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The pines, a park and the Gideon Putnam


Photos courtesy Gideon Putnam Resort

If trees could talk, the mile-long Avenue of Pines that winds through Saratoga Spa State Park would have tales to tell about how it came to be a state park with a historic hotel, a golf course, a mineral springs spa, a performing arts center, an antique auto museum and a dance museum.

The park’s story began in the early 1900s, when the land it now includes was about to be spoiled by private companies that saw geysers and mineral springs and wanted to drill for carbon dioxide. The state of New York stepped in, bought the land, capped most of the mineral springs and built two mineral springs bathhouses.

Franklin Roosevelt, then governor of New York, saw more potential for the land, and work began in 1932 on a European-style spa.

Saratoga had once been a spa destination, and with its annual August thoroughbred race meet and the legions of wealthy people that brought to town, Roosevelt thought Saratoga could once again become a spa destination.

Although the Great Depression initially put a halt to work on the park, Roosevelt got the project going again when he became president. Through his New Deal, seven structures, among them the Gideon Putnam Hotel, the Roosevelt Bath Houses and the Hall of Springs, were built in the park. Roosevelt was on hand for the official opening in 1935.

Geysers still spout
Today, all of those structures remain. Guests of the historic Gideon Putnam Hotel can take a free shuttle to swim in two pools in the 1930s Beaux Arts style Peerless Pool complex, visit the National Museum of Dance in the former Washington Bathhouse, attend a reception in the  Hall of Springs, or have a massage and a mineral springs bath at the Roosevelt Spa.

Geysers still spurt, and near one of them, the Island Spouter, the Putnam can cater barbecues at one of several nearby outdoor pavilions. An 18-hole championship golf course meanders through the pines, as does a nine-hole par-3 course. Come winter, guests can cross-country ski and snowshoe on groomed trails.

Other modern additions at the park are the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, opened in 1966, and the summer home to the New York City Ballet; the New York Philharmonic; and the Saratoga Auto Museum, a project spearheaded by locals who love classic cars and motorcycles.

In the years since it opened, the Gideon Putnam Hotel has grown, adding more guest rooms and conference space. New York-based Delaware North manages the hotel as well as the Plaza Hotel in New York City and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, among others.

A grand, brick Georgian Revival hotel, the Gideon Putnam has cozy dormers, columned wings and a green-and-white-striped awning. Cushy chairs and couches grace the lobby, as do the bellmen’s old-fashioned manners. Doors are swept open, chairs are pulled out and heavy suitcases are swept away. Guests hear a “yes, sir”, “no, ma’am” and “my pleasure,” accompanied by a wide smile.

Guest rooms feel like the era in which they were constructed, but have modern furniture, bedding and bathrooms. There is complimentary wireless Internet access as well.

“The Gideon Putnam is an intimate property, especially in winter, with fireplaces in the lobby and in two meetings rooms, and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the grounds in another,” said Marvel MacDonald, sales manager.

Corner guest rooms have sunrooms furnished with wicker. Views are of woods and well-worn walking trails through the 2,200-acre park. “We’re a historic property in a park setting,” said Tim Smith, general manager.

“The hotel and property are so beautiful; they transport you to another time and place,” said Joe Fusco, vice president of Vermont-based Casella Waste Systems. He has planned 18 leadership training meetings for 20 to 40 employees at the hotel since 2010.