Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/May 1881/The Mineral Springs of Saratoga



ASIDE from the rich field for scientific research that the mineral springs of Saratoga present to the student of natural phenomena, the majority of the members of this Association are undoubtedly interested to a greater or less extent in a product that forms, with many, a large, important, and increasing item of trade, there being probably no one class of mineral waters of domestic production, or from any one locality, that are used to so great an extent as those from Saratoga Springs. On this account, as well as for the reason that our Association holds its twenty-eighth annual meeting in this village, where an opportunity is afforded of personally inspecting the source of supply of these waters, it will, perhaps, not prove uninteresting to present some facts regarding an article that has contributed so largely to the prosperity of Saratoga in the past, and upon which its future interests to a great degree depend.

Saratoga Springs is an incorporated village, having a resident population of about ten thousand, which is largely augmented during the summer season. It has an altitude of three hundred and five feet above tide-water, is one hundred and eighty-eight miles north of New York City, on the line of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, and is situated in and on either side of a valley extending from northeast to southwest. Prior to 1767 little or nothing was known by the whites regarding the waters of this section. In August of that year Sir William Johnson was conveyed from Schenectady to this locality on a litter, by some of the Indian braves of the Mohawk tribe, by whom he was evidently much loved and esteemed. It is highly probable that the High Rock was the only spring known to the Indians, and that Sir William was the first white man that ever visited it. In the long interval that has elapsed since the location of the High Rock was revealed, the number of springs developed has been very largely increased. With regard to the origin of these springs there are two theories advanced, both of which have able and zealous advocates; but, before presenting the claims of either of them to your consideration, it will be necessary to describe the geology of this vicinity, in order that they may be more fully comprehended. All of the rocks of this county are members of the oldest systems of geological formation, and are both metamorphic and sedimentary in their character; the granitic or Laurentian is of archæan origin, the remaining strata having been deposited during the Lower Silurian age. The accompanying map represents a transverse section of these formations, extending from the eastern portion to the higher altitudes located in a north-westerly direction from this village. The underlying rocks comprise first, the Laurentian; second, the Potsdam sandstone; third, the calciferous sand-rock; fourth, the Trenton limestone; and, fifth, the Utica, or black slate. At a very remote period of the past, the rocks comprising these various strata were subjected to some powerful natural force, which resulted in their fracture, dislocation, and the gradual upheaval of a large portion of them, producing at the point of disruption what is known to geologists as a fault. The position occupied by

Fig. 1.

PSM V19 D035 Geological strata of saratoga springs ny.jpg

the various strata is shown in Fig. 1: No. 1 indicates the Laurentian, the oldest of those belonging to the metamorphic system; No. 2, the Potsdam sandstone; No. 3, the calciferous sand-rock; No. 4, the Trenton limestone; and, No. 5, the Utica or black slate; the fault, or break-off, is indicated by the heavy black vertical line, in immediate proximity to which the village of Saratoga Springs is situated. For the reason that the black slate has been entirely eroded from that portion of the village immediately west of the fault, and the Trenton limestone nearly so, none of the former and but a thin stratum of the latter formation is represented on the accompanying chart. You will observe that both the dislocation and upheaval of these various strata are strongly marked at the fault, for, while that portion lying to the east remains in situ, that to the west is tilted up to such an extent that the dip of some of the strata is as great as twenty degrees. You will also notice that the Laurentian rock on the west side of the fault, occupying the position designated as No. 1 on the cut, as well as the superimposed strata, viz., Nos. 2, 3, and 4, are not in perfect opposition with formations of like character on the east side, the Potsdam sandstone lying opposite to the Trenton limestone, the calciferous sand-rock lying in conjunction with the black slate, while the Trenton limestone on the west occupies a position above the black slate on the east. The consideration of this phenomenon naturally suggests an explanation, but so far as is known there is but one theory relative to the subject, it being universally conceded that the force that produced this disruption was due to volcanic agency.

At distances varying from two to twelve miles in a westerly direction ranges of hills and mountains are encountered, presenting altitudes several hundred feet above this village. In addition to the enormous area of water-shed that these elevated regions afford, they possess many ponds and lakes, some of which are of no insignificant size. The surface-streams that drain this section flow toward the east, and, as the various strata dip in the same direction, the tendency of the subterranean drainage must be toward the same point of the compass.

The advocates of the first of the theories regarding the origin of the mineral springs of Saratoga, recognizing the disintegrating and solvent action of the water under its various forms of rain, snow, and ice, claim that they are produced by the process of displacement or percolation, holding that, when water falls upon the elevated regions just described, a portion of it gradually permeates the soil and the various strata of the underlying rocks, dissolving and carrying with it in its downward flow the various constituents of which the rocks are composed, and that these are decomposed by their reaction on each other, and new compounds are formed with the evolution of carbonic-acid gas, that this is dissolved by the water, which becomes highly impregnated with it, increasing its solvent properties to a great extent, enabling it to accumulate basic matter in its flow, which continues downward and eastward, until the fault is reached, where an opportunity is afforded for it to escape from the rocks and rise to the surface through the various crevices with which the fault is environed, or make its escape through subterranean channels to unknown outlets; in either event the result is due to the simple law of gravitation and hydrostatic pressure, the bodies of water stored in the lakes, ponds, and rocks of the higher altitudes furnishing the necessary causes to produce this result.

To substantiate this theory, attention is called to the close resemblance existing between the leading chemical constituents of these waters and sea-water; it being claimed that the mineral matter of the rocks, through which the waters percolate, was deposited from very ancient oceans, the existence of which was contemporaneous with the period that embraces the deposit of the geological formations to which the various strata of this region belong. Those that advocate the second theory with regard to their origin agree with the adherents of the theory that has just been presented, in recognizing the elevated section situated west of the village and the fresh water that flows from it through the various strata as being the prime source from which these mineral springs are derived, but decline to accept the theory that their constituents are obtained by the percolation of the fresh water through the rocks, maintaining that the water remains virtually unimpregnated until the fault is reached, and that it is at this point that it becomes charged with both its mineral and gaseous constituents; claiming that, inasmuch as the fault extends downward to an unknown depth, and to the internal fires of the earth, and that the substances with which these springs are impregnated closely resemble those evolved in a gaseous state from volcanoes, that the mineral constituents of these waters are obtained from the heated interior by the process of sublimation and subsequent absorption, while the gases are also derived from the same source in a free state. About the year 1827 the late Dr. Steele, of this village, formed a stock company to bore for salt, maintaining that the chloride of sodium contained in these springs was derived from underlying beds or reservoirs, and that it could be obtained by boring, and made a source of profit to those that would engage in the enterprise. Accordingly, operations were commenced several hundred feet west of the fault, and an artesian well, three inches in diameter and one hundred and eighteen feet in depth, was sunk in the underlying rock; but, inasmuch as none but fresh water was obtained, the scheme was abandoned; other wells bearing about the same relative position to the fault as this one have been secured at various times, but always with the same result. From the fact that the temperature of these wells and that of the mineral springs just east of them is said to be identical, and that they are, like the latter, never affected by surface-drainage, it is claimed that both have a common origin, and those that advocate the theory of sublimation claim that, if the waters are fresh at the site of these fresh-water wells, it is impossible for them to become mineral in their character by the short passage through the rocks that intervene between them and the fault; and hence they insist that the theory of percolation is untenable. There are two methods of securing the mineral springs of this locality: the first is shown at Fig. 2, and consistsPSM V19 D038 Method of securing a mineral spring.jpgFig. 2. in excavating to an extent of twenty or thirty feet square surrounding the spot where indications of mineral water are observed, and extending downward through the various drift-formations until the underlying rock is reached. As the work progresses, a shaft or crib is sunk in order to prevent the sides from caving in; and, to obviate the collection of water and carbonic-acid gas at the bottom of the shaft, powerful steam-pumps are kept in constant operation, which effectually drain the excavation. After reaching the fissured crevices in the rock that environ the fault, and through which the water issues, a pyramidal wooden hopper, about one foot square at the apex, and two or three feet at the base, is placed on the rock directly over that portion of the crevice from which the water issues most abundantly, its position being firmly secured by packing clay tightly around its exterior. As rapidly as the work of filling in the shaft progresses, a wooden tube, about one foot square, is accurately adjusted to the hopper, from which the water gradually rises until it reaches the outlet at or near the top. The depth at which the rock is located from the surface varies from fifteen to fifty-seven feet. The flow of water from springs secured in this manner averages from thirty to one hundred and twenty gallons an hour.

The second method (see Fig. 3) consists in drilling into the rock, in close proximity to the fault, until mineral water is obtained, the drill in the mean time being followed by an iron pipe, which effectually secures the flow, prevents the access of fresh water, and protects the rock through which the drill passes from the combined disintegrating action of both the water and carbonic-acid gas.

Most of the springs secured in this manner are spouting in character; their flow is not, however, continuous, but spasmodic or intermittent. This peculiarity is undoubtedly due to a pocket or cavity in the rock, as represented in Fig. 3. A is the tube leading from the pocket to the surface. As the water flows into the pocket from the surrounding inlets, it gradually rises above the outlet, which results in the compression of the gas between the roof of the cavity and the surface of the accumulating water; when the force of the compression reaches its maximum, it drives the water from the chamber up through the tube, from which it escapes in some instances to a distance of thirty feet in a vertical

Fig. 3.

PSM V19 D039 Drilling through rock to access mineral waters.jpg

direction. After the pent-up water and gas have escaped, the spouting ceases for a short time until the conditions are favorable for its repetition, when the process is continued. The springs secured by this method are the Vichy, Geyser, Champion, Kissingen, and the so-called magnetic. In depth they vary from fifty to three hundred feet. So far as the temperature of the springs is concerned they are practically isothermal, the maximum being 52° and the minimum 40° Fahr.; and in no instance are they affected by external causes, both their flow and temperature being uniform throughout the year. From the fact that the perpendicular iron tubes, through which the waters flow from certain wells, are capable of communicating magnetic properties to steel, the term magnetic springs has been applied to them in various sections of the country. Notwithstanding assertions to the contrary, the water from such springs has been pronounced totally devoid of any properties of a magnetic character by those who have investigated this phenomenon. All of the magnetic properties connected with such springs reside in the iron tubing, which becomes magnetic when placed in the ground in a vertical position in localities where the conditions are favorable; this result is said to be more likely to be attained if the tube is inclined a few degrees to the north.

PSM V19 D040 Minerals of the saratoga springs waters.jpg
PSM V19 D041 Minerals of the saratoga springs waters.jpg

With the exception of the High Rock, nothing of especial interest has attended the efforts to secure any of these waters. This spring takes its name from the pyramidal formation, which is composed of tufa, formed by the gradual deposition of the calcareous and other mineral matter that has been precipitated from the water as it flowed from its outlet. Up to 1865 there had never been any attempt made to secure the flow by artificial means, but in that year the proprietors conceived the idea of removing the tufaceous rock, and by excavating to a sufficient depth obtain water of better quality and in greater abundance. In accordance with this design, the rock, which measured four feet in height and about eight in diameter at the base, was carefully removed from its original position, and the work was commenced. After having penetrated the superficial deposits, a layer of seven feet of commingled muck and tufa, superimposed upon two feet of tufa, was encountered. Immediately below this the workmen found the trunk of a Pinus alba, which measured about a foot in diameter, and which was in a fair state of preservation. The next stratum was tufa, three feet in thickness, below which was two feet of drift. Lying immediately below this, a glacial clay bed, eighteen inches in thickness, was found, upon the surface of which an ancient hearth was discovered, composed of a semicircular row of stones, partially surrounding a quantity of charcoal, over which an incrustation of tufa was deposited. This circumstance was one of particular interest to students of archæology, as it involved the solution of a vexed question regarding the time at which the fire was kindled, as well as the character of the race, and the manners and customs of those by whom it was lighted. Inasmuch as the relic was discovered below the drift formation, its builders might have lived at a period anterior to that of the mound-builders of the Mississippi Valley. After having penetrated to the calciferous sand-rock, the tube was adjusted and the High Rock replaced, from the apex of which the water has continued to flow.

At the present time there are probably forty mineral springs within the limits of this town. Thirty of this number have received names, and twenty-two have been analyzed. The table appended[2] shows the proportions of the various constituents contained in a United States gallon of two hundred and thirty-one cubic inches.

To a certain extent the classification of mineral waters is an arbitrary one, different authorities following their own inclinations in their arrangement. By many they are divided into four classes, as follows:

1. Gaseous or acidulous: those in which carbonic-acid gas is a predominating constituent.

2. Saline, or those in which various salts are held in solution, in addition to the gas.

3. Chalybeate or ferruginous: those in which iron is a leading constituent; and—

4. Sulphurous: those that contain sulphureted hydrogen.

Of the latter class there are two instances.

Almost without exception the rest of the waters of this locality possess some of the properties of those belonging to the first three classes, being a combination of gaseous, saline, and ferruginous principles, their difference, as you will observe, being more one of quantity than of quality. As a matter of convenience they are designated as cathartic, alkaline, iron, and sulphur waters, according to the degree in which these characteristics present themselves.

Mineral waters were known at an early day, their use being held in high repute by the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as by their less illustrious successors. Their physiological action and therapy are not, however, perfectly understood. With the exception of the chalybeate, the persistent use of the cathartic, alkaline, and sulphur waters favors retrograde metamorphic action, the ferruginous alone producing an opposite effect and increasing the number of the red blood-corpuscles.

From the diversified character of their constituents their application as therapeutic agents must necessarily have a wide range. Probably the best results from their use are obtained in those functional diseases that are connected with derangement of the portal circulation, and in certain rheumatic and arthritic affections. In some forms of indigestion their use is attended by very gratifying results, as well as in certain types of renal difficulties. In anæmia, uncomplicated with organic lesions, the iron waters are of decided benefit. That many persons injure themselves from the injudicious use of the waters is a matter of common observation. They are medicinal, and should be so regarded and used accordingly. The late Dr. Steele, in referring to this subject, remarked that "there are numerous persons who flock about the Springs during the drinking-season, without any knowledge of the composition of the waters, and little or none of their effects, who continue to dispose of their directions to the ignorant and unwary, with no other effect than to injure the reputation of the water and destroy the prospects of the diseased."

  1. Read at the Saratoga meeting of the American Pharmaceutical Association, September 16, 1880.
  2. At the top of each column the name of the spring, the year when discovered or tubed, and the name of the analyst, are given.