Olde Bryan Inn’s Historic Roots: From Rustic Cabin to Celebrated Saratoga Springs Restaurant
High Rock Spring
Traditional lore states that Native Americans of the Saratoga region visited the High Rock Spring, located across Maple Avenue from the Old Bryan Inn, as early as 1300 to gain strength from the “Medicine Spring of the Great Spirit.” The identity of the first white man to visit the springs is not known. However, historic documents indicate that an ailing French officer from Fort Carillon, near Rensselaer, was carried to the spring by the Native Americans in the late 1750’s.
The first visitor that brought attention to the area and the healing properties of its spring water was Sir William Johnson in 1771. Johnson was wounded during the Battle of Lake George and was carried from Johnstown to the High Rock Spring by members of a Mohawk tribe. After a stay of several days, his health improved so noticeably that he was able to walk during a portion of the return trip. The reputation of the area’s healing waters grew quickly due to Sir William’s distinguished stature.
In 1773, Dirck Schoughten of Waterford built a crude log cabin on the bluff overlooking High Rock Spring. That same summer he fell into disfavor with the Native Americans in the region and left the area.
John Arnold and his family took over the cabin in 1774 and improved upon it, operating it as an inn for visitors to the spring. Sixteen Native American dwellings were also located near the spring at this time.
Sam Norton purchased the inn from Arnold in 1777. After only one year of operation, the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and the subsequent advance of the British under the command of “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, forced Norton to flee. Upon cessation of hostilities, Norton’s son returned, took over the inn and successfully operated it for ten years.
General Phillip Schuyler constructed a log road from Schuylerville to the High Rock Spring., and in 1783, he erected a tent and stayed several weeks with his family at the spring. The following year he built a two-room summer home where he spent every summer for the remaining years of his life.
Also in 1783, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Governor Clinton of New York visited General Schuyler to see the Saratoga Battlefield at Bemis Heights. The distinguished party was taken to the High Rock Spring, but most likely stayed in General Schuyler’s tent rather than Norton’s crude inn. George Washington became so excited with High Rock Spring that he later attempted to purchase the land, but titles had already been secured by partners Henry Livingston and Henry Walton, two early Saratoga-area landowners.
Alexander Bryan’s Role in History
Sam Norton sold the inn to Gilbert Morgan in 1787. Morgan promptly sold it to Revolutionary War hero Alexander Bryan who purchased the inn to operate in his retirement. He erected a blacksmith shop and an additional log house across the street which he operated as a tavern and inn until the turn of the century. It is generally recognized that Alexander Bryan was the first permanent resident of Saratoga Springs and his inns were the only Saratoga hotels until 1801 when Gideon Putnam built the famous Grand Union Hotel.
When Bryan purchased the inn from Gilbert Morgan in 1787, he was already recognized locally as a war hero for his actions, but his pivotal role would only be known to the greater nation much later.
Alexander Bryan operated his first tavern and inn two miles north of Waterford, New York. During the early days of the Revolutionary War, his inn was visited by partisans of both sides and Bryan was so discreet that he was trusted by the British. This trust resulted in his appointment by American General Gates to the dangerous duty of spying on the British troops encamped near Fort Edward, New York under the command of General John Burgoyne.
Bryan entered the British camp and stayed until he learned of Burgoyne’s plan to cross the Hudson River at Stillwater and surprise the greatly outnumbered American garrison. On September 15, 1777, he managed to break away from the camp, but was discovered and chased on horseback for three days. He was forced to abandon his horse and hide in a river with only his mouth above water, narrowly escaping detection. He managed to report his findings to General Gates which allowed the Americans to prepare for the engagement of September 19, 1777 and ultimate victory on October 7, 1777. This encounter came to be known as the Battle of Saratoga and the turning point of the American Revolution.
It took further time for Bryan’s significant contribution to be understood beyond local lore, as Gates neglected to formally recognize who had informed him of the vital intelligence about the British that ultimately turned the course of the War. As John Bakeless wrote in “Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes”: “Burgoyne’s surrender itself was due to an American intelligence coup by Alexander Bryan, a daring amateur secret agent, whose name has been totally unknown from that day to this…. it is possible—it is just barely possible—that Alexander Bryan was the man who really won the American Revolution. That even General Washington ever knew his name is most improbable.”
In 1825, John Bryan built a stone house on the site of his father’s tavern and the house remained in the Bryan family as a single family residence until the 1900s.
The Olde Bryan Inn is Born
The Bryan home was purchased by the LaMountain family in 1925. A brick addition was added to the stone structure, and the famous Burnhams hand laundry, which became a landmark for Saratoga visitors, was founded and operated until 1954 when the Veitch family purchased the home.
The Veitch’s lived in the home as a private single-family residence until 1979 when Dave Powers and Joe Wilkinson purchased it with the intent of restoring it to the old inn. In 1981, Steve Sullivan joined the partnership with Dave and Joe and together they ran the Olde Bryan Inn.
Special thanks to Beatrice Sweeney, Saratoga Springs City Historian, for her help in making this history of the Olde Bryan Inn as accurate as existing records will allow. Bakeless, John. Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960.