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Milford Lester Interview


Lester, Milford


Milford Lester describes his family and their experiences


Mastrianni, Beverly, 1936-


Saratoga Springs Public Library


Saratoga Springs Public Library




Tyrrell, Brittany


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Milford Lester Collection






Oral History



All Available Item Data


Mastrianni, Beverly


Lester, Milford


Lester residence, Saratoga Springs, NY


Request from repository

Original Format

Cassette Tape


108:27 min

Bit Rate/Frequency

192 kps

Time Summary

This interview is exclusively about his family and their backgrounds, and how he came to be in Saratoga Springs.

0:00-11:21-The year that Milford Lester’s interview takes place is in 1999 and his personal information is noted. Lester was born in Scarsdale, New York in 1929, later moving to Saratoga Springs in 1955. His grandparents lived in Saratoga Springs on Lake Avenue and his father lived there throughout most of high school then ended up working in New York City. Lester’s mother, Sarah Streeter was born in Brooklyn. His parents met at Williams College and married in 1914. They continued to live in Brooklyn until 1920 when they moved to Scarsdale, New York. Lester’s father died when Lester was only fifteen in 1944. Lester was the youngest out of the five children and his mother died in 1986.

11:22-19:02- Charles Smith Lester was Milford Lester’s great-grandfather on his father’s side, and he lived on North Broadway with Lester’s great-grandmother. Charles Lester first came to Saratoga Springs when he was a boy to live his uncle and aunt. Lester had quite a large family and many of them stayed in Saratoga; they included the Dowd side of the family. The Dowds’s belonged to Lester’s great-grandmother’s family. Dr. Dowd came to Saratoga to be the principle of a school called, Temple Grove Seminary. Most of his six children also worked at this school in various positions. Dr. Charles Ferdinand Dowd was born in Conneticut and became a very educated man, earning both his Master’s and PhD from Yale, He was very interested in the subject of time and how the zones were different for different towns. The railroads considered keeping timetables important, and it was in the late 1800’s that the railroads accepted Dr. Dowd’s system for standard time. He then became principle of the Temple Grove Seminary until it closed and died in 1904, which was the same year that Lester’s other great-grandfather died.

19:03-21:53-Temple Grove Seminary was a private school for women, offering both classes in the liberal arts and those which taught its students to live independently. This school was one building, called Skidmore Hall and it was located on Spring Street. Temple Grove was a boarding school, but accepted who came only for classes as well/. They rented out rooms in the summer to raise money to keep the school going. Dr. Dowd was also a minister, belonging to The Second Presbytarian Church that was on Regent and Spring Street.

21:55-24:35-Lester’s great-uncle Charles’ wife had tuberculosis and so he began looking for somewhere quiet, relatively close and that could accommodate the level of care that his wife needed. Milford’s two great-uncles bought land on Brant Lake and built a summer home, named Cedar Camp. They either got there on horseback or by horse-drawn carriage. The trip took Lester’s father the best part of the day. Cedar Camp stayed in the family, and though the family became very busy and, they divided the time spent there among themselves.

24:37-28:57- Lester’s grandfather and two great-uncles were lawyers and also had a successful real estate business. CSCC Lester was the law firm on Broadway, which was grandfather and oldest son. Lester Brothers was the real estate business. Lester Brothers ended up owning a lot of property because this family would take land in exchange for legal services. Some of the Dowd family members left Saratoga Springs and took up careers elsewhere, while the rest worked at Temple Grove Seminary. Lester said that in the next generation, all except for the Lesters had left Saratoga. When Milford Lester came to Saratoga in 1955, he stated it was like coming home in a sense.

28:58-35:09- Milford Lester moved to Saratoga Springs with his wife and two daughters to work for his uncle at the Saratoga Vichy Spring Company, which bottled and sold carbonated spring water. He moved up in the company until he became president after his uncle died in `1961. This bottling company began in 1873 and one of the few remaining private bottling companies left in the region. The company bottled for awhile only carbonated mineral water that was slightly alkaline. The water was used both as a beverage and as a mixer for alcoholic beverages and their distribution included all of New York State, some of New England, and also Miami. The plant was built in 1783 after a spring was discovered at the site in the southwestern part of Saratoga Springs. Throughout the years, the plant kept expanding and in 1939 a much bigger bottling plant was constructed. The land where the spring was found was bought and sold three different times, but the water remained used for the plant. In later years the bottling plant provided both carbonated and flat mineral water. Though the spring water was naturally carbonated, carbon dioxide gas had to be added right before the water was bottled. The carbonation would be lost as the water came up from the ground and traveled through the plant. The company did not make any claims that the spring water could benefit a person’s health, except that it was good for an upset stomach. Many other bottling companies were saying that their spring water could cure various ailments. The management of this company thought making health claims would be unethical.

35:10-39:00- Lester said that he learned what he knew about the springs from a man named Jim Benton, who explained that there was a fault running through Saratoga, from southwest to northeast. On the western side of the fault the springs are shallow and do not have a large amount of minerals, The springs on the eastern side however, are much deeper and able to absorb minereals from the rocks, like limestone. Lester states that there were hundreds of bottling companies along the fault that might have gone beyond Ballston Spa to Ridgefield Springs. Lester says that Benton was very interested in history, the springs and glassmaking. He built the Grand Union Motel and drilled a well and called it the Rosemary Spring, which provided very good spring water. Benton taught himself all about the springs and the glassmaking that was used for bottling the spring water. There was a major glassmaking factory on Glass Factory Mountain, started by Dr. Clark up near Lake Desolation for this purpose.

39:10-43-10 When Lester moved to Saratoga, the city was hurting economically, a lot of businesses had become smaller and there weren’t many jobs to be found. This event happened right after gambling was legalized. There were signs that thee community was rebuilding itself, one such event was the building of two elementary schools a year or two

before Lester came to Saratoga. Lester and others wanted to help the city so they met frequently and first organized the community chest in 1956 or 57. The YMCA was running again and the Holiday Inn was built and so was SPAC after this/ Lester mentioned that there were a lot of people who wanted to see Saratoga Springs do well, and as a result the city had the volunteers it needed. Lester also believed that Skidmore influenced community in a positive way.

43:11-44:58-The community chest later became known as the united fund and it was formed by people who worked for a living. Some of the volunteers were influential in the community, such as managers of companies and business owners. The community chest’s volunteers grew in number and its board members were all actively involved in the city.

44:59- 49:00-In the 1930’s the YMCA in Saratoga had lost most of its support, though a a few trustees remained interested. A house was left on Broadway to be used as the reorganized YMCA and a director was found who really motivated kids to be active. Many programs were organized within the Y and those like swimming were held elsewhere. The YMCA soon needed to expand and so they bought a building on Ludlow Street for a span of about 45 yeears. Lester was involved in the fundraising of the building in 1969 of a new structure for the YMCA, which cost almost a million dollars. It was built on Braidway, but was destroyed by a fire. The first YMCA was organized before Lester moved to Saratoga Springs; its building on Division and Church Street was forclosed because they were not making enough money.

49:01-52:05-The Holiday Inn hotel was built because of a study done on the community by the hotel industry. There were a few individuals who thought this was a good project and they presented the idea to a foundation called the Hawkingberry Coropation who agreed on this. Lester helped in finding a hotel that would come and that was the Holiday Inn. Through the selling of stocks and bonds the community of Saratoga Springs raised enough moneyfor the community to have this hotel. Saratoga needed a space big enough to act as a headquarters hotel, which was beneficial to the community, though this hotel could not accommodate all the conventions that wanted to come.

52:06-54:53-Lester talks about the convention center on Broadway that burned and the various uses it provided, such as for conventions, meetings and athletic events. The city did not rebuild, Lester states that the city was unable to do so at the time.In later years, the City Center served the exact same purpose when the Hilton was added to it. The Gideon Putnam Hotel also added on a convention center because there was so much need for space. Before the City Center, Saratoga lacked the room for these events.

54:54-57:54-Lester says he was involved in committees and other groups that were involved in the formation of SPAC, but to a lesser degree. SPAC came about because a few people thought there was a need in Saratoga for a cultural center, and both the New York City Ballet and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra were looking for somewhere to come during the summer. A woman named Carol Rob who was connected with the Rockefellers and was instrumental in bringing these wonderful performances and

concerts to Saratoga. Those people who were involved with the track and horse racing also helped bring the New York Philharmonic to the city as well.

57:55-1:01:16-Lester states he was and is involved with Saratoga Hospital. He was on the board of managers in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The hospital was quite small when he first came on, but he and others worked hard to make sure the hospital was a success, The hospital as it was in the 1950’s was an older building with the money going to not expanding, but maintaining the building and improving the services already in place. Over time improvements were made to the hospital which was more obvious like a major expansion in the 1960’s.

1:01:17-1:08:27-Lester visited Saratoga Springs as a child in the 1930’s and stayed at the family home on Lake Avenue and did some skiing outside of Saratoga. When Lester came to live in Saratoga with this family, they skied frequently at Alpine Meadows, which was a little North of Greenfield Center. Alpine Meadows had a great ski program, including lessons for children and provided a safe environment for families. Skidmore tried to start a ski program, but its construction was minimal and did not continue. Skidmore College had started to move from downtown to the current campus. Early on Lester said he did not take part in many of the college’s functions. But, he thought Skidmore was absolutely wonderful and mentioned the great collaboration that took place between those who were part of this transition, like Bob Wilson and Eric Johnson. Lester states how the college greatly improved the life of people in Saratoga with its accessibility to the public and the variety of programs available. Later on Lester came to be a little more involved in the college. He states again that Saratoga had become such a lovely place to live and it was because of the cohesion and work of the community, which included numerous volunteers. Lester says that he will stay in Saratoga Springs and is very thankful for the leadership the city has had. Lester thinks that in order to keep Saratoga in a healthy state, its present day leadership needs to have new events and programs to keep people interested in the city.

Physical Format

Oral histories


No tags recorded for this item.


Mastrianni, Beverly, 1936-, “Milford Lester Interview,” Saratoga Room Digital Exhibits, accessed October 2, 2022,

Output Formats


Lester Interview.mp3

Interactive Version