Mineral-water springs first brought American Indians and, later, American settlers to this area just south of the Adirondack foothills. Gideon Putnam opened the first inn and commercial bathhouse here in 1791, to cater to early health seekers eager to drink from and bathe in the supposedly restorative waters. By the 1870s, Victorian society had turned Saratoga Springs into one of the country's principal vacation resorts, and the city became known as the "Queen of Spas."
In 1909, after the commercial exploitation of the mineral springs diminished their flow and even dried up some wells, New York State developed the Spa State Reservation (now called Saratoga Spa State Park) to protect against excessive pumping. Today you may sample the naturally carbonated waters of more than a dozen active springs, which were created by complex geological conditions centuries ago. A "tasting tour" brochure (available from the Saratoga Visitor Center) guides you to the springs in the Congress Park and High Rock Park areas, which are downtown, and in Saratoga Spa State Park, at the south end of the city. The springs differ, offering water rich in iron or sulfur or with minute quantities of radon gas. Geysers, or spouters, spray water out of a couple of springs.
By the 1890s the city had become a horse-racing hot spot, with the Travers Stakes a highlight of the racing season. These days, Thoroughbred racing has surpassed the springs as a draw, and the Travers, first run in 1864, remains a high point.