SARATOGA SPRINGS — Since moving to Saratoga Springs in the 1970s, Bonnie Wasson made it her mission to learn as much about the city’s rich history as she can.
But, after taking a 90-minute walking tour of the city’s historic west side on Sunday, Wasson was shocked to learn just how little she knows.
“Today was the first day that I learned about this area over here, which is sad, but I’m so glad that I was able to learn more about Saratoga,” she said. “That’s the thing, you get so busy in life … that’s why I take time out to learn about these things.”
Wasson was one of around 30 people who signed up for Sunday’s tour, which was put on by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and sponsored by TOGA Heritage. The tour is part of the foundation’s summer program, which includes walking tours throughout the city each Sunday beginning at 10:30 a.m.
The tour, which started and ended at the Gideon Putnam Burying Ground along South Franklin Street, only traveled a short distance, but guide George Demers packed in rich details about the history of the west end, stopping occasionally to point out significant buildings along Grand Avenue, Elm Street, Beekman Street and Oak Street.
Putnam founded Saratoga Spring in the 1780s.
Stops included 17 Grand Ave., which was once the home of the Adirondack Railway Station, as well as the Frederick Allen Lodge No. 609 at 69 Beekman St., originally constructed in 1845 as a Black Elks Lodge.
“I’m really passionate about my neighborhood and can talk about it all day,” he said as the tour came to an end.
Demers, a volunteer with a passion for history who lives in the neighborhood, provided a brief overview of the history of Saratoga Springs before focusing on how the west end evolved from the early 1800s until the 1900s.
He touched on how people from the Mohawk Nation once inhabited the land and how much of what is known about the area is told through the lens of the region’s first white settlers in the 1700s. He went on to tell how Italian and Irish immigrants would later shape the “blue collar” neighborhood after moving to the city to work on Adirondack Railway that once cut through the neighborhood.
Demers also didn’t shy away from the city’s history of slavery and how urban renewal efforts in the 1950s altered the city’s Black neighborhoods. On several occasions, he stopped to point out buildings that were used as part of the Underground Railroad.
“The way history is written, Saratoga is this big happy place,” he said. “But it wasn’t like that.”
Jacqueline Bunge, events & programs coordinator for the Preservation Foundation, said historic tours are popular, attracting a wide-range of people, including local residents, history buffs and tourists. The west side tour had a waiting list of around 15 people, and many of the tours scheduled throughout the summer have already sold out.
“I think the important part of these tours is that you learn a lot about the current owners, but at the same time you’re learning about lost history and the past,” Bunge said. “I think that’s important to keep that alive.”
The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation has a number of events planned throughout the summer, including walking tours and virtual events, and a fall schedule is expected to be announced later this summer, Bunge said.
Proceeds help pay for future programming as well as preserving and restoring historic buildings throughout Saratoga Springs. The organization is currently working to raise funds to restore 65 Phila St., an 1851 Italianate-style house constructed by Alexander Patterson near the heart of the city.
Nancy Thorn, a lifelong Saratoga Springs resident who took the tour, said she is constantly on the lookout for events pertaining to history and building architecture throughout the region.
“This whole area is very interesting,” she said.
To learn more about future events hosted by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, visit: saratogapreservation.org.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.