By Sandra Hutchinson
Ever since the Native Americans discovered the naturally carbonated spring water that gave Saratoga Springs, New York, its name, people have been drawn to the waters there for bathing and drinking. The Roosevelt Baths are the only mineral baths remaining in use in the park, and the only public mineral baths in the Northeastern United States. Going there to soak in the effervescent waters in one of the original cast iron tubs is an experience not to be missed.
The Roosevelt Baths opened in 1935 on land that is contained within what became the Saratoga Spa State Park. There were originally four bath houses, and the other structures are now in use for other purposes, such as the National Museum of Dance, which is located in what was the Washington Bath House.
In 2009, the Roosevelt Baths underwent a major renovation, which maintained many of the historic features of the bath house, including the original tiling and tubs. The atmosphere is hushed inside, and there’s a relaxation room where patrons can chill out before and after their baths and treatments (think massage, body scrubs, facials and salon services). Both men and women are welcome. There are about 42 private treatment rooms.
Here’s how it works: you call ahead at 800-452-7275, ext 4 and reserve a bath time (and any other treatments you might wish to book). You’re encouraged to come at least 15 minutes before your bath time to use the relaxation room or take a steam bath.
After checking in at the front desk, you head to the locker room (gender specific), place your belongings in a locker (you set the lock combination), and don a robe and slippers. The relaxation room has an interior glass waterfall and a faux fireplace (it’s rather attractive), comfy arm chairs and chaise lounges, magazines to read, and a selection of beverages and fresh fruits.
An attendant calls your name and collects you to take you to your private treatment/bathing room. The rooms are dimly lit, with New Age or soothing music that emanates from a speaker (you can adjust the volume). The bath will already have been drawn. Usually there’s a battery-operated votive candle set on the tub ledge. Each treatment room also has its own private bathroom (toilet and sink). The treatment rooms have massage tables, and if you schedule a treatment, it will be done in your room.
The water is murky brown, evidently due to the high iron content in the water. Remember that the bottom of the tub is actually four inches or so deeper than the level of the floor, so you need to be cautious when getting into the tub. But once you’re in, you’re fairly buoyant and you can feel the natural carbonation and the bubbles on your skin. (I’ve floated in the Dead Sea and this is certainly not that buoyant but it’s not bad.)
The cast iron tubs retain the heat of the water quite well, but if you want, you can add hot water as the bath water cools. The attendant generally leaves the room before you get into the tub, but I remember that many years past, I was actually helped into the tub by the attendant (at a time when I needed less help than now!).
If you’re not a tall person, the attendant will offer you a plastic footstool to place at the foot of the tub so you have something to push your feet against so you can keep stable in the bath water. After about 40 minutes of soaking, the attendant knocks on the door, and places warmed towels on a chair just inside your room. Your job is to just lie there, relax and take in the therapeutic benefits (real or imagined) of the water.
There was a bit of a brouhaha several years ago when it became publicly known that the baths are not made up of 100% mineral water, but they are a mixture of cold mineral water and heated tap water. That controversy seems to have settled down.
Cost for a 40 minute bath is $45 Friday to Sunday, and $35 Monday through Thursday (the reduced price is offered October to May only, excluding holidays). To add aromatherapy oils to the bath, add $5 (or you can bring your own essential oils and add them yourself). The menu of treatments include massage, Reiki, facials, waxing, body treatments like sugar scrubs, salt glows, and mud wraps, and nail and hair salon services. There’s a full list of services and fees on the web site, here. The baths are operated by the same firm that runs the nearby Gideon Putnam Hotel. Be aware that during the busy times in Saratoga (think the racetrack, Philadelphia Orchestra, etc.) it can be hard to book, so please call ahead.