experiencing economic and community growth
By Shannon Brescher
In the early 1800s, travelers considered the Village of Ballston Spa a superior destination to Saratoga Springs because of its fine mineral waters. Although the rise and decline of industry sunk the Village into a depression, it has undergone revitalization in the last several years. With its unique businesses and quaint atmosphere, townspeople see a likely return to that vibrant tourist destination.
The Village of Ballston Spa began developing as an attraction after a group of surveyors discovered the “Public Spring” in 1771. The Village soon became a popular summer resort, but changed focus again in the mid-1800s. While Saratoga developed other draws such as the racetrack and Canfield Casino, Ballston Spa turned to manufacturing. “Ballston couldn’t really compare or compete anymore. As Ballston progressed with the industries, they began to diversify,” said historian Linda Gorham, from the Saratoga County Historical Society.
A number of mills developed along the Kayaderosseras Creek, from George’s West’s paper bag and chocolate factories to Isaiah Blood’s Blood and Scythe Ax Works. However, in the early to mid-1900s, industries began moving to the cheaper southern states, sending Ballston Spa into an economic depression.
“Twenty-five years ago we had abandoned buildings, burnt-out buildings, condemned buildings,” said Paul Carkner, owner of Paul’s Restaurant.
However, townspeople have recently seen that stagnant period coming to a close. When starting their businesses, many entrepreneurs recognized the challenge ahead of them and have contributed to the growth process.
“I saw Ballston Spa as definitely [in] a revitalization,” said Cliff Baum, who took over Coffee Planet three-and-a-half years ago. “I saw an opportunity to work with the village in the revitalization and at the same time, building the business.”
Likewise, Linda Lambert, owner of Kaleidoscope Gifts and Hearth and Home Antiques, saw potential in Ballston Spa when she opened five years ago. “When we moved here, the business district was 50 percent vacant,” she said. “I opened this store with the understanding that I would have to start some marketing for all of the stores.”
Fortunately, Lambert, Baum and several other business owners have combined their efforts through the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association. The Association organizes a number of events throughout the year, including an antiques show and Classic Car Show. During the summer, they coordinate the Farmers’ Market, a Concerts in the Park series, and First Fridays, when businesses extend their hours and host special events on the first Friday of each month.
The Association has also tried to raise awareness of Ballston Spa’s tourist potential. “In the last three to four years, we’ve worked very heavily on a marketing strategy,” said Tina Mangino-Coffey, president of the Business Association. The Association has printed a Village business map and guide for tourists, used a local government grant for a billboard campaign, and designed the Village’s website.
All of the Association’s volunteer efforts have paid off. The population has grown recently, and businesses have seen a dramatic upswing in their sales to both tourists and locals. Baum has seen Coffee Planet’s sales triple, allowing him to double the size of his building. Kevin Borowski, co-owner of the Whistling Kettle teahouse, reports similar growth in his business of two years. “The biggest change [over time] is the traffic flow. It’s continued to grow at a steady pace.”
In addition to benefiting current businesses, this growth has encouraged others to invest in the area. Currently, storefront vacancies are at the lowest point in 50 years, according to Mayor John Romano. “Properties in the Village are being sold as fast as they are being put on the market,” he said. “It’s a destination people seek out.”
Despite the new economic growth, the Village has attempted to maintain its small town charm. The town has a “quaint” feel, and because of its size, “you get to know people,” according to resident Jean Weatherby. Similarly, Christi Tacy, resident and owner of Genevieve’s, said, “Everyone seems to know one another and look out for each other.”
This small-town feel has begun attracting tourists to the Village’s unique restaurants and stores. In contrast to the larger chain stores in Saratoga, nearly all of the businesses in Ballston Spa are local. “For [tourists] to go to a small historic village has become part of their vacation now and Ballston Spa fits that need,” said Baum.
The Village Board emphasizes the Village’s local character through its own events. From the Winter Festival, where the Village piles the street with snow for sledding, to the summer Swimming Under the Stars at the local pool, they work to provide residents of all ages with activities.
Residents, businesspeople, and Village officials see a bright future ahead for Ballston Spa. “We have a community who has truly joined together. In that sense, I think we have what many other communities would like but so few have,” Mayor Romano said.
Shannon Brescher is currently working as a Scotia-Glenville Traveling Museum educator and freelance writer. In the fall, she will be attending the University of Oxford for her Masters degree. She recently became a Ballston Spa resident and deeply appreciates the luxury of its downtown being within walking distance.
Museums of Saratoga County
The Children’s Museum
69 Caroline Street, Saratoga Springs
Founded in 1990, The Children’s Museum at Saratoga is committed to providing positive opportunities for children to learn about science, history, community living and the arts. Interactive exhibits, special events and workshops are designed to encourage children to learn by making discoveries for themselves. The Children’s Museum is developmentally appropriate for children age 9 and under, however many older children enjoy the museum when accompanying younger visitors. Additionally, there are programs designed to include older children.
Hours: Summer (July 1 through Labor Day): Monday-Saturday 9:30am-4:30pm.
Winter Hours (Labor Day through June): Tuesday-Saturday 9:30am-4:30pm.
Sunday 12 noon-4:30pm.
Closed Monday and most major holidays.
Admission: $5 per person, children under 1are free.
6 Charlton Street, Ballston Spa
As the home of the Saratoga County Historical Society, Brookside Museum inspires community memory by telling the story of Saratoga County through interactive and engaging exhibits and programs. Located in a 1792 hotel building in the Village of Ballston Spa, Brookside has five exhibit galleries, a reproduction wigwam and gift shop.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 10am-4pm; Saturday 10am-2pm, and by appointment.
Admission: Members free; adults $2; seniors over 60/students with ID/children $1.50; under 5 free.
The National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame
99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs
The National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame was established in 1986 and is the only museum in the nation dedicated to American professional dance. Located in the former Washington Bath House – a spacious, airy 1918 Arts and Crafts-style building – in the Saratoga Spa State Park, the Museum houses a growing collection of photographs, videos, artifacts, costumes, biographies and archives comprising a contemporary and retrospective examination of seminal contributions to dance. The Museum’s only permanent collection is the Mr. And Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame (1987). Through exhibitions and guided tours, an extensive live dance program in the state-of-the-art dance studios, and children’s programming, the Museum celebrates the American Dance Dream.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm
Admission: Adults $6.50; students and seniors $5; children 12 years and under $3.
National Bottle Museum
76 Milton Avenue, Ballston Spa
The National Bottle Museum is a storefront museum with a national perspective. The museum occupies a three-story brick commercial building in the historic business district of what was once a flourishing resort community in the 1800s.
You will learn about early bottle making methods and view the surviving hand tools, a miniature model of a typical 1800s glass furnace and exhibits of hand made bottles often overlooked as legitimate artifacts. A research library is available during Museum hours. Lampworking and glassblowing classes are taught on a regular basis. Lampworking and glassblowing for Teens every week!
Summer hours: June 1-September 30 10am-4pm daily.; Winter hours: Monday-Friday 10am-4pm.
New York State Military Heritage Institute
61 Lake Avenue, Saratoga Springs
The New York State Military Museum, housed in the Saratoga Springs Armory, opened on October 16, 2002. The Museum is also home to the Veterans Research Center and the offices of the New York State Military Heritage Institute. Today, this is the permanent home for the state’s collection of more than 10,000 military artifacts, some dating back before the Revolutionary War.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm; Sunday noon-4pm. Closed Monday.
Saratoga Automobile Museum
110 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs
The mission of the Saratoga Automobile Museum is to display significant cars, trucks, and vehicles that not only represent the automotive heritage of new York State, but the entire world of motorized transportation. Their focus is to celebrate and educate the general public, students and enthusiasts about the role of automobiles in this region and country’s social and economic development, and the important engineering and design accomplishments these vehicles represent. In addition to a permanent collection of vehicles, the Museum also hosts a variety of workshops, interactive displays, lectures, and outdoor shows.
Hours: May-October 10am-5pm daily. November-April 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday. Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. Closed Monday. It is recommended to call ahead to ensure the museum is open.
Admission: Adults: $7; seniors: $5; children 6-16 $3.50; members and children under 6 free.
Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame
Jefferson Street, Saratoga
Harness museum with sulkies, old time heroes and antique horseshoe displays. Children’s tours available, backstretch movie, posters and coloring books.
Hours: May-June & November – Thursday-Saturday 10am-4pm.
July-October – Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm.
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
191 Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs
As one of America’s oldest sports, Thoroughbred Racing has a long and rich history. To tell the story of the sport, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame relies on a renowned equine art collection, stunning trophies, beautiful silks, and Thoroughbred memorabilia. Man o’ War, Secretariat, Arcaro, and the Jones Boys are all heroes of the turf and names that evoke the clang of the starting gate and the thunder of pounding hooves. A visit to the Museum is filled with the sights and sounds of racing. While a walking tour captures the flavor of our permanent exhibits, no visit is complete without a trip to the Peter McBean Special Exhibition Gallery, which features unique and exciting collections that are rarely available to the public. Interactive programs, the Horse Play! Children’s Gallery, rare memorabilia, a fine equine art collection, a behind-the-scenes tour of Saratoga’s “Oklahoma” training track, and more, tell the colorful story of three centuries of Thoroughbred racing.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm; Sunday 12pm-4pm
Winter: January & February the museum is closed Monday and Tuesday.
During the Race Meet, the Museum is open daily from 9am-5pm. Closed New Year’s Day and the day after, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the day after
Admission: Adults $7; students and seniors (55 and older) $5; members and children under 5 free.
Route 4/32, Stillwater
The Blockhouse is a museum housing information about the American Revolution and the History of the Town of Stillwater. There is an exact replica of a French and Indian War structure with original timbers of the Neilson Farm, which stood in the Battlefield of the Revolutionary War Battles fought in 1777.
Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery
815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs
The purpose of the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery is to foster interdisciplinary thinking and studying, to invite active and collaborative learning and to awaken the community to the richness and diversity of the human experience through the medium of art. The Tang will accomplish those goals through the innovative exhibition of the permanent collection and borrowed artwork. Supporting each exhibition will be educational programming designed for a variety of audiences including Skidmore students, the general adult community, and secondary and elementary age children. A vigorous publication program will serve as a learning tool.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 10am-5pm; Friday 10am-7pm; Saturday & Sunday 12pm-5 pm. Closed Mondays and major holidays.
Suggested donation $5
Saratoga Springs History Museum
The Canfield Casino, Congress Park, Saratoga Springs
Visitors can take a tour through time as they see exhibits on three floors of the Casino displaying different aspects of Saratoga Springs history. This beautiful 1870 gambling casino, owned by the City of Saratoga Springs, is on the National Register of Historic Places. While the building was originally intended for gambling and elegant dining, reformers closed it in 1907. The High Stakes Rooms on the second floor contains original furnishings and gambling paraphernalia from the Canfield Casino and the Lake Houses, which made Saratoga Springs famous in the early 20th century.
Hours: Memorial Day-Labor Day 10am-4pm daily.
Winter: Wednesday-Saturday 10am-4pm; Sunday 1pm-4pm.
Admission: Adults $5; seniors $4; students (12-17) $3; members and children under 12 free.
Waterford Canal Visitor Center
One Tugboat Alley, Waterford
Located at the locks on the Champlain Canal. Find out what to do in the area. From Waterford to Whitehall, the Canal provides 63 miles of scenic boating.
Waterford Historical Museum
2 Museum Lane, Waterford
The Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center is located in the 1830 Hugh White Homestead. In 1964, this Greek Revival mansion was scheduled for demolition. However, a group of citizens rallied to save the house and move it from Saratoga Avenue to its present location overlooking the Mohawk River and the old Champlain Canal. The Museum features a permanent exhibition about the history of Waterford, temporary exhibitions related to local history, two Victorian period rooms, and the George and Annabel O’Connor Library for Local History. The house is located at 2 Museum Lane, just off Saratoga Avenue (Route 32) in the town of Waterford.
Wilton Heritage Museum and Farm Museum
Parkhurst Road, Wilton
Museum features one-room school, a Victorian parlor, the history of Mt. McGregor, farm machinery, a restored sleigh, photographs and text displays.
Hours: Memorial Day-Labor Day 1pm-4pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Admission is free.