I’m pretty sure that most people in the country have never heard the name Schuyler before the musical Hamilton introduced us to the Schuyler sisters. But having grown up in NE Pennsylvania not that far from the NY Dutch, I knew of Philip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law as one of America’s most influential early citizens. His home is just to the east of Saratoga Springs, just on the edge of the Saratoga Battlefield, and it was where the English General Burgoyne, stayed on his way to the engagement that would result in the British defat and the turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Yesterday and today were spent exploring Saratoga Springs and the surrounding area. So filled with significant history and one of the nation’s first resort communities built around a horse racetrack and mineral springs, there has been plenty to do and see. The Victorian architecture is simply stunning.
My first visit yesterday was to General Grant’s Cottage a little way north of here. Grant, late in his life, had a series of devastating financial setbacks and was diagnosed with throat cancer. His friends, including Mark Twain, urged him to write his memoirs to provide for his family’s financial future. Nearing the end of the book and his life, his physicians recommended he leave the stifling summer heat of NYC and find a cooler clime. So they came to Mount McGregor, a resort developed north of Saratoga Springs, where he was able to finish his book and where he died. Having read his Memoirs, I am ialn awe at the fortitude he showed to write through the pain. There is a famous picture of him sitting on the porch, wrapped up in a blanket with a cap on, that always chokes me up to see it. In recent years Grant’s place in the history of presidents has been rehabilitated especially as modern scholars have looked at his position on Reconstruction. Grant is, in my esteem, along with Eisenhower, one of the truly great American lives, rising from nothing, serving with distinction, rising to greatness, but believing in the virtues and values of our democracy. Would we had more like them in leadership today.
From Grant’s house on the mountain, I headed to the Saratoga Battlefield. Saratoga was the lynchpin to the Revolution. General Gate’s stand-off in the two battles against “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne led to the British surrender, thwarting their plan to sever New England from the rest of the Colonies, and causing France to come in on the side of the Patriot cause. Hardly anyone was in the park and I spent a number of hours tracing the ebb and flow of the battles that were fought near the Hudson, the “highway” from Montreal to NYC. Compared to the sweep of history in the Middle East, Greece, or Europe, the 1770’s are like yesterday. Even so, pondering the events that happened just 9 miles east of Saratoga Springs that were so important to the establishment of our country is sobering, especially as we come up to the 4th of July weekend.
Coming back to Saratoga Springs I drove in past the racetrack and started to see all the beautiful Victorian buildings. Because of mineral springs in the area, would come to the area to “take the waters.” Later, gambling and horse racing would be added so Saratoga Springs became the first great “resort town” in the NE. While I’m not much for the ponies or gambling, I am grateful that many of the grand old buildings downtown have survived and remain vibrant.
Today I toured the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, right across the street from the racetrack. Driving the neighborhood around the museum one could see all the stables getting ready for the season that opens July 14th. It was lovely to see and I was especially glad to see there was a whole display dedicated to “Steeplechase.”
It has been unseasonable warm here, so I have spent afternoons laying low, reading and writing, and hydrating. Sitting at an outdoor café in the shade, watching people walk up and down Broadway, typing at my laptop and enjoying the breeze make for a delightful afternoon. I am grateful to God for the gift of this time, this place, and the chance to mull over where we are in our common life with Peter Schuyler, General Gates, Ulysses S. Grant, as conversation partners as we enter into this 4th of July weekend. One of the reasons I am pridefully Presbyterian is Calvin has left us with a theology of politics. He holds the role of “Magistrate” as high and on par with “Minister” each being responsible for the good of the community. Part of the role of Minister is to hold the Magistrate accountable for their God-given role. This is deeply borne out of the OT Prophetic tradition, but Calvin is clear, as we should be, that pubic service is a holy office, helping to make the common life better for all citizens. I don’t know about you, but this weekend I plan to meditate and pray on that.