Travel and Transportation
Let's Get Moving
Today, those exploring Saratoga County can move to and get around the area in a number of ways, including car, bus, boat or bike. Some may reach the County on the Adirondack line of the Amtrak, which stops in Saratoga Springs. A few may fly into the County airport in Ballston Spa. Others may catch a Greyhound bus from Albany. Most will arrive and explore by car. However you chose to get around Saratoga County—via land, water, or air—you are building on a fascinating historical tradition as old as the County itself.
Until the 19th century, Mohican, Mohawk, and Abenaki inhabitants of the County traveled predominantly under "human power" via natural waterways and foot trails. The spring waters, fertile land, and abundance of hunting and fishing game served as impetus for the establishment of these foot trails— many of which are still navigable today. Around 1709, a road was laid from the east side of the Hudson in Schuylerville up north to Fort Edward, and utilized during the French and Indian War (1754-63). Military Road in Edinburg, a town in the northwest corner of the County, is also believed to have been trafficked by Indigenous tribes and European soldiers during the French and Indian War. One major trail created by the Mohawk is the Kayaderosseras Trail. It spans from the former Mohawk village of Ossernenon, which is now the Town of Auriesville, through Perth, Galway, west Milton, and Moreau, up through to Lake George. It is 54 miles long and would have taken tribe members 3 days to traverse (Horne, 2005; Dunn, et al. 1974; “Military Road," Edinburg, 2021).
In the mid-eighteenth century, Mohawk tribe members carried an injured British official along one of these foot paths to High Rock Spring (today's High Rock Park, Saratoga Springs) to imbibe the spring waters. Archaeological excavations conducted in the 20th century unearthed layers of paths constructed with logs in and around the park. These logs are believed to be laid by indigenous peoples who needed to cross over swampy land to access the spring (Wood, 2021; Dunn, et al. 1974; Bruchac, 2021).
Those traveling these routes today, particularly the routes that go north to south, may observe many deer. This is because when creating trails, indigenous peoples favored "the path of least resistance" which usually meant following the migratory paths created by deer. In this way, the influence of the Mohawk, Mohican, and Abenaki continues to define land travel in the County (Bruchac, 2021).
When the County was formally established in 1791, numerous stage coach routes and roads were constructed. A 1797 law stipulated that roads were funded and created privately by local property owners, so the quality and accessibility of these routes varied. One route went east to west, from Wilton through Greenfield, Galway and Johnstown. Another went north from Albany through Round Lake and Malta, terminating at Putnam Tavern in Saratoga Springs. Another route went northeast from Saratoga Springs to Schuylerville and further north to Moreau Tavern. Travelers accounts in the early 19th century also describe traveling via horseback or coach from Waterford, Schenectady and Schuylerville to Saratoga (Horne, 2005; Dunn, et al. 1974).
Given the difficulty in maintaining dirt roads, some of these early roads in this period were constructed using wooden planks. Typically, the planks were 2 to 3 inches thick and 8 feet long, and would only last a few years before deteriorating. One plank road was established in Saratoga Springs and went northeast to Corinth and through to Luzerene, where U.S. Route 9 is today (Dunn, et al. 1974).
Railroads have played a principal part in County transportation since the 1830s. Increasing popular access to County mineral springs, opening travel to Canada, and expanding trade were all factors that inspired the creation of these early railways. This began with the construction of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad. Completed in August 1831, the M&H was the first railroad to be charted in the state of New York and the second to be built in the entire U.S. The M&H was primarily used for trading. Cohoes Falls, a waterfall located near Waterford, slowed down travel on the Erie Canal, and so the speed and effectiveness of the M&H gave its owners a competitive advantage in trade (Horne, 2005; American Rails, 2021; Perreault, 2020).
Next was the Saratoga & Schenectady Railroad, incorporated in February 1831 and completed in 1832. The S&S was constructed primarily to offer tourists access to the springs in Saratoga and Ballston. Totaling 22 miles, the S&S had wooden rails topped with thin strips of iron as its strap rails, which was common in the period. A typical car could carry 160 passengers. One early traveler described the S&S cars as “spacious, elegant, and convenient.” It took 1 ½ hours to travel from Schenectady to Saratoga via the Ballston Spa line and cost 2.50 roundtrip (Horne, 2005; Dunn, et al. 1974; Perreault, 2020).
In 1835, Troy businessmen constructed a line from Troy to Saratoga, known as the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, in order to compete with the Albany merchants who ran the M&H. In 1848, the R&S was expanded to Whitehall, New York in neighboring Washington County in order to bring passengers to the lake steamers that would transport them to Montreal, Canada (Horne, 2005; Perreault, 2020).
The Adirondack Railroad, incorporated in 1863, was intended to connect Saratoga Springs to Lake Ontario, but was only built so far as North Creek. Instead of transporting tourists, the line was used by logging and paper mill companies for freight service to Corinth, Hadley, Thurman, Warrensburg, North Creek, and Tahawus (Horne, 2005; Dunn, et al. 1974).
The only railway running east to west in the County was the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad, later known as the Boston & Maine, which connected Boston with Mechanicville and Saratoga Springs. In 1880, the Saratoga Lake Railroad was constructed to bring tourists to the lake. It connected with Boston & Maine in Mechanicville.
Since the nineteenth century, many fascinating figures have traveled on the railroads of Saratoga County. One such figure is U.S. President Ulysess S. Grant. Grant spent his last days living in a cabin on Mount McGregor in Wilton. After his death in 1885, he was transported from the top of the Mountain to Saratoga Springs via the Saratoga, Mount McGregor and Lake George Railroad, a railroad built in 1883. From Saratoga Springs, his funeral train traveled through Ballston Spa, eventually making its way down to Albany where thousands of Americans paid their respects to the former Union general and president (Street and Electric Railways, 1902; Albanymuskrat, 2018).
The first electric railroads—otherwise known as trollies—were created between 1889 to 1892, connecting Saratoga Springs with neighboring suburbs. Eventually the trolley networks expanded to connect Albany to Glens Falls, as well as to places along the Kayaderosseras like Ballston Spa and Rock City Falls (Horne, 2005).
The Ballston Terminal electric railroad was an essential fixture of everyday life in Ballston Spa. Constructed in 1896, the Ballston trolly ran from Ballston Spa to West Milton. It connected many inhabitants of rural West Milton and Rock City Falls to Ballston, allowing these residents to work, go to school, and enjoy leisure attractions. The trolley ceased operating in June 1929 during the Great Depression (Staulters, 2020).
Whereas canals were funded by the state, railways were funded, built, and constructed privately. The jobs created by the railroad boom brought many immigrants to the County. Irish immigrants worked on railroads in 1832 and after 1848, as did French Canadians. Italian immigrants came around 1880 to work on the railroads. The Boston and Maine rail yards in Mechanicville were some of the city’s largest employers (Dunn, et al. 1974; Horne, 2005).
Manual and electric railroads dominated as one of the chief methods of transportation for most of the 19th century. This was due in part because roads were primarily of dirt and gravel and too risky to ensure steady passenger travel. The popularity of both manual and electric railroads obscured the stagecoach industry to more remote areas where these new rail lines did not go. But as state and federal funding went towards constructing hard top roads, this led to decline of both privately-owned industries (Dunn, et al. 1974).
For most of the 19th century, road construction was “low priority” because of both the effectiveness of railroads and canals as well as the funding and maintenance issues of road upkeep. Yet as the 19th century came to a close, this began to change. A New York state law in 1898 ushered in construction of County roads connecting Saratoga Springs to Glens Falls, which were completed in 1901, and eventually spanned to Waterford and Mechanicville. In 1909 a state highway law was passed that proposed a new outline for state highways in a trunk system— a system exclusively funded by the state, a stark departure from the 18th and 19th centuries. The 1925 Federal-Aid Highway Act began the long winded project of creating an interstate highway system with a formal numbering process. Under this law, US-9 which spans from Cape May, New Jersey to Montreal, was expanded through Saratoga and brought many early 20th century travelers to the County in the summer (Horne, 2005; Dunn, et al. 1974;Yanik, 2016).
As the federal and state highway systems developed, automobile travel and road-trip vacations became a favored method of transportation and relaxation by American families. In the 1918 issue of the Automobile Journal, which provides an expansive list of road-trip routes across the nation, journal writers describe road tripping as an ideal way for the American populace to “rehabilitate and re-energize” after World War I. The journal highlights Saratoga Springs as “once the most popular resort in America,” and describes the drive through the Mohawk Valley to Ballston Spa as “one of the finest routes in New York State” (The Automobile Journal, 1918).
To the left are some details from the 1918 issue of the Automobile Journal where the County and surrounding area is mentioned.
Here is another excerpt from the Journal, in which an automobile tour from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island is branded as a way to revisit what used to be a Mohawk tribe trail. Though the Journal does not include the sections of Mohawk trails present Saratoga in this particular tour, this demonstrates one way in which northeastern indigenous heritage has been utilized for commercial and cultural capital.
Nevertheless, highway construction remained costly, especially so at the state level. To offset the high costs, the State used forced prison labor to construct highways in the Southern area of the county. The popularity of automobile travel exploded as the federal government became more involved. Earlier plans were laid in the 1930s to construct a national network of superhighways spanning east to west and south to north, terminating the Canadian border, but these were delayed due to World War II. But in March 1950, New York State passed a law to begin constructing a Thruway, which would run from New York City through Albany to Buffalo. 396 miles of this route were open by July 1955, and in 1956 Congress expanded its coverage of the costs from 60 to 90 percent, thus enabling the rest of the Thruway to be built faster (Dunn, et al. 1974).
As one County historian argues, “no single event since the invention of the automobile has had more impact on this county than the coming of “the Northway,” otherwise known as the New York section of Interstate Route 87. The Northway was proposed in 1959; the Saratoga County portion was completed in 1963, and by 1965 drivers could travel from the County up to Montreal. The construction of the Northway coincided with the construction of Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which opened in 1966. Skidmore College also underwent a notable expansion in the same period, and the local historic preservation movement experienced a resurgence, making the County more economically, historically, and culturally relevant than ever before (Dunn, et al. 1974; Horne, 2005; Adirondack.net, 2021).
Malta Town Historian Paul Perreault says the Northway "dramatically changed the nature of the town" by allowing people working in Albany and Schenectady to live in Malta. Malta's newfound role as a "bedroom community" led to a vast increase in population.
Soon after the Northway was complete the Capital District Transportation Authority, or the CDTA, in 1970, expanded bus service. Though some small buses had already been in operation around the County, including two buses in Ballston Spa established in 1926, the centralized nature of the CDTA altered County public transportation as a whole. In 1976, the CDTA began offering regular service to Saratoga County. Today, CDTA routes take passengers from Schenectady to Wilton, along Route 50, from Skidmore College to downtown Saratoga Springs, and from Milton to Albany. In 2004, the CDTA opened a bus station on West Avenue in Saratoga Springs, which remains in use today and is also utilized by both Greyhound Buses and Amtrak. Greyhound has regular bus service to and from Albany; Amtrak's Adirondack line passes through Saratoga Springs and eventually terminates in Montreal. Though CDTA service is utilized frequently in the County, there is some controversy surrounding the lack of service to more remote areas of the County like Corinth, Greenfield, and Galway. Many residents of these areas also do not have access to cars, while those in the middle of the County have cars and also enjoy greater access to public buses and other forms of public transportation (Guest Contributor, 2020; Kinney, 2007; CDTA.org; CDRPC.com, 2020).
In the 1600s, Mohawks and Mohicans favored the county because of how easily navigable it was through water. The Battenkill River opened up eastern travel to Vermont; the Hudson enabled travel from north to south; and Fish Creek, the Kayaderosseras, and the Mohawk River opened travel to the west. The Hudson and Mohawk Rivers in particular were the “principal means of transportation” in the region until railroads came to the region in the 1830s. Abenaki peoples constructed canoes from birchbark in order to travel on these rivers, for which they would become famous. The Abenaki and other indigenous communities would place parallel logs next to their trails so that they could drag these boats with them as they navigated the County
Two major canals, the Erie and the Champlain, had a stark impact on life in the County. Because of Saratoga’s advantageous geographical placement, the State quickly sought to construct canals to capitalize on economic growth from trade. Both canals were principal in transporting people, goods, and economic development to their respective canal towns (Horne, 2005).
Construction of Erie canal began in 1817 and was completed in 1825. It was 40 feet wide, 4 feet deep, and 364 miles long, connecting New York destinations like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Amsterdam, Schenectady, and Waterford to the Hudson. The Champlain Canal was authorized in 1817 and completed in 1823. It connected Montreal through Lake Champlain into the Hudson River. Construction of the Champlain canal in 1823 led to a manufacturing boom in Schuylerville and the neighboring village of Victory. A canal was proposed to be built in 1840 from Jesseup’s landing (now Corinth) to Sacandaga river to Fish House, but it was never built. Unlike the railroad systems, canals were funded publicly, enabling for quick production and minimal debt. By 1836, the cost of the Erie Canal was entirely paid off by canal tolls. Ironically, the money from canal tolls was used to build railroads which led to downfall of canals (Dunn, et al. 1974; Horne, 2005).
Before bridges, early European settlers of the County transported people, animals, and objects over water by using rope ferries. Rope ferries consisted of a boat and a long piece of rope which spanned the length of a given river. Ferry workers would move the boat along by pulling on the rope. One early ferry established in the County was Vischer's Ferry in present-day Halfmoon and Clifton Park. Vischer's Ferry was established by settler Eldert Vischer in 1790 (Town of Halfmoon; Historical Marker Database, 2019).
There is also evidence of steamboats being used on the Sacandaga river in the mid 1800s. Though today the river may seem too shallow for boats, it was actually quite large and quite deep before excessive lumbering took its toll. Gurdon Conklin, founder of Conklingville, built a tannery upon establishing the town and put the first steamboat on the river. Floating bridges were constructed around the river enabling steamboats to go from Conklingville to Edinburg. These steamboats carried products to markets and merchandise to other points to then be distributed to other areas. One of these products was bark. There were two main boats used for these purposes; one blew up and another stopped being used in the 1880s (Dunn, et al. 1974).
Many different kinds of vessels and people traveled on the canals. They were a popular site for tourism; visitors would travel in canoes, barges, and packet boats. Some entrepreneurs crafted luxury boats to transport passengers, with flashy names like Pirate’s Pride, Stormy Lass, Rip Van Winkle, and Lion of the West. A typical pleasure boat could hold 100 passengers and cover 80 miles per day. A trip from Albany to Buffalo took 4 days and cost 20 dollars per person each way.
A ride on a pleasure boat was both relaxing and exciting. The Erie had 300 bridges along its network, so when a pleasure boat approached one of these bridges, the bow man called out “low bridge, everyone down” to give passengers time to duck so as to avoid being flown off the deck.
Leisure boating was a past time for everyone—including U.S. presidents. President William Howard Taft is seen here enjoying a leisure boat cruise on Lake Champlain. In 1909, Taft came up through Albany via the Adirondack and Montreal express railway to Fort Ticonderoga to celebrate the 300th anniversary of French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s visit to the area (New York State Almanac, 2020).
Saratoga Lake also has a long history of pleasure boating which continues today. The Lady of the Lake and The Alice were two famous pleasure boats that operated on the lake, established in 1881 and 1893, respectively. Today, boating lives on at Saratoga Lake. Though most of the shoreline is privately-owned, anyone can access the waters through the state-owned boat launch at the northern end of the lake. Both locals and tourists come to the lake to fish, sail, paddle, and swim (Saratoga Lake Association; Saratoga.com)
Given the numbers of rivers and lakes around the County, many bridges have been built over time. Many of these bridges have fascinating histories. The first large bridge in the County, the Union Bridge, was built 1804 in the town of Waterford. It was the first bridge to be constructed over the Hudson River, and was originally constructed as a wooden covered bridge (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2021).
The bridge was opened on December 3, 1804. A massive celebration was held to commemorate the event. Many marched from Lansingburg, Troy to the VanSchoonhoven Hotel in Waterford. Members of the parade included regular citizens, a band, members of the Masonic Brotherhood, New York State Aassembly and Senate members, the State governor, and the president of the Union Bridge Company, which built the bridge. 17 shots were fired in honor of the then-17 states of the Union. After the festivities, attendees enjoyed dinner and a series of toasts at the hotel (Griggs).
The original bridge was destroyed in 1909 by a devastating fire. It was replaced immediately by a steel truss bridge, which still stands today (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2021).
The present day bow bridge connecting Hadley and Corinth over the Sacandaga River has a history that is both interesting and unique. Originally, a covered bridge was constructed at this site in 1804. In 1885, the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of East Berlin, Connecticut constructed a half-through lenticular truss bridge in its place. This is notable because only three such bridges have ever been built. The other two were constructed in Germany and Italy, but have since been either destroyed or condemned, making the Hadley Bow Bridge the very last of its kind. The bridge was closed from use in 1980s due to deteriorating conditions, and was almost destroyed by the city, but public demand for restoration saved the bridge. It was reopened for public use in 2006 and remains useable today. (Hadley Corinth New york Bow Bridge; Historicbridges.com).
Those who enter the County by driving northbound on I-87 do so by crossing over the Mohawk River via the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge, known locally as "The Twins." This bridge is a red, double steel-through arch bridge which connects Albany and Saratoga Counties. It was built in 1959 during construction of the Northway. It was rehabilitated in 1976, and received new side decks in 2013. You may be wondering why a bridge in upstate New York has a Polish name. The bridge's namesake is one Thaddeus Kosciusko, a Polish emigrant who served in the Revolutionary War. Kosciusko was an engineer by trade and designed military defenses, boats, and bridges for the Northern Department of the Contiental Army in places like Fort Ticonderoga, Albany, and Saratoga (Bridgehunter; Albanymusketrat, 2018).
From 1926-1930, amidst the transportation revolution, many bridges around the County had to be either torn down or entirely reconstructed for safety purposes. Very few original bridges remain standing today, one of which being the covered bridge in Edinburg, constructed by Edinburg resident Arad Copeland in 1879. Copeland, a farmer, used the bridge to transport his cows to his pasture. Over the years, the bridge has received a new roof, flooring, and a few side board replacements. This covered bridge is the last of its kind in the entire County (Dunn, et al. 1974; Historical Marker Database, 2020; Edwards, 2003).
Another fascinating story involving water and transportation involves the circumstances leading up to the creation of the Great Sacandaga Lake. In 1910 the County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution at Conklingville approving the construction of a dam on the Sacandaga River. For years, annual flooding and drought from the Hudson River wreaked havoc on the region by causing damage to crops, roads, and properties, particularly in the towns of Day, Hadley, and Edinburg. Following the floods would be a dry period, resulting in manufacturers along the river losing power. But in order to create this dam, 10 towns located in the northwest corner of the County would have to be flooded. The amount of planning, preparation, and destruction of the towns where the dam would be constructed, coupled with WWI, delayed construction through the 1920s. The dam was finally created in 1930. Though towns and infrastructure were destroyed or otherwise disrupted, the endeavor revitalized the northwestern corner of the County which had been struggling economically prior to the construction of the dam
Almost all covered bridges in the area were torn down because they were impractical and cost too much to upkeep. A ferry was proposed to be built to cross the Reservoir, but the Board of Superintendents fought for a bridge instead, built at the cost of 500,000 dollars, which remains today.
Though land and water dominate the transportation story in the County, air travel is not without importance. During World War II, The War Department looked across the county for places to build landing strips as part of a national defense program. The Department scouted an area west of Saratoga Springs, at the north end of Greenfield Avenue, and built an airport which remains today as the County airport. Another airport within the County is the Plateau Sky Ranch Airport. The Plateau Sky Ranch is a privately owned, but publicly used airport in Edinburg (Dunn, et al. 1974; Edinburgny.com).
One notable air travel story comes from the town of Corinth in the northern portion of the County. A man named Clarence Flora purchased a Waco biplane in 1928, making him the first resident of Corinth to own an plane. in 1938, Flora used his plane to fly an airmail flight to Albany as part of a promotional event for the United States Postal Service, which had begun offering airmail service in 1918. (The Way We Were, 2021; Britannica, 2011).
The story of transportation in our County is a story of both continuity and Contemporary conversations on transportation happening today in the County include the need for more equitable public transportation, the lack of parking in downtown Saratoga Springs, and the need for environmentally-minded methods of movement, like more bike lanes and trails. People have and will always continue to move, and because of this, transportation will continue to play a principal part in shaping our County's history.
X - 1600s – Mohawk, Mohican, and Abenaki making trails which have remained in use through the 21st century
1804- Waterford Union Bridge constructed, the first bridge to be built over the Hudson
1823- Champlain canal completed
1825- Erie Canal completed
1826 – Incorporation of the Mohawk and Hudson Railway, first incorporated railroad in the State. Ushered in incredible period of railroad construction.
1832- Saratoga & Schenectady Railroad built
1835- Rensselaer & Saratoga Railroad built
1863- Adirondack Railway built
1882- Saratoga line of Boston & Maine built
1885- Hadley lenticular bridge constructed
1889-1892 – Construction of first trollies
1898- State law for road construction passed, ushering in shift away from canals and railroad travel towards road/automobile travel
1930- Creation of Sacandaga Dam
1942- Saratoga County Airport built
1954- Construction of New York State Thruway
1963- Completion of Saratoga County portion of I-87, otherwise known as the Northway.
1970- State law creating the Capitol District Transportation Authority (CDTA) passed
1973- Greyhound Albany bus station opened
1974- Amtrak's Adirondack Line, with service to Saratoga Springs, opened
1976- CDTA begins regular route service to Saratoga
2004- CDTA Saratoga Springs train station opened
2016- CDTA redesigned Saratoga County routes