Skidmore Saratoga Memory Project
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African-American Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
[ Sun Flower Boot Black]

Bootblack on Broadway, ca. 1890. Courtesy of the
George S. Bolster Collection, SSHM.

African-Americans have lived in the Capital District for centuries, with 400 serving in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Nearby Saratoga Springs has long served as a tourist destination for white and black Americans. In the nineteenth-century, the tourism of wealthy white travelers provided African-Americans, including Harry T. Burleigh, with a range of work and business opportunities. So a small year-round presence of 3-5% of the population – growing from 88 in 1830, to 158 in 1855, to 315 in 1960—increased in summer months.

African-Americans lived and worked throughout the community. Many settled on Congress, William, Cowen and Franklin Streets close to big hotels and businesses downtown where many were employed. While many held jobs in services –including music and entertainment, cooking, cleaning, racing, staffing dining areas, and laundry– African-Americans were also respected jockeys,entrepreneurs, and business owners in Saratoga Springs.

[Jack's Harlem Club Cabaret, 72 Congress Street]

Jack's Harlem Club, 1941. Courtesy of the
George S. Bolster Collection, SSHM.

1 Jack's Harlem Club

Jack’s Harlem Club, owned by Isaiah Jack,
served both African-American and white
Saratogians. This African-American owned
and operated business lasted as a club only
through the 1940s, however, his restaurant
lived much longer and was equipped with
a cabaret on the second floor of 72 Congress street.
This cabaret became Jack’s Harlem Club in
1950. Jackinvited singers, impersonators, and
comedians to contribute to the entertainment of
black and white Saratogians and visitors.

 Hattie Austin at door of Hattie's 1969

Hattie Austin at the restaurant, 1969. Courtesy of the
George S. Bolster Collection, SSHM.

2 Hattie’s Restaurant

Hattie’s Restaurant, known as the Chicken
Shack, served as an integrated restaurant
that fed Southern cooking with a Louisiana
touch in Saratoga Springs since 1938.
Originally located west of Broadway at 7
South Franklin Street, the restaurant is now
located at 45 Phila Street.

Wesley Smiley trainer, former steeplechase jockey horse Graham of Geniva

Some African-American jockeys, like Wesley Smiley, pictured here, became trainers. Courtesy of the George S. Bolster Collection, SSHM.

3 Saratoga Race Course [not shown on detail]

Saratoga Race Course, opened in 1863, is
the third oldest racetrack in the U.S. It’s been
in use almost every year since 1864 and in
1999, was ranked as Sports Illustrated's
#10 sports venue of the twentieth century.

The race course employed many African-Americans
as jockeys, grooms, and stable hands. Isaac Burns
Murphy, the “Prince of Jockeys,”especially
thrilled crowds in the 1880s and 1890s.

Twelve years a slave. Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana

Solomon Northup, shown dressed in a “plantation suit.” Twelve Years a Slave,

4 Solomon Northup – a free person of color who was tricked, taken away from his home in Saratoga Springs, and sold into slavery – is an integral part of Saratoga history.z

Solomon and his family moved to Saratoga Springs in March 1834, initially residing on Washington Street, and later moved to the United States Hotel. Northup, like many of his African-American contemporaries, worked in tourism, first as a hack driver for Isaac Taylor who owned Washington Hall and later at the United States Hotel, where he got to know Judge Marvin, the man who ultimately helped secure his release from captivity in Louisiana. Northup was a musician who frequently played at the United States Hotel and other area hotels. Solomon’s story not only produced great works like the book and  later film, Twelve Years a Slave, detailing his enslavement and escape, but also increased popular interest in Saratoga Springs.

Saratoga Spa

Saratoga Spa, 1952

5 Saratoga Spa State Park

Saratoga Spa State Park, established in 1911
as the New York State Reservation, preserved
the spring waters and was built as a resort
to draw in all Americans to a European-style
springs experience. Today, it is a nationally
acclaimed historical landmark, and has been
home since 1966 to the Saratoga Performing
Arts Center as well as many springs and

[Aerial view of Grand Union Hotel, with Congress Park in Foreground]

Aerial view, Grand Union Hotel

6 Grand Union Hotel

The Grand Union Hotel, which employed
African-Americans as service staff, is where
Harry T. Burleigh worked in summer 1892 as
a wine steward. Under a new owner in 1872
the hotel became one of the world's largest
hotels, with music performances by Victor
Herbert and his orchestra -- possibly with a
Burleigh cameo. There was a dining room
serving 1,400, 824 guest-rooms, a mile of
covered piazzas, two miles of corridors, 12
acres of carpeting and an acre of marble
tops and floor tiles” (Denby 42).

United States Hotel

United States Hotel

7 United States Hotel

Vacant after an 1865 fire, the United States
Hotel was rebuilt in 1874 for more than a
million dollars, and was among the world's
largest hotels with “768 rooms, a parlor
greater than four thousand square feet,
and a dining room of more than ten thousand
square feet” (Sterngass). Hotel manager
Joseph Smith wrote in 1897 that:

“[t]he waiters employed at the Spa are
usually colored men, the [United] States
never having had any other.” (Armstead)