Skidmore Saratoga Memory Project

Urban Development

A walk through Saratoga Springs’ today reveals glamorous buildings of distinct styles that range from simple red brick facades to decadent Victorian mansions and even southern antebellum porches that make you question how a hint of southern hospitality made it so far north. Fine dining is everywhere you turn, and a horse will always be displayed to remind you of the track. Behind the city’s current lively atmosphere of health, history, and horses lies a complex history of urban development. Planning maps dating from the city’s earliest years to today reveal this history in the way they have changed since the early 1800s and shaped the city into what it is today.

The first trend of urban development in Saratoga Springs in the 19th century relied upon the foresight and hard work of industrious entrepreneurs who saw potential to profit from the area’s many resources who used maps to plan and record development. As the city grew in the early 20th century, it experienced setbacks, such as the financial woes expressed in the Commission Report from 1915, but managed to pull through. As it did, the city and its maps began not only to focus on growth but on improvement of the current structures. These improvements began in the late 1940’s, when Saratoga Springs began to look to the future. By the early 1960s, Saratoga Springs began a third phase of urban development that concerned itself with beautification and renewal of blighted public spaces. Saratoga Springs remodels and expands itself until the mid 1980s. The story of urban development helps us understand Saratoga Springs’ tenacity and commitment to promote growth and respond to decay in its urban space with purposeful development and lucrative renewal.  

Map of Saratoga Springs Excelsior Park

1881 Excelsior Park

Best Laid Plans

By the late nineteenth century, developers in Saratoga Springs were seeking ways to entice visitors and residents to develop beyond the central artery of Broadway and its upper village at High Rock Springs and lower village centered on Congress and Columbia Springs. Despite the best laid plans, however, some ideas never made it past the drawing board.

This 1881 map of Excelsior Park by developer Henry reimagines and updates a map by town surveyor Louis H. Cramer in an effort to entice people to leave the “crowded hotels” of Broadway and purchase year-round residences a mile north of downtown. The scheme was unsuccessful, but the map offers a nineteenth-century example of a dream to develop an off-Broadway area whose bridle and walking paths with “romantic woodland views” were already an attraction that put similar maps of Excelsior Park into guidebooks. Of note, the lake formerly known as “Owl” and “Excelsior” appears with its current name—Loughberry Lake.