piece of welcome news. In the casino’s stead will be a first-class hotel and restaurant, free from all objectionable features, is another item that interest the people. But more pleasing still is that it carries with it the assurance that the enterprise is in safe hands having been leased to Richard P. Cornell of Johnstown by the F J & G Railroad company. Mr. Cornell will assume sole proprietorship, and conduct the first class hotel and eating house in such a manner as to offend none and guarantee the best of treatment to all who seek quiet and rest under his roof.

Mr. Cornell is a reputable and responsible citizen, a proprietor of the court, and regards the law pertaining to hotel business. The hotel will keep no side door on Sunday and Mr. Cornell has the confidence and respect of the best element of society. In the management of the hotel at the park everything will be under his immediate supervision, and nothing of an offensive nature will be permitted around the premises.”

Prohibition developed in 1840 was not implemented until 1920. It was supported by Methodists who spearheaded the cause and was joined by Northern and Southern Baptists, Presbyterian, Congregationalists, Quakers, and some Lutherans. The Sacandaga River Valley was inhabited by most of these denominations. African Americans and women also supported the cause.

Columnists note : The March 1900 article above goes to great lengths to reassure residents that a reputable man will be in charge of the hotel. The reference to: “keeping no side door on Sunday” was apparently a practice that some of the area taverns and hotels did not adhere too. Thereby allowing those who drank, possibly to excess, the opportunity to drink seven days a week.

Apparently the casino must have created a fervor which was probably expressed to the owners of the FJ&G railroad throughout the winter of 1899 into early spring of 1900. It most likely generated correspondence of displeasure by citizens, organizations, and the churches.

As to what restaurant/hotel was created when the casino idea failed: Since the name of the establishment was never mentioned connected to the renovated Shotwell cottage one is left to wonder what restaurant this Mr. Cornell would be operating.

Horse racing was the missing part of the trio for Sacandaga Park to become a mini-Saratoga Had the casino succeeded maybe a track would have been built also. The Saratoga thoroughbred track opened on August 3, 1863. It is the oldest track in the United States.

It could not be determined by references if any viable business ever became of the spring mentioned at the beginning of this article. No photos of the spring were found. An undated map of Sacandaga Park does note a “Crystal Spring” but whether that is the mineral spring or not is unknown.

As for Patrick H. McDonough of Albany who ran the casino: He leased a newly built large property in Sacandaga Park which was opened June 9th of 1900 and was named the Rialto.
By Lorraine Frasier