On September 14, 1893, a wealthy Boston hardware merchant and summer resident of Saratoga Springs, Franklin W. Smith, presented plans for “A Greater Saratoga” that would make the small upstate village “the summer capital of the United States.” His blueprint included a floral parade and battle of flowers to top off – and elevate – the gambling-oriented summer season. Smith’s vision blossomed on September 4, 1894 when Saratoga Springs held its first floral fete with a grand ball in the evening at Convention Hall. It was reportedly “one of the grandest and most successful events of the kind ever held in this country” with over 25,000 in attendance. It became an annual event, growing from one day to four and adding bicycle races, golf and polo matches, fireworks, and fancy-dress balls at Saratoga’s grand hotels. In 1901 and 1902 representatives from the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, which benefited from the annual crowds, and the Saratoga Floral Association visited New Orleans to purchase Mardi Gras floats to be used in the floral fetes. The events were spectacular and drew large crowds but the cost bankrupted the Floral Association, which dissolved in 1905. The Saratoga Chamber of Commerce held a one-day revival in 1924, and in 2013 Saratoga Springs held a floral fete as part of the 150th anniversary celebration of thoroughbred racing in Saratoga, drawing a crowd estimated at 40,000.
Scope of Collection
The Floral Fete Collection housed in the Saratoga Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library contains souvenir programs, photographs, postcards, stereo views, articles, and ephemera from Saratoga’s floral parades. The items in the collection were donated by a number of individuals. Some items were purchased by the library to add to the collection. The digital collection also contains images from private collections and non-profit institutions in Saratoga Springs.