The Bottling Plant
The History of the Waters
Starting with Iroquois Native Americans, the waters of Saratoga Springs have long been revered as a natural source of health and rejuvenation. As early as the1800s, wealthy Americans flocked to Saratoga to “take the cure.”
The Birth of the Saratoga Spa
In response to the Great Depression, the US Government initiated programs to revitalize the economy. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first year as governor of New York, pushed for the establishment of a state operated spa that celebrated the natural riches found in Saratoga water. Roosevelt, a victim of polio, had a particular interest in the Spa because hydrotherapy was one of the best methods for managing the symptoms of the crippling disease. The State of New York was awarded $3,200,000 by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a precursor to the New Deal, to construct the most complete and modern spa to date. Construction of the complex began in 1933. It included a state of the art research laboratory, bathhouses, and several other recreational and therapeutic facilities.
The Spa that was Inevitable
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Spa’s popularity grew. Widespread marketing campaigns were a crucial element of the Spa’s success. Phrases such as “the Spa that was Inevitable,” “the first real Spa in America,” and “this season take the cure at Saratoga,” flooded advertisement pages in popular magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and the New Yorker. These advertisements also promoted the use of the state bottled water for home remedies.
The last building in the Spa complex to be completed was the Bottling Plant, designed by Architect Dwight James Baum, in 1935. The Georgian Revival building, highlighted by its three large Palladium windows, contained sophisticated machinery that contributed to a high volume bottling operation. The plant bottled water from Hawthorn, Geyser, and Coesa springs and distributed the Saratoga “cure” across the country.
The plant supported the health and educative mission of the Spa. Guides were employed during the summer months to give tours to visitors. “Dippers” offered samples of the waters and were able to discuss their healthful properties.
Examples of the types of benefits the waters were thought to provide include:
Saratoga Geyser Water: A naturally sparkling water...Prescribed by physicians because of its alkaline properties and its desirable mineral salts...May be taken at any time…
Saratoga Hawthorne Water: This saline water carbonated by Nature is primarily laxative…It aids elimination through the intestinal tract…Usually taken before breakfast…
Saratoga Coesa Water: A naturally sparkling saline-alkaline water recommended by physicians for certain conditions of the gall bladder and gastro-intestinal tract…
The End of an Era
Several factors led to the deterioration of public interest in the Saratoga Spa as a center for healing. Technical and medical advancements, such as the first successful use of the polio vaccine in 1952, and the loss of financial support by the state government in 1960 resulted in the decline of Spa. By 1970, the state was losing over 50,000 dollars a year in bottling efforts alone. In 1971, the state stopped bottling and vacated the building.
Nearly a decade after the bottling plant ceased operations, the state leased the property and bottling rights to Waters of Saratoga Springs, Inc., a private company run by Charles Sterling. After signing a ten-year lease in 1978, Waters of Saratoga Springs began bottling State Seal and Geyser water in the fall of 1980. Due to unknown circumstances, the company stopped production less than a year later, leaving a vacated building used solely for storage by the state. The bottling plant, much like the other abandoned buildings in the Spa, had become a monument of a bygone era.
While public interest in the Spa as a center for health declined, the state and private companies sought new uses for the original buildings and recognized the grounds for their recreational value. In 1962, the state of New York declared the Spa and surrounding land a state park. In 1987, the Spa was declared a National Historic Landmark. Although the Washington Baths, drink hall, and research facility were repurposed during the 1980s, the bottling plant remained dark between the years of 1981 and 2000.
New Traditions for a Historical Building
In 1998, an organization of car enthusiasts, interested in the preservation of an American tradition, chartered the Saratoga Automobile Museum. Founders’ believed the museum could offer a new level of understanding and respect for automotive objects, for both the car enthusiast and the general public, through interpreting the automobile a technological device, as an agent for social and economic change, and as an art object.
Although it was already an accredited organization, the museum was lacking an integral component— a building. In 2000, the state leased the former bottling plant to the museum. As a part of the Clean Water and Air Act, the water originally bottled at the plant was rerouted across the Avenue of the Pines to the Joseph Bruno pavilion, where people continue to drink from the spring today. Additionally, in order to convert the building into a working facility, millions of dollars were allocated to the remodeling of its interior spaces. One of the key projects was the addition of a two-level garage complete with an auto lift. The museum opened to the public on June 1, 2002.