High Rock Spring: How The Spa City Got Its Name

Saratoga Springs’ slogan includes “health,” “history” and “horses.” But what about those springs? You could argue that the Spa City’s famous mineral water basically spawned all three H’s; it prompted the town’s health culture, which eventually inspired people to build a racetrack here and that’s become a big part of Saratoga’s history. As Ellen De Lalla, former Local Historian at the Saratoga Room, once told me, “Without the mineral springs, none of this would have happened.”

The nexus of Saratoga’s (lowercase) springs? High Rock Spring, which Jamie D. Parillo, the Executive Director of the Saratoga Springs History Museum, says is where Saratoga history essentially started. “High Rock Spring was known to the Native Americans for centuries before they brought Sir William Johnson to drink the water in 1771,” he tells me. “John was said to be the first European to be introduced to the mineral springs and the word of the mineralized carbonated water spread.”

High Rock Spring
One of the young attendants at High Rock Spring sporting a “dipper stick,” which took samples out of the spring for visitors. (New York Public Library)

More than a century before US President Franklin D. Roosevelt took a shine for the town and its mineral baths, Saratoga was a popular spa destination. “Following the American Revolution, the first permanent settlers came to settle near High Rock Spring, and people traveled from long distances to drink the water as they believed the springs had medicinal properties,” Parillo says. (The belief still holds, though the scientific evidence is lacking.) Word-of-mouth was even enough to attract the attention of the most famous of forefathers: “In 1783, George Washington even made a bid to purchase the area surrounding the springs, however he was turned down.”

OK, so going to the springs themselves isn’t much of a day trip,  but the Saratoga History Museum has a wealth of information and artifacts pertaining to them. “Our collection contains High Rock Spring water bottles, pieces from the actual cone itself and items related to the use of the spring,” says Parillo. One of the cooler pieces? The “dipper stick,” a long pole, with three cups attached to it, that the young boys who used to work at the springs would dip into it to get samples for visitors.

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