Canfield Casino and Congress Park

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Canfield Casino and Congress Park
Canfield Casino, Saratoga Springs, NY.jpg
Front (south) elevation and west profile, 2008
Canfield Casino and Congress Park is located in New York
Canfield Casino and Congress Park
Canfield Casino and Congress Park is located in the US
Canfield Casino and Congress Park
Location Saratoga Springs, NY
Coordinates 43°4′44.68″N 73°46′56.28″W / 43.0790778°N 73.7823000°W / 43.0790778; -73.7823000Coordinates: 43°4′44.68″N 73°46′56.28″W / 43.0790778°N 73.7823000°W / 43.0790778; -73.7823000
Area 17 acres (6.9 ha)
Built 1825
Architectural style Renaissance Revival
NRHP reference # 72000910, 87000904
Significant dates
Added to NRHP 1972[1]
Designated NHLD February 27, 1987[2]

Canfield Casino and Congress Park is a 17-acre (6.9 ha) site in Saratoga Springs, New York, United States. It was the site of the former Congress Spring Bottling Plant and the former Congress Hall, a large resort hotel, which together brought Saratoga Springs international fame as a health spa and gambling site. At the peak of its popularity it was a place where the wealthy, major gamblers and stars of the entertainment world mingled. The park's artwork includes a statue by Daniel Chester French and a landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted, among others.

It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987[2][3] after having originally been submitted and listed as the Casino-Congress Park-Circular Street Historic District in 1972.[4] The later listing excluded some of the property outside the park and halved the overall size of the district.

Congress Park is currently operated by the City of Saratoga Springs as a park, bounded by Broadway, Spring Street, and Circular Street in Saratoga Springs. The Canfield Casino building, built in 1870, houses the Saratoga Springs History Museum. Gambling was ended by reformers in 1907.[3]


The district boundaries are curved and irregular, generally following those of the park itself. It is bordered by Spring Street on the north and Circular Street (both part of NY 9P), down to its intersection with Park Place. It follows the 300-foot (91 m) elevation contour line on the west, excluding some of the buildings on Broadway (US 9/NY 50) southwest of the park and then joins Broadway south of Union Avenue, back to its northwest corner at Spring Street.[3]

The original historic district included some houses on Circular and Spring streets and Whitney Place. Their removal from it made the district about 16 acres (6.5 ha) smaller[4]

A short, narrow street, named East Congress Street (because it extends Congress Street from Broadway on), runs across the park from east to west. There are parking spaces along both sides. Stone walls set off the park from the nearby street. The section north of the road is dominated by the casino and parkland around it, the section to the south is primarily hilly parkland.

This area is a buffer between the developed commercial areas at the south end of downtown Saratoga Springs, and the residential neighborhoods on the east and west. Many of the surrounding areas are also included in the city's other historic districts. The Broadway Historic District is just to the north, with the East and West Side districts on either side. Union Avenue is also a historic district out to the racetrack.


The two major historical resources on the property are the casino and the park. The former is the only surviving building from the resort era; the latter has many notable art objects in addition to its landscaping.


The casino's main block is a three-story building faced in brick on an exposed basement. It is topped by a flat roof, bordered by an ornate bracketed cornice. On the south (front) facade the brick around the doorway and at the corners is laid to look like rusticated stone. A belt course divides the first two floors.[3]

All three stories have sandstone window trim with a different treatment — segmented pediments on the first, triangular ones on the second and rectangular on the third. A free-standing segmental pediment distinguishes the roofline on the front center as well.[3]

The east wing, used for gambling when the casino was constructed, is a two-story, three-by-five-bay structure with front windows one and a half stories high. It has a similar window treatment to the first story of the main block, and a more elaborate cornice, also with central segmented pediment.[3]

To the north is the dining room and kitchen wing, a 93-by-58-foot (28 by 18 m) steel frame brick structure. At either end are stained glass windows depicting horses in different historical periods.[3]

Inside, the entrance opens onto a central hall with staircase. The office and library are on the west. To the east the original dining room opens onto the gambling room. Private gambling rooms were upstairs, and living quarters on the third floor.[3]

Old postcard of dining room

The gambling room has many of its original interior details, including mirrors and statuettes. The dining room roof is of riveted arches supported on columns. Its barrel vaulting has octagonal coffers. The parquet flooring is original, and the early air conditioning system of wall vents and the open coffer windows still works.[3]


Congress Park
Type Public park
Location Saratoga Springs, New York
Area 17 acres (6.9 ha)
Created 1913 (1913)
Operated by City of Saratoga Springs
Open Year round
Website [1]

The basin-shaped park contains Grecian pavilions around the springs, Italian gardens, groves of trees and lawns. A Doric columned pavilion has been built over the site of the original Congress Spring, with water piped in from another spring. To its west is the Columbian Spring tapped by Gideon Putnam, the founder of Saratoga Springs, restored in 1983 and topped with a similarly Greek-inspired domed pavilion. The Congress 3 spring to the south was bottled and distributed worldwide in the 19th century, and the Freshwater Spring is still popular with city residents.[3]

The Spirit of Life

The water from the springs has been channeled into streams and fountains. One surrounds The Spirit of Life, a statue by Daniel Chester French memorializing Spencer Trask, a great benefactor of the Saratoga area who founded the Yaddo writers' colony. It sits on the south side of the large lagoon in the park. Two vases, Night and Day, by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, are positioned on the lawn in front of the casino.[3]

On the north side of the park, just inside the entrance off the intersection of Spring and Putnam streets, is a carousel which has roots extending back to Coney Island where it was carved in 1904 by Marcus Charles Illions, a Russian-born woodcarver.[5] [6]


Congress Spring was named in 1792 when it was visited by a group that included two members of the newly established U.S. Congress. A decade later, in 1803, an entrepreneur named Gideon Putnam bought the acre (2,000 m²) around the spring and built a hotel for guests, in what was still a largely unsettled frontier. Two years later he bought the 130 acres (53 ha) around the original acre and laid out plans for the town of Saratoga Springs.[3]

This led to two enlargements of the hotel. He died in 1812 while yet another was underway. The new town competed with nearby Ballston Spa and other spa towns in Pennsylvania and Virginia for visitors. It was at an early disadvantage since one of the first temperance societies in the country had been established in Saratoga Springs, and not only alcohol but gambling and dancing were at first forbidden in the town.[3]

Those bans were gradually relaxed to attract more resort business, and by 1820 were effectively repealed. John Clarke, who had run the first soda fountain in New York City, moved up to Saratoga a few years after that and bought the spring property. He began to bottle and sell Saratoga water, promoting the iodine he had discovered in the water as a curative. This success allowed him to improve the site and create the crescent-shaped lawn, as well as drain some of the swampy areas.[3]

John Morrissey, ca. 1860

By the middle of the century the city and the hotel were one of the country's most popular resorts, due to railroad access. It lost some business during the Civil War when some of its Southern guests could not visit, but during that time former heavyweight boxing champion John Morrissey opened the Saratoga Race Course, giving the city another major tourist attraction. After the war, in 1866, he opened the first part of the Casino.[3]

He was elected to Congress himself that year, as a Democrat from New York City's Tammany Hall political machine. He was well-connected, acquainted with tycoons of the era like Jay Gould, William R. Travers and Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who were among his partners in the hotel and racetrack. They gave both a reputation for wealthy and fashionable guests that it continued to enjoy long afterwards. In 1876 he got Frederick Law Olmsted and Jacob Weidenmann to do some work on the park landscape.[3]

After his death in 1878, ownership passed to Albert Spencer and Charles Reed. In 1883, Richard Albert Canfield took a partnership in the Saratoga Clubhouse and bought it outright the following year for $250,000. Canfield invested an estimated $800,000 in enhancing the building and the grounds of Congress Park to bring them up to the standards of the top European establishments. In 1902-3, he added a sumptuous dining room to the back of the Clubhouse fitting it with stained glass windows and an early form of air conditioning. He ordered marble statuary for the Italian gardens in the northeast corner of Congress Park. The elegant atmosphere made the cream of society feel welcome to bet their money on the Clubhouses’s many games of chance. Canfield was recognized as the King of the Gamblers; Saratoga Springs was seen as the American Monte Carlo. In Saratoga Springs, he kept the Clubhouse going until 1907. The clientele during this period included not only members of wealthy families like the Whitneys, Vanderbilts and J. P. Morgan's, but gambling legends like Diamond Jim Brady and John Warne "Bet-a-Million" Gates, and prominent entertainers like Gate's girlfriend Lillian Russell and impresario Florenz Ziegfeld.[3]

This socially distinctive era, regarded as the city's golden age, ended in 1907 when reformers succeeded in banning gambling in the city. Canfield retired and sold the hotel and grounds to the city four years later, in 1911. The Pure Food and Drug Act hurt sales of bottled Saratoga Water, and the year after buying from Canfield, the city bought the Congress Hall hotel and bottling plant and demolished them.[3]

In 1913, the present park was created. Henry Bacon and Charles Leavitt were hired to do further work on its landscape.[3]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b "Canfield Casino and Congress Park". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-14. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s James H. Charleton (November 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Canfield Casino and Congress Park" (pdf). National Park Service. 
  4. ^ a b Brooke, Cornelia (May 1972). "National Register of Historic Places nomination, Casino-Congress Park-Circular Street Historic District". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved September 27, 2009. 
  5. ^ "The 1904 Illions Carousel at Congress Park". National Carousel Association. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Yusko, Dennis (7 May 2008). "Congress Park Carousel Reopens". Albany Times Union. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 

External links[edit]