THE GLEN SPRINGS
Watkins Glen NY
The discovery in 1889 of an old analysis of water from a long abandoned artesian well resparked new interest in a well near Deer Lick Spring, NY. Long known for its medicinal properties by native americans well before any settlement of the Seneca Lake region, the water analysis showed properties rich in brine, chloride of calciun and minerals that were almost as consistent with the waters of Bad Nauheim. This discovery, along with similar wells near Deer Lick Spring, led to the foundation and organization of the Glen Springs Health Resort situated at Watkins Glen, NY. This mineral springs health resort would offer Americans all the advantages of the finest European spas.
Although unfortunately very little remains of the once sprawling property and resort of over one hundred acres, a publication from 1915 describes the Glen Springs Resort as having multiple buildings including a grand hotel overlooking the waters of Seneca Lake with a view for miles. The buildings were connected on the first floor by a Solarium heated by steam and recieved direct sunlight daily from its location. The first floor of the main building was devoted entirely to public facilities including a spacious lounge with an open wood fireplace, a music room, an indoor fern and plant room, a library, game and billiard room, a dancing room.
All of the guest rooms were equiped with long distance bell telephones and over 100 rooms had private baths. Guests could enjoy the spectacular views from the roof garden from the north wing of the main bulding, which was bathed in the sun all hours of the day, while relaxing in hammocks, couches and chairs. The roof garden was a welcome retreat to unwind following a day of activities, mineral baths or treatments. The park on the grounds consisted of over one hundred acres of woodlands, lawns, paths, benches and kiosks. Other outdoor activities besides hiking and meandering the endless trails overlooking Seneca Lake included a nine hole golf course, tennis courts and croquet. Only having to travel a short distance from the lodge, guests could also enjoy water recrational activites such as boating, sailing, fishing and game hunting.
The Following Historical Information Was Taken Directly From Wikipedia and Does Not Represent This Authors Work:
The main building of this institution was built in 1872 by Judge George G. Freer, who was born in Marbletown, Ny , in January 1809. A lawyer in nearby Ithaca, NY at the time, he first became involved with the history of the area when he came to Watkins in 1851 to defend the last will of Dr. Samuel Watkins, the founder of the village. After having successfully proved that Dr. Watkins’ widow, Cynthia Ann Cass Watkins, was the legal heir, he soon married the widow, who died shortly after, in October 1853, leaving Freer the sole owner of the vast estate. He quickly opened the first bank in the village and published the first newspaper. Freer went on to hold several civic offices: Village Trustee, President of the Village Board, Supervisor of the Town of Dix in 1863, and became a Judge and Surrogate of Schuyler County in 1869. Judge Freer died April 17, 1878.
One of Freer’s greatest ambitions was to open up the beautiful areas of the local glen to the public. Under his ownership, the Glen at the southern end of the village began operation as a tourist attraction, called Freer’s Glen. It was later sold to Mordalven Ells, who opened it to the public in 1863. Ells, born in Fairfield County, Conneticut , in 1823, had moved to Watkins in the 1850s.
In 1906, the state of New York acquired the Glen and opened it as the first state park with free admission. In 1924, it became one of the Finger Lakes State Parks, now under the control of the New York State Parks Department
Glen State Park adjoined the site where Freer had built the “Lake View Hotel” to accommodate the tourists he had hoped to attract. This beautiful structure, built in the style of the second empire, was to be the nucleus of the Glen Springs Resort and Sanitarium. Freer’s venture, however, had never succeeded.
A search for oil on the property, however, led to a whole new future for the village, and led to the opening of the Glen Springs. When the drillers went down to a depth of 1,600 feet, what they struck was black, briny water, not oil. The drillers were disappointed, but, under scientific analysis, the water proved to have greater curative powers than those found at the Nauheim Springs in Germany, the leading spa of the day. Apparently there were several springs on that site which had been known for their medicinal properties as far back as when the Seneca People occupied the land.
Newspaper accounts of the find drew the attention of William Elderkin Leffingwell, who, with his cousin, Dr. James A. Jackson, ran the Jackson Health Resort in Dansville, NY. They had been searching for two years for a more suitable site for a new sanitarium. Leffingwell went to Watkins in 1890 to investigate the property. He was quickly convinced of the suitability of the site for a health resort, and formed a company to purchase it. In March 1890, the Glen Springs opened as a hotel and sanitarium. It quickly developed an international reputation and became a mecca for tourists seeking its curative waters.
Different springs were found to have different properties, and some provided running water throughout the hotel, while others were used for bathing. A two-story bath house was built with tiled floors and marble walls, which was attached directly to the hotel. In it the guests could enjoy a variety of bathing styles and water properties for different ailments. As soon as he had purchased the estate, Leffingwell made plans to expand the hotel, for which he hired several architectural firms in the region. He slowly expanded the property, till it grew from its original 20 acres to comprise 270 acres. On the grounds, gas wells provided heat for the buildings and food was grown to feed the guests and staff.
Leffingwell died in October 1927. His family continued to manage the resort, but Glen Springs gradually faded in prominence. Finally the events of World War II caused the resort to lose many of its remaining clientele and it closed its doors on January 1, 1942.
After World War II the resort became housing for Cornell University GI students. Then later in 1949 it became a Catholic boarding school for boys. The school was owned and operated by the Franciscan Friars and was named Padua, for the affiliation with St. Anthony of Padua. The property was later abandoned by the friars and deemed beyond repair. After the demolition of the main hotel and several outbuildings, cottages and buildings in 1996, the only structures that currently remain are the dilapitaed brick gymnasium and auditorium, a cottage that has been refurbished into a private residence and a few foundations that are now overgrown with thick vegetation.
My good friend Andy from A.D. Wheeler Photography, and I set out on a weekday morning following a tip he had recieved from an individual participating on one of Andy’s recent photowalks. Typically the weather has always been fickle on our shoots, however this day was a calm, partly sunny and slightly warm day. As we pulled up onto the property overlooking Seneca Lake, we immediatly noticed signs of its former grandeur. As seasoned abandoned ruins seekers, we can appreciate the beauty of decay and what once was. It was fairly obvious to us the overgrown, but demolished site and what had stood here years prior. We initially observed the private residence that was in the process of being refurbished as well as an old cottage that once appeared to be the Department Head for Science office. Nothing remained inside save for some old broken windows and modern items of storage. I thought the old door had some interesting textures and character however.
The old gymnasium was really the only structure that remained truly worth investigating. Upon entry to the old building, the first thing that I noticed, rather my olfactory receptors noticed, was the familiar smell of decay, mold, dust and all things that make me feel icky; and I forgot to bring my dust mask. Alas, we ventured in and the first thing we saw was a small entry room that was probably and office or a lobby. The door was propped open and sitting in the corner was a classic console television that most likely last played an original episode of “All in the Family” or possibly “I Love Lucy”. A good shot anyway, classic, rustic and abandoned. The wall textures were yummy with peeling blues and whites and a nice cascade of sunlight poking through a hole in the ceiling directly above the old TV.
Just off the small little “tv” lobby was the sprawling gymnasium and auditorium. However it now resembled sort of an underground graffiti walled broken down skateboarding park for ghost punks in Catholic school uniforms. And it smelled bad, at least to me. The floor, although buckled and warped in most areas seemed solid. There was a basement as we could see by a dark staircase in the far corner of the gym. We were not going down there. Nevertheless, there appeared plenty to photograph here on the main floor as well as possibly the upper balcony area which we could see from below.
I could almost picture young Catholic boys playing basketball and watching plays and movies in this gymnasium. Left behind, besides the characteristic hard wood floor that now resembled waves on the ocean, were bleachers, the equipment room, the stage and controls for regulating fresh air flow. It was quite unfortunate the fresh air aparatus was no longer in service as it would have been a nice comfort the day we shot here.
After spending the good part of an hour on the gym floor shooting the wavy and buckled floor, the vintage bleachers and other very cool objects, we decided to head to the other side of the large room and venture upstairs not knowing what we might find. Shooting the old gym floor and bleachers with the sunlight streaming through the partially open windows was amazing and part of me could not wait to get home to view the images on screen and begin the editing process. However, the upper deck awaited us, so we carefully worked our way up one set of staircases on the east side of the gym listening to the crunching of decades worth of decay and deterioration. The birds that decided to take up refuge in this old building chose, at times to startle us often as well. At times their squawks and screeching that echoed across the room sounded almost creepy and sinister like we were invading their abode. Which, I guess we were. As I reached the top of the stairs, I noticed several small rooms and the narrow walkway of the second floor balcony. While Andy set up shop in one of the adjacent rooms, I carefully perched my tripod onto the ledge and fired off a few brackets of the entire scene, including one of my favorite shots.
A year before visiting this site, I had the opportunity to visit the old Willard State Hospital further up on the lake. During a little side trip adventure away from the “tour group” that we were supposed to remain with, I snuck away to the second floor balcony of the gymnasium in Hadley Hall on the state hospital grounds. I remember the balcony being very impressive with the rows vintage wooden theater seats, the projectionists room and the actual projectors. This was the first time I actually saw vintage carbon arc movie projectors in person. Being a huge classic movie buff, I was enthralled at the site of these vintage projectors that I am sure ran all my classic favorites over the years. Now back at the Glen Springs gymnasium, I was quite delighted to have stumbled upon another pair of these behemoths that have stood like two lonely sentinels over the ages. The room was cramped and seemed to be a dumping ground for bags of trash over the years. It was a struggle to get the right angles and avoid the unnecessary shot of garbage in my frame. However, I was pleased to have grabbed a couple “keepers” in the tight quarters of the projectionists room.
I sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading about this adventure as much as I have enjoyed writing it and finding the shots for it. I look forward to many adventures and escapades in the near future and as always,enjoy my trips to cool and abandoned locations with my photographer “partners in crime” friends. Stay tuned for more adventures and news as I hope to continue to expand my portfolio with one of a kind “ruinscape” photos for my fans and friends to enjoy. Finally, for anyone that read this story, please contact me with the phrase “ruinscape rocks” for 15% off any ruinscape print.
Thanks for visiting…’til next time, peace !!