The more you learn about the history of Saratoga Springs, the more certain you become that there's a great HBO or Showtime series here, an intriguing blend of "Deadwood" and "Boardwalk Empire."
What would we call it? How about "Bacon's Lot"?
Just a thought.
"Bacon's Lot" is the name that Saratogians in the late 1700s attached to the property that in the mid-1800s would become the Pitney Farm. Amos Bacon bought the property in 1794 from Nicholas Low, the New York City merchant who built Ballston Spa's first grand hotel, the Sans Souci. Although Bacon sold the property just a few years later, the name "Bacon's Lot" stuck, even after George Peck acquired it. Peck was a larger-than-life character who inherited from his wife's father the city's first sawmill. Since timber was growing scarce, Peck turned the sawmill into a forge and started making scythes -- "the best in all Yankeedom," it was said.
At first, Peck probably used timber from Bacon's Lot for his sawmill. Later, he probably grew grain or hay. When he died in 1839, he left the property to his wife, Elizabeth. When she died in 1861, she left it to her children, who thereupon started to disperse it.
This is where we meet Jonathan Pitney. He probably leased the land for a few years, then bought it in 1864 to feed the 100 guests accommodated by his boarding house, built on Grand Avenue.
Thanks to Field Horne
Virtually all of this we know only because Field Horne dove deep into the community's archives and found it. Director of the Saratoga County Historical Society from 1978 to 1985 and founder of the Kiskatom Publishing Company, Horne is Saratoga Springs' most trusted, prolific and entrepreneurial historian. One day last year, Horne ran into Barbara Glaser downtown and she filled him on all that was happening with the Pitney Farm.
And so began a project that culminated in the publication of a six-page history of the farm that IN 2015 in Saratoga Living.
"The Pitney Farm was a hotel farm that raised produce and dairy for the Pitney House on Grand Avenue," says Horne. "There's no agricultural operation that's more historical in our city than that."
Read Horne's article and you'll find plenty of interesting characters who might drive of our series. Among them:
- Jacob and Abigail Pitney, Jonathan's parents, who came to Saratoga Springs from Arlington, Vermont with ten children;
- Jonathan himself, who around 1870 built the farmhouse on the property and 13 years later dropped dead in the farmyard after doing his chores;
- Jonathan's wayward son, Charlie, whose body was pulled from the Hudson River in 1906;
- Jerome V. Pitney, Jonathan’s grandson, who steered the family into dairy farming and built a landing strip that served as the city's first airport. For $15, you could take his "Sunday Special" -- a roundtrip flight over Lake George.
An Identity in History
Horne acquired his interest in history early in life. Raised in Westchester County in a family that had roots dating back to its days a Dutch colony, he was only a fourth-grader when he started making weekly visits to the Westchester County Historical Society to dig through its books and files.
"My own identity was all around me and open to exploration," he says.
After graduating from Williams College, Horne took a "really boring job" in Westchester County government, then stopped one day at Philipsburg Manor Upper Mills, a 1740s farm, mill, and trading site on the Hudson River.
"The person in charge needed research done, but didn't have the funds for a professional position. She could see I knew my way around the original records, and offered me a job that combined research with interpretation, guiding visitors on the site."
A Job in Saratoga Springs
Four years later, with a master’s degree in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program, Horne was offered the director's job at the Saratoga County Historical Society. "I took it on the spot, despite the fact that three of my grad school classmates had already turn it down."
For Horne, history is a way to contribute to the contribute to the community, and that's especially the case with the former Bacon's Lot, which now goes by the name Pitney Meadows Community Farm and will be maintained in perpetuity as a community and teaching farm. Horne's focus is the installation of an exhibit somewhere on the site -- perhaps in the corn crib, the property's oldest structure -- that tells the story of the farm in words, images and artifacts.
"Some of our pictures and artifacts may have to be come from other places but as long as they are representative of the Pitney Farm's operation, they'll help educate present-day children and adults," he says.
By Dan Forbush with Miranda Sullivan, Writing Apprentice