Skip to main content

All Available Item Data


Grace M. Swanner, Reminiscences of the Saratoga Spa


Saratoga Spa State Park (N.Y.)


Dr. Swanner is interviewed in front of a group of Spa volunteers. The end of the interview is very garbled and part of it are not audible.


Smith, Teddie
Stamm, Jean


Saratoga Springs Public Library


Saratoga Springs Public Library


May 1990


This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).


Dr. Grace M. Swanner Collection
Dr. Walter S. McClellan Collection






Oral History



All Available Item Data


Smith, Teddie


Swanner, Dr. Grace M.


Saratoga Spa State Park Administration Building


Available in the Saratoga Room

Original Format

Audio Cassette Tape


31:22 min.

Time Summary

 Section 1


0-2:50- On June, 24 1999, Dr. Grace Swanner was interviewed about her research on the spa in Saratoga along with the various springs and their healing properties.  She wrote all of it down in her book, Saratoga:The Queen of Spas. Dr. Swanner came to Saratoga Springs in 1932 as a medical student to Dr. McLellan, who became the first medical director of the Spa. During this time, the springs and the surrounding area became an actual healing spa. Many renowned scientists were involved in its development, like Dr. Strock, a chemist, and Dr. Brodish. Dr. Swanner was attempting to have people around her, like Jim Benton, the Mayor during the spa’s early days to write down everything he knew about the springs in a book. Dr. Swanner wrote its history since everyone else had died.


2:51-7:16- The city of Saratoga Springs was very receptive to the spa since it was already a part of the town and in the 1930’s, the springs became well known to people in Europe. The Jewish immigrants believed fully in the healing properties of the spring. Many of them were very poor so in order to visit the spa in the summer, they would save everything they could during the winter. They would stay for three weeks and receive twenty-one treatments in that time. Numerous people came for the springs healing properties and at the spa they could completely relax and forget about their poor living conditions in places like New York City. As time went on, the springs’ popularity decreased because the earlier generation of Europeans were no longer alive. These people felt strongly about the healing effects of the springs and of a spa that over in Europe insurance companies would pay for people to get treatments. But, the next generation took less of an interest in the benefits of a spa..


7:17-14;43- Dr. Swanner was quite adamant that healing properties of the springs really benefited people. There was one treatment known as a cardiac treatment, which research has shown has the same therapeutic effect on the heart as digitalis. Before doctors saw how well heart patients were doing, people mainly went to the springs for help with arthritis or other similar diseases. Each patient had their own treatment plan according to their individual needs, which is why it was so important to have doctors at the spa. Patients came to the spa with prescriptions from the doctors in Saratoga to have treatments from the springs. These prescriptions for spa therapy were written specifically for how the water was used for a patient, Doctors would also routinely visit patents and take vitals like blood pressure and almost all showed some improvement.


14:43-17:00- Dr. Swanner says that for people who were really impoverished and needed treatments at the spa could apply and get approval to go through a spa office located in New York City. If they were approved, an organization would cover the costs for them and it was these people who were the most grateful. These were the ones who needed to have a prescription written by a doctor when they got to the spa and were known as service cases.


17:01- 22:07- Dr. Swanner explains Dr. Bodish’s theory of how minerals came to be in the spring water deep underground. He believed that as the fossils of plants and animals eroded away, the minerals found in their skeletons remained in the underground water. She gives the example of the iron found in the water. Dr. Swanner further explains that there are different chemical compositions for iron and that the one type found in the spring water is the same type found in the hemoglobin of human blood. If the iron is the same then it can be easily absorbed and used by the body. She says the same would be true for many minerals found in the springs’ water. One exception is sulfur, even though it is the most common mineral some springs do not contain any sulfur, though they may small and taste as if they do..


22:08-26:09- Dr. Swanner says that a number of trace elements were found in the waters of Saratoga and that they could all be beneficial to the human body. One such element is lithium, which was first found in a spring from Ballston Spa and for this reason it was marketed as a cure for disease. Lithium also was found as a trace element in the water of Saratoga, but not nearly in the amounts one would need to treat mental disease as we so often now use lithium for. Dr. Swanner then tells an amusing anecdote about how the Franklin Spring in Ballston Spa was named. She says that it is imperative that historic places like the springs of Saratoga should be preserved and she is glad to see that they are.


26:10-31:58- Dr. Swannere explains that the Lincoln Bathhouse served to treat those who were poor and that no appointment was needed, but that they often had to wait in a long line for their treatment. About a hundred people a day received treatment here. The Washington Bathhouse saw people who had enough money to make appointments for the baths and massages and as a result they did not have to wait. The Roosevelt Bathhouse took the most prominent people. Swanner found the people being treated at the Lincoln Bathhouse to be the most interesting, but she enjoyed everyone at the Spa. She says that not everyone had to have a prescription to come to the Spa,  some people just came to enjoy the baths, like those involved in the races. There was a treatment that they enjoyed called the cabinet, which Turkish in nature and a clients were put in a very warm room until  they would sweat, then get a rub down, a salt rub and finally a massage. There were mineral packs given at the Spa and also various types of physical therapy.


31;50-36;30- Dr. Swanner explains that the waters of the springs in Saratoga comes from a fault, a crack in the Earth’s surface that runs through the town. This fault is deep enough to reach to the dolomite level where the spring water is found. The water is able to come to the surface because of this opening. The Saratoga fault can be seen quite clearly between High Rock Avenue, on the lower side of the fault and Maple Avenue, on the upper side. The fault actually begins around Lake George and runs south though Ballston Spa. Almost all of the springs are found along the fault, including the ones in Ballston Spa.


36;40-41:22- Dr. Swanner explains in this section that the concentration of minerals are different depending on the different springs by using Hawthorn and Red Spring as an example. The concentration of minerals in Hawthorn Spring is much greater than in the Old Red Spring, but she says the latter has more iron in it. This water used to be prescribed to help treat anemia because of its iron content. Swanner states that while the springs were not checked over the years for mineral percentages, whatever minerals were found near a spring then would be found and absorbed in the same way today. Drinking the water of certain springs might not be good for everyone in case they have an aversion to a mineral like salt. Drinking from the springs does not provide a cure for disease, but they are beneficial. While working at the Spa, Dr. Swannere states that she took advantage of the baths and massages herself when she was overworked.


41:23-45:08- A question regarding Sharon Springs and what happened to make the place so empty was raised. Dr. Swanner says she visited there when she attended the Ameerican Association of Spas and saw the waters, which like Saratoga were mineralized. But, she did not know what happened to the place. She thinks that the cause could be lack of funds like it is in Saratoga. Legislation gave Saratoga a very small budget and it was not nearly enough to keep the Spa going as it once was. Saratoga did not have the patrons that other places like Coney Island did and as a result they were not given enough money. The budget grew smaller and smaller as the years went by until finally the Spa was placed under the parks budget. The Spa was no longer a real spa because it was not being used for therapeutic purposes or under medical supervision.


45:09-47:08-Swanner in the last chapter in her book addresses the fact though people have moved away from the type of therapy that spas provide over the years because of the sophistication of today’s medicine, there is still place for these places. Most people she says can be healed through relaxation, physical therapy and emotional support that is experienced at a spa.

Physical Format

Oral histories



Smith, Teddie and Stamm, Jean, “Grace M. Swanner, Reminiscences of the Saratoga Spa,” Saratoga Room Digital Exhibits, accessed September 28, 2023,

Output Formats



Interactive Version