While famous for several carbonated mineral waters, Saratoga Springs, NY was also the source of an excellent non-mineral, still drinking water since 1915. It is still avaialbe today at the state park.


Copyright 2017 by Richard O. Aichele & Information Works Inc.


Mineral Springs

The Ferndell Soft Water


In 1909, New York State enacted a law that led to ending commercial uses of the Saratoga Springs region’s underground mineral waters for their gas content to prevent the underground spring water and gas resources total depletion. Instead, the State Reservation, also called Geyser Park, that later became Saratoga Spa State Park was established and over one hundred of the commercial wells were sealed. By 1915, the state’s public works investments were increasing with the goal of developing a health resort based on therapeutic uses of the Saratoga mineral waters as in the popular spas of Europe. The mineral waters from the different springs were considered by medical professionals to have curative effects when used for drinking and bathing.

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As the first bath houses using mineral waters in the Reservation’s Lincoln Park area came into use a developing problem was the lack of good drinking water. According to Reservation Commissioners Peabody, Godfrey and Tracy about 1912, “the condition of the water furnished to the Reservation by the village water system…was repulsive.” Their solution was drilling new fresh water wells in Lincoln Park for the Geyser Park and the Reservation buildings at the springs in the village. That fresh water, known as soft sweet water, quickly became very popular.

The new water supply’s quality was unsurpassed testing at total solids of only 145 parts per million. Based on the flow from those wells, the three commissioners authorized construction of a Lincoln Park supply plant with a capacity of 30,000 gallons per day and the ability to increase output to 100,000 gallon per day as new more elaborate bath houses were built.

Finding The Best Non-Mineral Water Source

“From the beginning…it was evident that a pure sweet spring water was most desirable. A systematic survey was made of the many sweet water springs in Geyser Park. The results were exceedingly favorable. Upon evaporation to dryness tests, all of the waters showed less total solids than the principal marketed pure still waters. The spring showing the smallest total of solids was found located near the Willow Gate of Geyser Park, in a very picturesque ravine and it was chosen for development,” according to Charles G. Anthony, consulting engineer to the park. It’s value was confirmed by Herbert Ant, chemist with the reservation commission, who stated, “the great flow of the water during the extreme drought of the 1914 summer vouchsafes a permanent and plentiful supply.” It became known as the Ferndell Spring.

wrap text around imageThe wooded land along Columbia Avenue was acquired from the Shonts family for the new Ferndell Springs’ bottling plant. Known as the Saratoga Soft Sweet Spring Bottling Works, the facility and the springs was protected to prevent any contamination of the water by a surrounding wire fence four to six foot high topped by two rows of barbed wire. The fencing extended approximately 1,200 feet along the west side of the road, extended 350 feet on both sides deep into the wooded area with a connecting rear fence. The north property line ran along the Ferndell Brook.



Ferndell Fountain's 100 Year Long Evolution

For the visitors to Geyser Park in 1915, the Willow Gate and the Ferndell Spring became a popular attraction. The bottling plant was located on the Saratoga Plateau at 320 feet above sea level elevation within the protective fence. The spring was below in the Ferndell ravine also within the protective fence at an elevation of 276 feet. The park constructed a concrete walkway along the Ferndell Brook outside of the protective fence for easy access down the sloping trail to view the Spring.

The Spring ’s original decorative cover was at ground level and behind the protective fence that enclosed the property. The Spring itself “was encased in a white marble pit surmounted by a glass dome with pure copper frame.” (photo below top left).

In 1917, the original covered spring decorative cover was removed and the spring head was totally enclosed. The park then further improved the trail including an ornate Adirondack style wooden bridge crossing Ferndell Brook (photo top right).

A more conventionally designed drinking fountain was then installed on the public side of the fence with spigots allowing visitors to sample the Ferndell water (photo center left).

Over the next fifty years, the fountain’s location changed slightly several times along the trail (photo center right) until the fountain disappeared.

In 2015, as part of a trail upgrade program a new replacement fountain, a small dam and new wooden bridge were installed (photo below bottom center while under construction).

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Bottling The Ferndell Waters

As the bottled water business grew, the operation’s name was changed from the Saratoga Soft Sweet Spring Bottling Works to the Ferndell Bottling Works and it produced only Ferndell bottled water. Mineral waters were bottled at another facility.

wrap text around imageThe original building in 1915 was 1,900 sq. ft. of work space plus an attached 400 sq. ft. boiler room. The bottling process’ cleanliness procedures and sanitation in all areas on the operation was the priority. Documents described the daily operations: “Special bath rooms are provided in the Ferndell bottling plant, in which every employee is required to bathe daily before going to work. Fresh white suits are then donned, which are later laundered and sterilized every day.” As an added safeguard, a toilet for bottling plant visitors was located on the east side of the road outside of the fenced in area. The complete sanitary measures ensured the state’s goal for “a large supply of pure, sweet, wholesome water free from any sign of bacteria or pollution” was achieved.

The original plant’s operation was described by Charles G. Anthony, consulting engineer to the Reservation Commission: “The equipment has been designed that complete sterilization and absolute hygienic conditions exist from the spring to the bottle. The spring itself is carefully lined with polished white marble and surmounted by a glass dome. The dome being hermetically sealed to the marble to prevent any possible chance of pollution. The water is taken from the spring to the bottling works by means of a silver plated pump, through a block-tin-lined pipe to a glass storage tank. From the glass tank in the building, the water flows by gravity through glass pipes to the filling machine. Before filling, the bottles are washed in a soda solution, rinsed with clear water, subjected to live steam for eight minutes and then sprayed with a jet of boiling water. Arrangements are provided for properly sterilizing the crowns used to seal the bottles. All of these precautions have not as we know been taken at any other bottling plant. No detail has been too trivial for careful consideration to be completely sanitary.”

The bottled Ferndell soft water business increased and during 1917 and 1918 the Reservation Commissioners authorized a major expansion of the bottling works. The facility was expanded to 6,300 sq. ft. allowing production to increase from eighty 5-gallon demijohns and 5,000 pint, quart and gallon bottles in the old plant to a maximum production of 7,000 gallons per day. That allowed shipments of two railroad boxcar loads of water daily. The Ferndell Soft Sweet Spring bottled water was transported from the bottling plant by truck to the special Delaware and Hudson Railroad siding near Ballston Avenue for daily rail shipments to Albany including to the State Capitol and three carloads per week to the Watervliet Arsenal.

The Reservation Commissioners also authorized investments in the bottling works including in what was called the latest Twentieth Century filling machinery and piping designs. According to state Conservation Commission documents dated 1917 the new designs successfully achieved a fast filling operation able to “pump Ferndell water directly from the well into the bottle without exposure to either light or air. The water is pumped from the wells to a pressure tank, which in turn is piped to the filters. In this way there is no exposure to light or air and the water is placed in the bottle in the same condition as it was taken from the ground. This has eliminated the trouble caused by growth of algae which was encountered when the old system was in use. The filling and storage system is connected directly to the steam boiler, so that live steam can be passed through all tanks and pipe lines before filling is begun. This assures clean and sterile conditions at all times.”


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Since the original Ferndell Spring water supply was not adequate for the expanded bottling operation, new wells were drilled approximately 60 to 110 feet away from the plant. “Three six inch bores were sunk to the clay and the water intercepted at a depth between 30 and 40 feet. Strainers covered with with screening of 100 meshes to the inch were then inserted and the wells tubed.The six inch casing was then withdrawn and the hole was packed with washed gravel to retain fine sand and silt,” according to a Conservation Commission document.

Additional details of the Ferndell wells were contained in a state health department report dated December 1920 that noted: “The wells are each 1 1/4 inches in diameter, fitted with 30 inch strainers and are 33, 34 and 39 feet deep respectively. They are located between 40 and 60 feet southeast of the bottling plant and connected to the plant by pipes laid beneath the surface of the ground. The soil in the vicinity is a fine sand containing some loam.

There are, apparently, no permanent sources of pollution within 1/4 mile of the wells. A public road passes about 150 feet east of the wells. There is a public comfort station located about 300 feet north of them [the wells]. However, this comfort station has never been used. A toilet is provided in the bottling plant and drains to a swamp about 1/3 of a mile southeast of the wells. The connection from the toilet to the swamp is cast iron pipe laid with lead joints. This pipe passes within about 35 feet of the nearest well.”

The bottling plant’s ground water supply source was further expanded in the mid-1900s when the newer State Seal well points were also connected to the Ferndell bottling plant with a 400 foot long three inch underground pipe.

Topography Determined Springs’ Locations

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Understanding the Saratoga region’s naturally flowing springs and man made wells flowing from the underground mineral and fresh water natural networks has produced many topography studies since the late 1800s.

A 1915 overview by Charles C. Lester, A.M., counsel to the Reservation Commissioners, included: “The Saratoga Plateau is an elevated plain upon which a large part of the village of Saratoga Springs is built and which extends for a considerable distance, in every direction but for the north from the Congress Spring. This plain is about forty feet above the point of overflow of the Hathorn Spring, and a much greater height above the water courses which bound it on the south and many of the wells in the Coesa valley… The southern boundary is the valley of the Kayaderosseras Creek….” Included in that area is the Reservation and the Ferndell.

”Saratoga Ferndell Water issues from a sandy slope in Geyser Park and overflows into a ravine to swell Ferndell Brook. Before coming to the surface, the spring flows a considerable distance through an excellent filter of sand and gravel. Its volume is 60 gallons a minute. This water is non-mineral. Many and repeated analysis show on evaporation an average of 115 parts per million of total solids, which indicates an unusually fine drinking water, approximating distilled water in its purity,” wrote the chemist Herbert Ant.

The most important issue for the Ferndell and Lincoln Tract soft waters is “the fact that at a depth of about fifty feet below the surface there is a heavy deposit of clay, quite impervious to water which sustains the upper ground waters…therefore the superficial system of fresh ground water and the deeper system of mineralized ground water are not intimately connected through the Saratoga plateau,” according to Charles C. Lester in 1915. He referred to the separation as a Double Hydraulic System but was concerned at that time that the excessive past commercial drilling to great depths through the clay layer may have compromised the natural separation

The surface, known as the Saratoga Plateau is at an elevation generally of 300 feet above sea level. A U.S. Geological Survey report (1994) by Paul M. Heisig identifies the area containing the original Ferndell Spring and the three drilled Ferndell wells as the Lacustrine Sand plateau bordered on the west by a Till Deposit area and a Washed Till area. “The Lacustrine Sand is normally a well sorted, stratified with fine to very fine sand and can be up to 95 feet thick… The Saratoga Springs Lacustrine deposits include sand and gravel, sand, and silt and clay. Till is an unsorted mixture of rock fragments ranging in size from clay to boulders. "Lacustrine sand forms a broad plain over the central and the northeastern parts of the quadrangle and also caps the Malta Ridge in the southeastern corner," noted the Geological Survey report.

Historic Preservation and Restoration At Work

wrap text around imageThe Ferndell Bottling Works building was demolished about 1960 and it is possible the fountain was removed at that time. As a result, the excellent water was not available. The park’s program began in 2012 to improve all aspects of the Ferndell trail. The park’s staff removed some trees to bring light to the trail, improved drainage and with assistance from the volunteer Friends of Saratoga Spa State Park, successfully restored a working Ferndell Spring, Ferndell water fountain and wooden bridge for Spa Park users to enjoy. .


The writer thanks staff at the Saratoga Springs Library - Saratoga Room, staff at Saratoga Spa State Park and the staff at Saratoga County Soil and Water Conservation District for their assistance accessing background documentation.

Article Copyright 2017. All rights reserved by Richard O. Aichele & Information Works Inc., Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 USA

This article is part of a continual research project.

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