Before the pandemic hit, it seemed as though everybody and their sister got married at Saratoga Springs’ Canfield Casino. After all, it’s located in picturesque Congress Park, its stately building having been erected by John “Old Smoke” Morrissey (co-founder of Saratoga Race Course) himself, in 1870 as a gambling hall. And if you’ve ever been inside it, the venue’s got “classy” written all over it, what with its parlor, bar and grand ballroom.
After anti-gambling laws swept the nation in the early 1900s and threatened later owner Richard Canfield’s business, he sold the property and park to the Village of Saratoga for $150,000 in April 1911. A year after that, the casino’s upper floors began being used as a museum, and locals were able to rent it out for a nominal fee.
So when did it officially become a wedding venue? That information seems to have been lost in space—or trapped in the decent chunk of the city’s archives that are still closed because of COVID. But when I polled the good people on the “I Love Saratoga” Facebook group, a daily repository for all things vintage Spa City, I got an instant shower of responses. One group member told me that his grandparents were married at the Canfield Casino in the mid 1920s—the earliest instance of a wedding taking place there, at least that I could find. One woman said that her mother had had her wedding reception there in 1944 or ’45, while another remembered her sister’s wedding reception taking place there in August of 1946. A number of others remembered wedding receptions happening there in the ’50s—and well, my post caused enough of a stir to get some members to reminisce about their nuptials in the late 1990s.
When Mary Ann Fitzgerald, who up until recently was the Saratoga Springs City Historian, held her wedding reception there on September 5, 1964, “the rental fee was only $50, which gave us the ballroom, the parlor and the bar area,” she says. “We purchased the wine, liquor, beer and soda for the bar, and hired a bartender to stock the bar and serve drinks. The ballroom had lovely decorations provided by the Turf Writers Ball that was held at the end of the racing season.”
Of course, the “Queen of Saratoga” herself, Marylou Whitney also held her wildly popular annual summer galas at the casino, and in the mid-1980s, as a birthday gift from then-husband Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney, she had him install an air conditioning system there, to make it a more pleasant experience for partygoers of all kinds (one can only imagine what that August 1946 wedding reception must’ve felt like with no AC).
Even after more than 100 years as a wedding venue, the Canfield Casino is still one of Saratoga’s hottest spots to tie the knot.