Leisure Means 45 Dresses and Ten Trunks in Saratoga


There’s a time and place for brilliantly written books with layers and symbols and long sentences, but then there’s the rest of the time when a good read is something like the book above. Buck was supposed to take his new wife to Long Branch, NJ, but I was overlooking a much better location only 10 minutes from my house until this book dropped into my lap–SARATOGA SPRINGS! Since moving up here I’ve wondered why the little city is a vacation destination because I didn’t know the history.

Did you know that in the 1860’s it was the most famous resort town in America? People came from the South to escape the summer heat and stayed at enormous hotels–that was the draw–enormous hotels. That’s it. What did they do for fun? Eventually the race track came, but for a long while they just hung out at their hotel. Now when we think of hotels we imagine the private affairs of today with the little fridges or the cheap ones with the ice machines and thin walls, but back then while the walls may have been thin and the hallways almost too narrow for the hoop skirts and trunks filled with dresses (an estimated 45 dresses were needed for the July-August season) the purpose of hotel life back in the day was to socialize with other people of your ilk–The United States Hotel catered to the wealthy and politically connected, The Grand Union drew in the academics, the ministers, the lawyers and judges (Dullsville) and Congress Hall kept the “socially-minded” crowd up until all hours of the night dancing and partying. There were even cottages attached to some hotels for those wanting a bit more privacy. Men bringing unwed women to these cottages  told the clerks that they were traveling with their nieces. Hmm.

While only guests could come inside these hotels that lined Broadway, each had enormous piazzas where anyone off the street could come sit and play at being something they were not. How fun. Political dignitaries–like US Grant and business folks like August Belmont and the Vanderbilts mixed with solidly middle class people all hoping to marry off their girls well.

We imagine women of the day being very prim in their Victorian garb, but in Saratoga women came out in the mornings in sheer robes to take drinks from the springs (for health reasons–haha). You can bet that many young men came, too (for their health).

So there’s been a change of plans for Buck and me. Our summer looks like this:

Research: get a tour of the only standing hotel with a piazza left from the 19th Century ( they have a great secret garden, I hear).

The Adelphi Hotel



Then off to the races to admire people’s hats for $3 admission (the track has a super democratic feel to it with bums and pretty people bumping up against each other). The horses are spectacular, too.


Of course I’ll keep my eyes open for any house tours and I have a good reason to stop into a tea shop I’ve been meaning to get to.

Then there’s Yaddo. “Regular” people can’t get into the mansion that financier Spencer Trask built for his poet wife, but the gardens in June should be brilliant with roses. I took the kids there once in the fall when we were really doing some major family blending but it ended with one kid rolling another in deer crap and the eldest nearly impaling the youngest with a very large stick. Three kids off to college this year so no worries on this research mission. A sad note: The Trasks had four young kids die on them and so no heirs. A happy note: they turned the mansion into an artists’ colony of sorts (only good artists though).



How will Buck find Saratoga? It’s hard to know but thanks to a little self published book by Dr. Hollis A. Palmer we’ll have a lot of fun exploring!