Arts: A Fascinating Old Town Seeking Rebirth

There is a fascinating town in New York state that history buffs would love. It is called Sharon Springs and it has achieved a certain amount of new media notoriety in the last decade.

Sharon Springs is 45 miles west of Albany on Route 20 out in rural farm country. It has springs of sulphur, magesium and chalybeate (containing salts of iron) and was a known mineral spring even to the indigenous Iroquois Indians. At its peak during the late 19th century the town attracted up to 10,000 visitors annually, primarily in the summers.

Today Sharon Springs is largely dilapidated with much of its history obliterated by decay, demolition or arson. But for the last 15 years it has been seeking to make a comeback. The road is bumpy, however. The recession has hurt the town’s chances.

A trip to Sharon Springs is a like a journey into an eerie mystery movie. Some of its historic structures are overgrown with trees and bushes while many others have disappeared completely but are well documented.

A few buildings have been restored somewhat or fully by new people coming into the town, and Sharon Springs has again become a fashionable place to visit. The whole town is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can see the entire Sharon Springs wikipedia page here, with links to many other related pages

Sharon Springs is very, very quiet as it is nestled in a narrow valley pocket one mile off the main highway and surrounded by forest. On one summer Saturday morning between 7 and 8 o’clock there were only a handful of people in the streets and hardly a car moving.

The town’s past is well documented. A walking tour is available simply by strolling and observing the posted plaques that explain each location, all with antique photographs enlivening each essay. It is amazing to think that this sleepy spot once was a bustling burg full of bathing spas, shops, elegant hotels and hordes of visitors. Even in the early 1900s there were more than 60 hotels and boarding houses in Sharon Springs.

And bustle it did. For more than a century it was a vacation retreat, first for wealthy people from New York and other cities. Some of the hotels were very elegant.

Early travel was by Hudson River steamboat and then carriage. Eventually the railroad delivered patrons even closer than the Hudson, which was 50 miles away. The New York Central Railroad brought patrons to within 10 miles.

Some of the early visitors and part-time residents of Sharon Springs were wealthy beer barons because the agricultural region around the town was famous for hops, an essential ingredient in beer. Prohibition eventually doomed this trade, as did a blight and competition from the state of Oregon.

But the town faded as wealthy clients shifted to Saratoga Springs, about 70 miles northeast, where the famous Saratoga horse racing track is located. After that the Sharon Springs clientele came to be more regular folks with lower incomes, sometimes coming off the nearby highway.

Sharon Springs certainly saw its share of tragedy. Its old wooden structures burned several times over, the worst fire being in 1926.

The town went through many ups and downs throughout the years. The opening of the New York state Thruway in 1954 took many travelers off of the old Route 20 – a principal cross-country route – drawing more potential traffic away from Sharon Springs.

Yet even as recently as the 1950s, one of the hotels, the Columbia, was a busy place with a large swimming pool out back. Today it is an overgrown, boarded-up and bizarre reminder of a long-lost past. The last major hotel, the Adler, closed in 2004 and it too is being consumed by the forest.

The bright side is that two of the remaining hotels on the main street have been partially or fully restored.

This old hotel shows the eerie side of Sharon Springs. There are several such structures in the town. It seems like the perfect venue for a horror movie.

This home is another telling sign of the town’s faded glories.

Signs of life… the big hotel is on Main Street, now restored as two separate establishments – the Roseboro and the Beekman. They are seeking to draw visitors with old-style amenities that attracted thousands annually to the town throughout the years.

Here is the American Hotel on Main Street. This is the most fully restored of the old places. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Tourist-related businesses have revitalized some of the buildings. This art gallery is located where the fire house once was.

Here are the crumbling remains of the Imperial Baths, the largest public bath in Sharon Springs.

This cast iron structure marked a spa called the Magnesia Spring. It is an architectural and historic treasure.

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