The Grand Union. The United States. Congress Hall. When one thinks about the great hotels of Saratoga Springs during the pinnacle of the Gilded Age with all its high fashion and wealth, these are the places one imagines the upper-class tourists of the era spending their time.
In those images, standing quietly in the background, ready to provide service on a moment’s notice, are the African American waiters and maids and drivers dutifully going about their tasks with, in the words of author Myra Armistead, the mantra in their heads “Lord, please don’t take me in August!”- the wages and tips of the season being their prime source of annual income.
But tucked away, a block off Broadway, behind the Clarendon Hotel and what is now St. Peter’s Church, was what was once called in the Troy Daily Times “A swell hotel for Colored people or rather, the hotel for swell Colored people.” The Broughton House catered to upper middle class African-Americans for over 30 years. Yet very few people have ever heard of it.
The Broughton House was owned and operated by John C. Broughton, a Brooklyn tavern owner and business man. Born in 1823 in Savannah, Georgia, Broughton moved to Brooklyn in 1843 and established himself as a fine caterer and owner of a popular saloon. He was active in the politics of the city, serving as a councilman for several years.
Broughton bought the property in Saratoga Springs in 1862. He very quickly began attracting an economically rising African-American clientele well versed in the arts, literature, and politics of the day. In 1879, an article in the Saratogian called a party at the Broughton House one of the “Brightest festive gatherings” of the season. It spoke of “brilliantly illuminated parlors” and the ladies were adorned with “dazzling gems and gay dresses.” According to the Troy Daily Times, by 1886 Broughton’s wealth was valued at a quarter of a million dollars.
The Broughton House property was quite large, encompassing the full corner at Williams and South Federal Streets. The main building had single and double rooms, all well-furnished with much natural light and there was a two-story attached cottage. The café and dining rooms were described in the New York Globe in 1883 as being “neat and comfortable. And a new floor on the dancing platform would prove of great benefit to dancers.” There was also a garden with a swing, a bowling alley and billiard room, sweeping lawns, croquet grounds, a barber shop and a bar. While African-Americans were no longer barred from attending cultural events or the races at Saratoga Race Course, they were not encouraged to do so. At the Broughton House, they created their own opulent experience.
Patrons of the Broughton House came from all over the United States, and included international guests as well. Initially, arrivals were noted in the Saratogian, like other hotels. But with the failure of Reconstruction and the expansion of Jim Crow, arrivals to the African-American hotel were no longer published in that paper. Thriving African- American newspapers covered the comings and goings though, in particular The New York Age, a prominent national publication.
Guests included noted academics who lectured on a variety of topics of the day. Rev. C.A. Leftwich, Chaplain of Howard University spoke on “The Necessity of Literary Societies” along with a musical presentation by the Wayland Seminary Choral group. A frequent guest was Dr. Edwin C. Howard, the first African-American graduate of Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Mercy Hospital in Philadelphia. Politicians and businessmen visited, such as John M. Herbert from Trenton, NJ, the brother of Priscilla Herbert, the first African-American graduate of the College of New Jersey, and a prominent member of the New Jersey Republican Party and successful businessman. Rev. William T. Dixon, the founder of the New England Baptist Association and the first black post of the GAR (his funeral was attended by over 6,000 people) was a noted guest.
Thomas J. Bowers, known as the “Colored Mario” was also a frequent guest. A singer of romantic ballads and popular opera arias, he was nick-named after a famous Italian opera singer of the day and his fame was later fictionalized in a 1964 episode of the TV show Bonanza titled “Enter Thomas Bowers.” A frequent seasonal guest was Troy native Peter Baltimore. A barber by trade, he was a prominent abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad, and a close friend of Frederick Douglas. His son, Garnet Douglas Baltimore was the first African-American graduate of RPI. It was noted in a September 1886 issue of the Troy Daily Times that the “past season has seen nearly 100 guests at a time from the wealthier classes” staying at the Broughton House.
Contrary to the policies of many of the other hotels, local citizens were welcome at the opulent balls which were regularly held at the Broughton. The social columns of the New York Age noted a program given by Arabella Chapman Miller of Albany, the first African-American graduate of Albany High School and an accomplished musician and teacher. Hartaway A. Wayland, featured at an exhibit in Paris by W.E.B. Dubois on rising African-American men, was a resident of Saratoga who had attended Howard College and was the headwaiter at the Worden Hotel; he and his wife, Jessie Lattimore, owned several pieces of property in Saratoga and were often mentioned as attendees, as were a number of Lattimore family members. Local Pharmacist Dr. T.H. Sands Pennington often socialized at the Broughton House. Others frequently mentioned were the Ray sisters, the daughters of abolitionist and anti-slavery activist Charles Bennet Ray, who were said to light up the floor with their dancing.
The Broughton House was also a place for black baseball players to stay when competing in the area. The nearby Clarendon House was a sponsor and a popular destination for the many leagues that came to play ball, with racially integrated teams. But apparently, while they may have played baseball together, they still had segregated sleeping quarters.
John C. Broughton died in Brooklyn on May 6th, 1903. In his will he left property in Brooklyn to his daughter, Mary Coleman Mosely and his niece, Mary L. Wolff was left the two houses in Saratoga (valued at $30,000). The will was ultimately challenged by another daughter, Anna Broughton Campbell, who argued that he was not of his sound mind when he wrote the will. The litigation must have taken its toll on the property, the Broughton House was put up for sale in 1913. Listed in the Saratogian as a “3 story, 16 room boarding house with a basement and a 2 story frame cottage with large grounds, fine lawn and shade, the asking price was $3500, willing to sell for $3200, $500 or $600 down with small yearly payments.” The buildings were ultimately razed.
Illustrations: Detail showing the Broughton House from an 1888 bird’s eye view map of Saratoga (courtesy Saratoga Springs Public Library)and Hartaway A. Wayland.