Yaddo, the artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, is a national treasure. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar can recognize that, and make sure it stays that way, by designating it a National Historic Landmark. But first the National Park System Advisory Board will have to recommend Yaddo for landmark status when it meets next month, and it should.
Yaddo was the first artists’ retreat in the nation, founded in 1900 by financier/philanthropist Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina and located on their donated 400-acre estate. The Trasks were special people, dedicated to service, and this is a special place, filled with nature, spirit, solitude and what those things often lead to: creation.
The grounds, featuring winding roads, walking paths and waterfalls, marble arches, statues and small lakes, are beautiful, as is the rose garden. The big stone house is simple but stately, with big windows to let in the light and provide an expansive view.
But it is what goes on at Yaddo, informed and inspired by the setting, that makes the place truly special. Guests have included some of the world’s most talented people, writers, composers and artists, who have used their time there to think, dream, conceive and create.
Authors Saul Bellow, Langston Hughes, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers and Katherine Anne Porter all were residents at Yaddo, as were composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Collectively, artists who have worked at Yaddo have won 61 Pulitzer Prizes, 56 National Book Awards, 27 MacArthur Fellowships and a Nobel Prize, among other honors. Author John Cheever once wrote that the “forty or so acres on which the principal buildings of Yaddo stand have seen more distinguished activity in the arts than any other piece of ground in the English-speaking community and perhaps the world.”
There are fewer than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks, and Yaddo deserves that status. Not only would it recognize the colony’s role in America’s cultural history, it would raise its national prominence. That would bring more visitors and help attract the individual and foundation support that can allow it to continue to be what Katrina Trask had hoped it would be, “a means of inspiration and uplift of art.”