Mineral waters for drinking and bathing made Saratoga Springs, New York a world famous health spa in the early 1900s. The Spa Park still offers healthful mineral spring waters.


Copyright 2018 by Richard O. Aichele & Information Works Inc.

PO Box 4725, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 USA



Mineral Springs

New York's Saratoga Spa


It was a spectacular sight. The spouting well called Champion Number 1 "was powerful enough to throw foaming and sparkling water 80 to 100 feet up in the air" according to documents of the period.

wrap text around image The carbonic gas content and the mineral water combination is naturally created deep underground. It is considered unique to the Saratoga region and found in almost all Saratoga mineral water springs.

However, Champion Number 1 was totally unique as a spouting spring. The well was drilled in 1887 and continually attracted people to view it and drink its waters into the early 1900s. Champion Number 1 was located just east of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad's mainline between Montreal and New York City and the railroad's passenger trains passed the Champion Number 1, giving passenger a view daily. The railroad's famous Montreal Limited in 1907 passed about 2:00 PM and the train often slowed down to give its passengers an extra good view of the spouter. The well's owners cooperated by regulating the well opening to give the most powerful spouting flow for that train's passengers. Champion Number 1 was the regions first notable spouters that helped make Saratoga Springs famous to the public.

Mineral spring waters have always been considered to provide health benefits. In the case of Champion Number 1, an analysis by Prof. C. F. Chandler of the Columbia College of Mines determined "the mineral water "exhibited a combination of medicinal qualities not found in so rich a proportion in any other spring." Chandlar's study identified mineral components of the water including Potassium, Magnesia, Iron, Lithia and Strontia. A related period document stated the water offered a "remarkable cure for some of the prevailing diseases" including Rheumatism, kidney and, liver and diseases. Public interest in the mineral spring water was a factor in the later development of Saratoga Springs as a health resort.

Click Here Mineral Springs Healthy Waters for more details.

The 1887 discovery of Champion Number 1 with its high volume of Carbonic Acid Gas attracted commercial interests and led to development of an industry to capture the gas and waste the mineral waters. By 1915 there were more than 140 springs and drilled wells to access the carbonated mineral spring waters under the ground in a small area of what is now Saratoga Springs Spa State Park.

Today there are only 12 remaining carbonated mineral water springs accessible at park's drinking fountains to the public. One carbonated water spring formerly used at the park's three bathhouses now serves the one bathhouse remaining. One carbonated mineral water spring, the Coesa Spring is used as a spouter in a small lake and plans are being discussed to restore its drinking fountain for public use. Two other carbonated water springs, the Champion Number 2 and the Shonts Well could possibly be restored for drinking use in the future.

Two water drinking sources identified as the State Seal and the Ferndell Spring are neither carbonated or contain high mineral content and are a still-water popular with visitors to the Spa Park.

wrap text around imageThe Spa Park's active mineral springs includes the Island Spouter shown here that can be reached by using the park's excellent trail system with easy access from the park roads. Close by are the Polaris, Polaris Number 4, Hayes and Karista Springs. The Orenda Spring is also nearby along the Vale of the Springs Trail.


Rediscovering An Old Historic Spouter

The Champion Number 2 Spring

wrap text around imageIn the late 1800's, years before the Spa State Park was established, several Champion spouting mineral water wells were drilled on the private Champion Natural Gas Company property. The first, Champion Number 1, was powerful enough to "throw foaming and sparkling water 80 to 100 feet up in the air." The second, Champion Number 2 was less powerful but a great attraction. They were a major reason that made the Saratoga Region famous. The Champion property was acquired by the State of New York and by 1915 the mineral water spring sites were developed with many walking trails allowing the public to enjoy the many mineral water springs for their potential health benefits in what was then known as Spa Park.

The Champion Number 2 spouter underwent many cosmetic changes from a vertical water spray to less water directed into a decorative glass ball to the vertical upward water spray about 1937 image and finally aiming the water spray into the pond as shown in the image below. The observation platform, constructed of heavy concrete sections, was destroyed about 60 years ago by a sudden very strong flood condition of the Geyser Creek. The well head itself was not restored. A long period of benign neglect of the mineral water features of Saratoga Springs Spa Park including closing of the bath houses and public access to the mineral water springs began.

Finally about ten years ago, a program to restore parts of the Vale of the Springs Trail between the Geyser Picnic Area and the former Champion Number 2 Spouter was undertaken. However, no attempt to restore or even mark the Spouter was made and it disappeared further into the park's lost history. Only large oieces of concrete from the collapsed platform with the Geyser Creek's waters flowing around remain today.

wrap text around imageDetermining the story of Champion Number 2 became one part of a larger effort by Richard O. Aichele to find and preserve the lost history of Saratoga Spa State Park. Over a three year period, as time permitted, he researched old documents, photographs, maps and construction methods of the past for clues to the spouters disappearance and exact location. The search was unexpectedly successful on August 25, 2015.


wrap text around image Due to low water level of Geyser Creek, he observed unusual upward turbulance in the Geyser Creek which he believed was near the possible location of Champion Number 2 Spring. A follow-up investigation of the streambed the next day with Phillip Henzel confirmed that the turbulance was in fact the upward flow from the long-lost Champion Number 2 spouter's wellhead. It is near the remaining large concrete and stone segments of the old platform but was not damaged when the platform was destroyed about 60 years earlier.

testpipePhoto on the right shows a test pipe attached to the original underwater well pipe. The mineral water flow shown was still strong and steady after more than 60 years hidden from public view. The test pipe has been removed. The large blocks of concrete on the right side of the image are some of the remains of the platform shown in the photo above on the right.


A Candidate for Restoration

wrap text around imageThe broken concrete structures near the wellhead are the remains of the original platform and possibly could be incorporated into a new rebuilt platform. The platform's 6 foot long end wall with a base 30 inches in thickness and faced with decorative stone rests on a poured concrete foundation approximately 36 inches wide and more than 18 inches high. The remaining side wall structures are similarly substantial. A concrete frame now broken in several places was likely the wellhead access opening in the concrete platform's top surface. The overall original design of the platform provided a large barrier that protected the adjacent dirt embankment from erosion by the Geyser Creek's water flow as it emerged from the tunnel.



Saratoga Regional Geological Evolutions

Millions of years evolving geological history led to the creation of the mineral waters of Saratoga State Park and surrounding areas. During the glacial period, the area was covered by the geological Lake Albany but as that water drained away the area became dry land. The Coesa Spring and Spouter located in the park was once a source of water for Lake Albany. The water flow from Coesa Spring remains a source of water for a small lake on the west side of the park near New York State Route 50 and the outflow from that lake is a tributary to Geyser Creek, then flowing into Kayaderosseras Creek and ultimately the Hudson River.

"The mineral waters of the Saratoga region are found in a natural reservoir in the sandstone or dolomite layers of the earth's crust, namely Amsterdam limestone. They occupy channels and cavities formed by the solution of the limestone in these rocks. The channels are connected on different levels by passageways making it possible for the waters to circulate freely throughout the same area. As they circulate they find egress to the earth's surface at the fault that connects with surface. The cause of the rise of the water in a natural flow is due to the carbon dioxide gas with which the water stored in the channels is saturated. When an opening is found in the rock at or near the surface, the gas released from the from the water sources forces the water to rise and flow out on the surface. It is interesting to note that wherever the mineral waters are found, Canajoharie shale forms the surface layer of rocks. Because it is impervious to water, the shale prevents the mineral water from reaching the surface except along fault lines where the surface is broken. In the same way, surface water is prevented from reaching and mixing with the mineral waters," according to Grace Maguire Swanner, M.D. in her book Saratoga Queen of Spas.


The Vale of Springs Trail

The broad challenges to preserve, maintain and selectively improve national treasures are immense. Reduced levels of funding for local, state and national parks combined with a general public lack of awareness and public support of the parks are among the major specific committment challenges. For Saratoga Spa State Park, that committment challenge coincided with the park's upcoming 100th aniversary and the deterioration of an important part of the park and its history. At issue a few years ago was an area upstream of the picnic area and the Spouter and the risk was that without major restoration work, "We would have had to close off part of our park," explained Heather Mabee, Chair of the Saratoga-Capital Park Commission at that time.

The solution was creating a public - private partnership to restore and improve the park's Vale of Springs area. According to the state parks department, one initial goal was to "recognize the 100th Anniversary of the Saratoga Springs Spa Park, [and] the Saratoga - Capital Park Commission led a fundraising effort to secure $250,000 in donations and in-kind services to rehabilitate the area hosting the rare spouting mineral springs.

wrap text around imageThe project became a perfect model of a public-private partnership. "The Saratoga community identified a need within the park and worked tirelessly toward its completion. The involvement of local businesses in this project—who donated both money and in-kind services—is particularly inspiring and demonstrates just how special this park is to the surrounding community. I am tremendously grateful for the support and commitment to the park that made the project a reality," said Mabee.

wrap text around imageAccording to the New York State Parks Commission, the Vale of Springs is now "one of the most popular educational programs" offered at Saratoga Spa State Park. The improvement program also provided the mineral springs loop trail with "interpretive signs along the way to help visitors understand the extraordinary history and natural features of the springs along Geyser Brook" and the work restored "the 1930s plazas and pavilions to accentuate the beauty of the landscape and allow visitors a new space to pause and take in the scene." Also very importantly, accessibility to the area for Americans with disabilities to the Vale of Springs was improved.

The winter photo shows the impressive Orenda Spring tufa formation along the lower level of the Vale of Springs walking trail



Restoration Project - Ferndell Trail's Bridge and Fountain

wrap text around imageA major project upgrade of the Ferndell Trail was the installation of the new bridge over Ferndell Creek at its eastern end on June 21, 2013. The trail's new bridge is close to the site of the former Ferndell Spring and Fountain that was once famous for its low mineral content drinking water. The new bridge's 13 feet long x 8 feet wide design accommodates today's increased number of walking and running users that enjoy the trail. The railings were designed to recreate the historical visual ambiance of the smaller original historic bridge that had dated back to the early 1920s. The new bridge structure using environmentally-friendly long-life wood. and constructed by members of the Friends of Saratoga Springs State Park had been designed by Christopher More, senior environmental engineer, with the Saratoga Spa Park's engineering staff.




Outside Spa Park -- The High Rock Spring

The stone escarpment bordering High Rock Park marks the western edge of the Saratoga Fault Line. The High Rock Spring is distinguished from other springs by a natural cone of hardened mineral deposits at its base. The curative benefits of the mineral water that naturally flowed from the spring were known to Native Americans long before the first colonists reached the New World. The Mohawk Indians carried an ailing Sir William Johnson to the spring in 1771 He was the first non-Native American to visit the site and word soon caught on outside the Iroquois Nation that the waters throughout this obscure region held extraordinary healing powers. The High Rock Spring had also been visited by officers of the American Revolutionary Army after the Battle of Saratoga.

wrap text around imageIn 1824, Chancellor Reuben Hyde Walworth visited the High Rock Spring. He spoke with an elderly Indian chief “the between 80 and 90 years of age and in perfect mental vigor.” He was of of the Indians near St. Regis who had been born on the banks of the Mohawk River. The chief said he emigrated to Canada with his father several years before the Revolution. When he was 15 years old and shortly before he went to Canada he visited the Great Medicine Spring. “I asked him if the water flowed over the top of the rock at that time. He said it did not that they had to get the medicine water by dipping it out of the rock with a gourd shell. There was a tradition, he said, among the Indians that the Medicine Water had formerly flowed out of the rock at its top but it ceased to do so a long time before he came to it with his father.”

The High Rock Spring rock cone was described as, "a conical shape rising about four feet above the earth. It is about eight feet in diameter at the base and about fifteen inches at the apex. The cavity, at the top, is about ten inches in diameter and increases in size as it descends. The water stands at about three feet below the top of the rock," according a 1858 document by M. L. North M.D. now in the collection of the Saratoga Springs Public Library - Saratoga Room.

Restoration and Rededication

In 1865, the High Rock Spring property was purchased by Seymour Ainsworth and W. H. McCaffrey. The new owners undertook a major excavation to increase the spring’s water flow. The covering structure over the spring area was removed. Using a hoist, workmen separated the cone from the surface and it was lifted off[the ground and moved it out of the way. Henry McGuier's 1867 detailed report of the excavation, also at the Saratoga Springs Public Library - Saratoga Room, described the operation: "Upon removing the soil quite down to the permanent orifice in the rock below, and by supplying an artificial channel between that point and the surface, to re-produce that much desired spectacle of the water once again bubbling up, and running over the cone. After passing through about seven feet of comingled muck and tufa, they came upon a layer of tufe about two feet think, then a stratum of muck, then another stratum of tufa three feet thick; through the muck were disseminated the trunks of large large trees and pine and other forest leaves, in profuse abundance -- the concentric rings of the trunks of one of the trees, and found one hundred and thirty -- those trees must have lain there for a long period of time before they became covered by the increasing peaty deposit... [Then]wrap text around image proceeding through alternative strata of muck and tufa down to the desired point where an opening was reached which furnished a volume of water vastly superior to anything before ever witnessed at this point. A tube was then furnished , placed in position and properly secured, in which the mineral water rose several feet above the above the original surface of the rock or cone. Preparations were immediately made for replacing the rock back upon the vein of water, and after considerable labor and trial that purpose was accomplished, and water welled up through the orifice and overflowed the rock; a spectacle never before presented" except possibly to Native American Indians. At the High Rock Spring Rededication ceremony in 1866, Chancellor Reuben Walworth said, "when the Great Medicine Spring had ceased to flow over the top is not known to anyone now living but with artificial means on August 22, 1866 it again flows over the top."

Era of the Dipper Boys

Dipper Boys at the mineral springs in the city and at the State Park performed valued jobs during the late 1800s and early 1900s. A typical example was the Dipper Boy at the High Rock Spring shown in the photo who used a long handled dipper that held drinking glasses to fill them from the springs and serve them to the visitors. One Dipper Boy recalled years later that they were at the springs working for tips for many hours "pouring the water into glasses held in the outstretched hands of patrons or other boys who served the customers at the tables." wrap text around image

As the years passed, local ground water conditions changed. The area's stream flowing there often resulted in swampy or ponding areas. Gradually the low lying areas in and around the High Rock Park were filled in with dirt and rocks raising the ground level as much as six feet in some places to eliminate the flooding. The stream water was also carried off with the storm drains. Ultimately, the area's geological conditions were likely affected by continual surface changes and below ground changes over the past 140 years. McGuier's study confirmed the excavation findings that High Rock Spring "had no direct or immediate connection to the rock below" and that the water that reached the spring was "supplied by percolation through the intervening soil." If the surface changes are as described in historical documents, it is possible percolation and water pressure can no longer supply sufficient natural mineral water flow to the spring. At this time, the natural flow of the High Rock Spring's mineral water has ceased.


Historic High Rock Spring Pavilions

1865 1913


The Emperor Spring


Photo above was published in 1916 by the State of New York showing the "Emperor Spring in Historic High Rock Park, Showing Newly Constructed Bowl, and Famous Rock Scarp in Background." The High Rock Spring's pavilion is shown beyond the trees. The depth of the new bowl accessed by the concrete steps may represent the depth of the swampy area and pond of that area in earlier years that had been filled. As recently as 1988, Grace Maguire Swanner, M.D. described the Emperor Spring located just south of the High Rock Spring as "one of the most important springs on the Reservation since the demand for its water was greater than that of any other spring on the Reservation." The Emperor Spring had been retubed and resealed in 1916, Swanner wrote, bringing it to a "condition of purity that had not been known for many years."


Mineral Water Springs of Ballston Spa, New York

wrap text around imageThe Old Iron Spring in Ballston Spa was discovered in 1769 by Colonists during surveys of the Kayaderosseras Patent and the spring waters still flow today. This spring and others in the area had been used by Native American Indians for the heathful characteristics of the waters many years earlier. In the late 1800s, (see photo) the area around the Old Iron Spring was continually improved including construction of the Spring House that served refreshing mineral water. The Spring House was restored during the 1990s and is open during special events.

During the past 245 years, Ballston Spa had a total of 19 named mineral water springs that were active at different times. The Sans Souci Springs group of springs included the Low's Spring, Sulphur Spring, Park Spring and the San Souchi Spring. Today, the Medbury Inn and Spa in Ballston Spa still offer private mineral baths using the Sans Souchi Spring's "naturally carbonated mineral water heated to body temperature."


Click To Visit These Related Websites:

Mineral Springs Saratoga Ferndell

Mineral Springs Healthy Waters

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