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Driven to drink

At the height of Saratoga’s reign as the queen of spas, folks came in droves to take the water cure. The drinking (there was bathing as well) started before breakfast with a few tumblers of laxative mineral water and proceeded through upwards of twenty glasses of the various waters before day was done. Visitors dressed up and promenaded from spring pavilion to drink hall, served at each stop by nattily dressed dipper boys or girls.

The dress code and the servers are long gone, but people still partake of the springs, using their own cups or bottles.
I figured it was high time I tried out this signature Saratoga experience.

I started with Hathorn Spring #1, on Spring Street just outside Congress Park, because of its proximity to Ben and Jerry’s. (I was preparing for a tastebud emergency: Get me a scoop of Cherry Garcia, stat!) At the spigot, I talked to a former Saratogian who claimed she had arrived in town from California at 1 a.m. and made a bee-line for this spring, downing her first glass by 2 a.m. Now she was back for more. “My kids grew up on this,” she told me. Thus comforted, I took a sip and found it not nearly as bad as I’d feared (especially after catching its faint sulfur-like odor). Cool and clear, it tasted slightly of salt and iron, with a pleasant light fizz. OK, this was going to be fun.

Over on High Rock Avenue I found Governor and Peerless Springs, dispensed from pineapple-shaped Victorian fountains. Governor has a mild metallic taste and subtle carbonation. Peerless is flat and made me realize that the taste of minerals goes down much easier with a bit of bubble.

Next I headed to the Spa State Park. Hayes and Orenda Springs, both located along a leafy walkway near Geyser Creek, are feasts for the eye, if not the palate. Hayes commands a view of the famous Island Spouter geyser, and Orenda has created over time a large buildup of rust- and cream-colored carbonate crust, called tufa, which is best viewed from the bridge over the gorge on the way into the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Both waters are salty and strongly metallic, yet quite refreshing.

Now I was ready to conquer Hathorn Spring #3. The fabled cathartic water spritzes fitfully from a discolored font at the Route 50 entrance to the park. This water is strong smelling—and tasting. I downed a small cup of it, finding it salty but tolerable, and treated myself to a well-deserved burp.

Then I really treated myself, stopping along the park’s Avenue of the Pines for a sip of State Seal, which is simply the best drinking water around. Nonchlorinated, noncarbonated, odorless, and mineral-free, it was once marketed as Saratoga Soft Sweet Spring Water—and that says it all. My husband and I make a monthly pilgrimage to collect it in jugs; it’s well worth the bother, and it’s free. Makes me wonder why so many Saratogians buy the bottled stuff from who-knows-where. Even today’s commercially bottled Saratoga Water may originate, as the fine print notes, from either Saratoga or a spring in Stockbridge, Vt. I think I’ll keep going right to the source. —KG

Find out more

For a taste-tour brochure and other information, contact Saratoga’s Visitor Center at 518-587-3241 or