Tour Saratoga Springs and enjoy the architecture that nearly disappeared!

Right now is a great time to go Saratoga Springs and enjoy its many treats—especially the architecture that nearly disappeared.

Colonial Tavern-Saratoga Springs-August-25, 1946-George Bolster

Colonial Tavern on the east side of Broadway in Saratoga Springs: August 25, 1946. Photo by George Bolster

It nearly disappeared because of a plague of “fires of mysterious origins,” as the newspapers would term them.

Let me explain. This August marks the 60th Anniversary of the arson that destroyed Piping Rock Casino on August 16-17, 1954. For all its mystery, it was in reality only one of the hundreds of “fires of mysterious origins”—so many of them unsolved arsons—that bedeviled Saratoga Springs for more than a century. As it was, many of Saratoga Springs’ beautiful buildings disappeared in the same way as the mob-controlled Piping Rock Casino, which was torched by “a person or persons unknown” another phrase too commonly used in the newspapers of that time.

All that remains of Piping Rock Casino, which sat on the NW corner of Union Avenue and Gilbert Road in Saratoga Springs, is the overgrown concrete driveway of its entrance and, near that, a street named Piping Rock Circle.

It could have been the same with much of the Spa City.

Walk Saratoga Springs’ streets today and you are delighted by its lovely architecture. But, given the number of “fires of mysterious origins” that occurred in Saratoga Springs, it is a wonder there’s a historic structure left to admire there.

Saratoga Springs Public Library’s History Room has documented 146 fires in the 20th century—and that is not a complete listing! Of those 146 fires, 63 occurred between 1931 and 1961. Of the six most famous (or infamous) casinos in Saratoga—Arrowhead, Piping Rock, Newman’s Lake House, Riley’s, the Brook Club, and the Meadowbrook—four were destroyed by arson (Arrowhead, Piping Rock, the Brook Club, and Meadowbrook). Individual fires—most “unexplained” and many regarded as arson—claimed huge historic landmarks such as the Drink Hall, the United States Hotel in 1945, the Worden Hotel in 1961; the Convention Hall in 1965; and the Columbian Hotel in 1965. Also, houses, barns at Saratoga Race Course, and other structures are found on the Library’s list of fires in Saratoga.

The Saratogian and numerous other newspapers reporting on the blazes regularly used phrases such as “mysteriously burned” or “burned by causes unknown.” The worst conflagration in Saratoga Springs’ history occurred in 1957. That fire destroyed buildings on the east side of Broadway. Beginning at 396 Broadway (the old MacFinn’s Drugstore, which my father had managed from 1946 to 1952) it worked it way up to 418 Broadway. It caused $1 million dollars damage. In today’s dollars, given the history of the buildings, the replacement cost of such structures, and the current worth of Saratoga Springs real estate, the same buildings’ loss could easily be calculated as high as $15 million.

For years, fires were expected in Saratoga. I recall as a boy in the ‘fifties that, whenever there was a fire, the eyes of the adults in my family would roll and the question would be asked, “What would burn next?” My grandmother worked in Saratoga Springs as a house mother at Skidmore College. It was assumed by everyone we knew, who lived in, or was familiar with Saratoga Springs in the 1950s and 1960s, that those mansions along Union Avenue would all be “mysteriously burn.” That they didn’t, I consider a miracle.

More than personal assumptions and anecdote were involved in this fear, however. Bob Dillon, son of the chief legal counsel for the old Glens Falls Insurance Company, a huge national insurance firm back then, said that his father complained constantly of the claims submitted for arsons that were consuming Saratoga Springs in the 1950s and 1960s. By the late 1970s, Saratoga County had the highest percentages of occurrences of arson of any county in America!

Saratoga Springs: Broadway fire, January 27, 1957

Saratoga Springs: Broadway fire, January 27, 1957

The change for the better, ironically, began in the late 1970s, when a group of concerned citizens began fighting for the preservation of Saratoga Spring’s architectural heritage and the renovation and adaptive reuse of this precious resource. The result today is evident, a vibrant and beautiful city with gorgeous old architecture that is being sensitively adapted and reused, and which is influencing the creation of a new generation of lovely buildings.

This is not to say that fire—particularly arson—isn’t still a threat to Saratoga’s history, as is evidenced by the fire in July 2013 that destroyed the historic structures on 106-108 to Woodlawn Avenue. According to The Saratogian of October 2013 Saratoga Springs police determined that fire to be arson. ( However, very happily, the incidents of accidental fires and intentional arsons are much lower now than they were in Saratoga’s past.

So, as the racing season wraps up in Saratoga Springs, let me urge you to go Saratoga Springs, and walk the streets of the historic Spa City, enjoying its architectural treats. And while you’re there, hoist a glass of spring water and give a toast to Piping Rock Casino, would you?


Join me Tuesday July 15 at Saratoga Arts Center!

Piping Rock ablaze

Piping Rock ablaze

This coming Tuesday (July 15) at 7 p.m. I’ll be giving a presentation in the Saratoga Arts Center (320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs) on The Burning of The Piping Rock for the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation! The title of my presentation is “Arson in Saratoga: Piping Rock and Beyond.” I’ll be talking about the architecture of the infamous Piping Rock Casino, other casinos and the “mysterious fires” that consumed Piping Rock and so many other Saratoga Springs buildings.

There’s going to be a hot time in the old town that night, so come join us! For more information click on: Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation. Or contact Sarah Kaplan, Membership and Program Coordinator at 518-587-5030 (email:

Visit the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation events page on Facebook.

Congratulations, Matthew Rozell!

Matthew Rozell

Matthew Rozell

Historian, teacher and humanitarian Matthew Rozell is known to many as the Hudson Falls teacher who has brilliantly educated his students . . . and many adults . . . about World War II in general and about the Holocaust in particular. Through his “Hudson Falls High School World II Living History Course” he has courageously fought to bring forth the truth about the concentration camp killings of 6 million Jews, as well as 4 million other human beings the Nazis labeled as “inferiors” and “enemies of the Third Reich.”

I’m delighted that now, as we observe the 69th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Post-Star has just run an article on him entitled, “NBC crew documents Holocaust teachings in Hudson Falls.” Congratulations to Post-Star reporter Michael Goot for his fine article.

Matthew Rozell has a wonderful blog/website called “Teaching History Matters,” which he describes in this way: “These are the observations of a veteran teacher- on the Power of Teaching, the importance of the study of History, and especially the lessons we must learn, and teach, on the Holocaust.” Please read it.

The events that the word “Holocaust” embraces must never be forgotten. The story of the Holocaust must be retold to, and be refreshed in the minds of, every succeeding generation.  The Holocaust was an atrocity of such proportions that people have difficulty understanding the scale of human destruction and degradation perpetrated by the Nazis. The Holocaust did happen. Tragically, it is still being denied. The arrogance of ignorance that spawned the Holocaust then is still at work today among those who would lie about its ever having happened—and among those who would believe them.

Education is the key to combating that ignorance, which leads to ethnic and racial hatred, and ultimately genocide. No nation, no culture, no race, no ethnicity is immune to it. That more genocides have occurred too many times since the end of WW II is sad proof of that fact.

Education is the key and I congratulate Matthew Rozell on his continuing work to educate our children and us all!

Thank you, Flo Hayle!

It’s amazing the people you can meet on a plane!

Actor and Singer Florence Hayle

Actor and Singer Florence Hayle

And recently, I met a wonderful person named Florence Hayle! In January Sara and I flew out of Albany Airport for the Florida Panhandle. We sat on opposite sides of the aisle and I found myself a seat away from a lovely lady named Florence Hayle—whose stage name is Flo Hayle. As we talked, I discovered that the lady is an actor, singer, and director, who has performed on Broadway and regional theatre, in commercials, and—well, you name it!

Florence Hayle is something else! Here’s what Kyle Adams wrote in the Catskill Register about a recent performance Flo Hayle gave in Catskill, NY:

Hayle . . . has a long history in show business. She performed in the Steve Allen musical Sophie, she’s directed and produced in New York City, played in “just about every club in the city,” and starred in too many commercials to remember now. She currently hosts Clear Channel Radio’s “Arts Alive Etcetera” interview program. She’ll be celebrating her 84th birthday tomorrow and said she has no intention of retiring.”

And did I mention that she’s an inspiration? Don’t tell Flo Hayle you’re blaming your inactivity on old age!

I told Flo that I’d published a mystery novel, The Burning of The Piping Rock and she graciously offered to interview me for her “Arts Alive Etcetera” radio show (Clear Channel Radio FM 93.5 radio, a Catskill, NY station). Flo’s interview aired Sunday, April 6, 2014. (And a special thank you to her. I enjoyed it so much! I’ve asked Flo if it would be possible to get a podcast of it to post. Stay tuned!)

Some other “notes” about singer and actor Florence Hayle. There are sweet coincidences that occur in life. You read above that Flo Hayle was on Broadway in the play, Sophie, Steve Allen’s musical about the early years of that great American chanteuse, Sophie Tucker. Tucker was among the many Broadway greats who performed at Piping Rock Casino in Saratoga Springs in those crazy years after WW II. Flo’s eyes lit up when I said I had specially mentioned Tucker in The Burning of The Piping Rock. A special connection was made.

Flo returned to the stage at age 82, starring in “Senior Moments” at Jay Kerr’s Fort Salem Theater in Salem, NY. Jay Kerr, a noted composer and lyricist, is also Flo Hayle’s music coach. She is now working with Kerr for an upcoming musical revue she’ll be doing in Catskill, NY, to benefit the historic Beattie-Powers Place. Let us know when the box office opens, Flo!

If you didn’t already know Flo Hayle, I’m glad, as a new fan in her legion of fans, to have the opportunity to introduce you.

And, let me “sign off” here by saying:  So, to Flo from Joe, a big hello and an even bigger thank you!


Flo Hayle of Clear Channel Radio
Flo Hayle of Clear Channel Radio
Flo Hayle of Clear Channel Radio

“A Very Special Santa”—a Christmas memory

Here is a Christmas memory I wrote for my “Over My Shoulder” Column© in the Glens Falls Post-Star of December 21, 1994. I hope you enjoy it.

A Very Special Santa

My mother had a little ornament that she placed on the Christmas tree each year, a tiny cotton Santa that she said she had placed on her tree from the time she was a little girl. The little Santa was, truthfully, in sad shape for its years of wear. But it was one of “those things,” something given a special meaning when my mother was so little. Why, no one knew. Not even Mom.

As I grew older, with each Christmas I came to look forward to that Santa being placed gently on a high bough, nestled securely to prevent shrieking children, or cats, from knocking it to the floor. Without realizing it, a part of her childhood Christmases gradually became a part of her children’s. It was a good feeling.

The tiny Santa moved a lot over the years. From my mother’s birthplace in Mechanicville, it went to Saratoga, then to Fort Edward and then Ticonderoga, at each juncture adding children and years to its life. It sagged and it drooped and it faded. Yet it survived, tying each new Christmas into the ones that had passed.

The last time my mother put the Santa on her tree was in Ticonderoga in 1982. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer and on her next Christmas, which was to be her last, she decided she and my father would come to our homes instead. I remember her apology for not having a tree, which I later recognized as her way of saying, “I’m angry because I can’t put up a tree, like I should.”

So that year, 1983, for the first time in decades, the little Santa stayed in a box in my parents’ cellar. At Christmas, 1984, my mother was gone and, again, the little cotton Santa stayed packed away. For that Christmas and the next two, my father would not decorate the house nor have a tree. The Christmas person in the King family was Mom and the Christmas person was gone.

About two and a half years after my mother died, Dad told us he was selling our family home in Ticonderoga. It was too big and too full of memories. “Come and take what you want,” he told his children. The rest he would sell. For weeks upon weeks we helped him sort through the remains of a lifetime, as much a reward as a burden. For you must understand that Mom saved everything:  family pictures and letters, dad’s service records, the kids’ report cards, canceled checks, even occupant mail. As I had before, I looked through acres of boxes of Christmas decorations. As before, I could not, amidst them all, find the tiny Santa.

Mom always was fond of saying, “What will be will be.” I resigned myself to the fact that it was gone. “Things change,” my father was always saying. Oddly, I think that while he knew that was true, in a way he never resigned himself to his own wisdom. Almost three years to the day after my mother’s death, he died. Things had, indeed, changed.

For my wife, Sara, and I, that Christmas of 1987 in Glens Falls was, with my daughter being six, filled with expectations of Santa. It was also an oddly empty Christmas. We got out the boxes of decorations and frantically searched for our tree’s special angel, fearful it had been misplaced and then found it packed snugly away. My daughter sighed a big sigh! Under our regular boxes were the ones I’d brought from Ticonderoga. I rummaged through them, looking at the bubble lights and other things from my childhood Christmas trees.

And then, I found it. A tiny box inside of which was my mother’s faded cotton Santa wrapped up securely. Lost, but never really lost. Tenderly, I placed it on a high bough. And there it will go again this year, as we celebrate our Christmas and the memories that a special decoration carry with it.

From my family to you, a very merry Christmas.

Joe Cutshall-King

(“Over My Shoulder” – a weekly column written Joseph A. Cutshall-King for the for the Post-Star of Glens Falls, NY. All content Copyright © 1994-2013 by Joseph A. Cutshall-King. All rights reserved. No reproduction by any means or methods allowed without express written permission by the author.)

“Piping Rock” presentation on December 2nd–Easton Library, Easton, NY,.

Join me on Monday, December 2nd at 7:00 pm at the Easton Library in Easton, NY . I’ll be giving a presentation on my historical mystery novel, The Burning of The Piping Rock.

The Easton Library is on 1074 NYS Route 40 in Easton, NY. My presentation will include a book reading and book signing. The presentation is open to the public and free of charge. (Click here for a map.)

For more information, contact Helen C. Brownell, Director of the Easton Library at 518-692-2253 or on the library website at

See you then!

Joe Cutshall-King

In memory of all veterans

In memory of all veterans, I post this photo of my father, Lt. George A. King, Commanding Officer of PT Boat 27, with some of his crew. Left to right: Stan Lewis, Lt. George A. King, Jack Gilligan, & Bill Maynard. (Undated photo; possibly taken in late 1944 at Pearl City, Hawaii.)
PT Boat 27 Crew l-r--Stan Lewis, Lt. George A. King [Commanding Officer], Jack Gilligan & Bill Maynard; South Pacific

PT Boat 27 Crew, left to right: Stan Lewis, Lt. George A. King [Commanding Officer], Jack Gilligan & Bill Maynard; South Pacific

At Woodlawn Commons in Saratoga Springs

Last Friday, November 8, the residents at Woodlawn Commons, part of the Wesley Community in Saratoga Springs, had me as their guest to give a presentation on The Burning of The Piping Rock.  What a great group they were! Several had been to Piping Rock Casino in its glory days. They discussed how much they enjoyed dancing to the big bands at Piping Rock Casino and watching the hit stars, such as Sophie Tucker, Hildegarde, Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers. (In those post WW II days, Andy Williams performed as one of the Williams Brothers.) When I showed them this photo of the entertainment revue at Piping Rock Casino, and other photos, they gasped in recognition of those times long ago. Thanks to Gina Mergel for the invitation to speak at Woodlawn Commons!

Piping Rock Interior  around 1946-B&W

Piping Rock Interior around 1946-B&W

Post-Star carries great news about Cossayuna’s new Lakeside General Store!

Today’s Post-Star carries Amanda May Metzger’s excellent story on the reopening of the Lakeside General Store in the hamlet of Cossayuna, where we live.  Last year, the little country store had closed and it left a gaping hole. Well, our neighbors, Joe Troiano and Palma Kolansky, bought the store,  made wonderful changes, and recently reopened it.  All of Cossayuna has been been celebrating the reopening of the store and what it offers now! Please read all about it in the article, “Couple opens Lakeside General Store after six month vacancy.” Click here to read the article and celebrate with us!

Thank you Greenwich, NY, Senior Citizens!

Sara Idleman, Nan Fitzpatrick & Susan Frisbee with author Joe Cutshall-King Greenwich Seniors Lunch

Sara Idleman, Nan Fitzpatrick & Susan Frisbee with author Joe Cutshall-King Greenwich Seniors Lunch