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The Day the Music Died…In Saratoga Springs, NY

Saratoga Springs Hotel

Photo by Tom Dimopoulos from the PostStar

The famous song Bye, Bye Miss American Pie says bye-bye to Saratoga Springs, NY legend and lore.

For years upon years Saratogians have proudly laid claim to the origins of Don McLean’s famous 1960’s hit song American Pie….go ahead, I’ll wait while you hum along and then try to get that brain worm out of your head.

The story was that Don McLean, after a night of imbibing in local “spirits” had written the lyrics to the song on a napkin in a small Caroline Street bar called the Tin & Lint. So convincing was this tale that the owners of the bar had a plaque made to commemorate the booth…the seat…the very location was it was purported to have happened.

The song was later said to have been first performed at a Small Coffee house, Caffe Lena, owned by a local Saratoga Springs legend in her own right, Lena Spencer. Don McLean did have a soft spot in his heart for Lena Spencer, who had encouraged him early on in his music career, and he went on to perform American Pie and many more songs over the years in that tiny coffee house. But laying claim to the first public performance of the famous song is alas, also not true. According to the legendary performer, the song came to life in Philadelphia, PA; the closest Saratoga Springs can come to that is a one-way street named Phila Street. American Pie was first performed at Temple University and while many still regard Caffe Lena as a Temple of sorts, it must give up that claim to fame.

The American Pie brain worm still lives in the heads of many Saratogians who stubbornly refuse to believe that the seat in the corner of that little bar on Caroline Street in Downtown Saratoga Springs, NY was not where “drove my Chevy to the levee and the levee was dry” sprang to life one not-so-sober night in the 1960’s.

♪♫ Bye, Bye Miss American Pie ♪♫ from all of us here at our Saratoga Springs Hotel in beautiful Saratoga Springs, NY.

Book a stay at our Saratoga NY Hotel and mention this blog and we will send you home with a fresh homemade American (Apple) Pie.

On this day in Saratoga Arms history

On December 19, 1997, Kathleen and Noel Smith purchased a dilapidated old rooming house on Broadway. It took great vision (and a very helpful local bank) to renovate, restore and reopen this 1870 building as Saratoga Arms a sixteen-room hotel in 1998. As we reflect upon the past 14 years, we are thankful for the changes that our Saratoga Springs Hotel has brought into our lives.

  • In 1999, The Preservation Foundation recognized the restoration effort as a positive contribution to the preservation of the historic downtown district.
  • In 2002, Amy Smith, the eldest Smith daughter, joined the family business as General Manager.
  • In 2005, a new addition that doubled the size of Saratoga Arms to 31 rooms was opened with an executive meeting room and workout facilities, just in time to welcome Skidmore graduation parents and families.
  • In 2009, Sheila Smith Sperling, the middle of the three Smith daughters, joined the family business as Group Sales Manager.
  • Interspersed over the years, 6 grandchildren have expanded the family, possibly assuring that the family business will continue for a third generation.
  • Over 60,000 guests have walked through our doors, some famous, some infamous and many not so famous guests including politicians, celebrities and horse breeders. Those who return year after year are more than just guests, they have become good friends.
  • We have seen the changing times from CD players to iPod alarm clocks, old tube television to flat screens, corded high speed internet access to wireless throughout, and a user-friendly interactive website with all the bells and whistles of the digital age.
Although the past 14 years have brought many changes to our Saratoga Springs Bed and Breakfast, those that have remained constant are the most important–Noel still makes the breakfast each morning, Kathleen remains the quintessential social engineer and Judy takes great pride in making every guest’s stay a special one.
Thanks to all of our guests, the Saratoga Springs community and a hardworking Saratoga Arms family for making the first 14 years such a success. Just imagine what the next 14 years will hold for Saratoga Arms.
Saratoga Springs Hotel


Wesley Armstrong, the best plumber in American and the second most important man in my life, was in the hotel last week getting the air conditioning operational.  Wesley told Noel and me the story of one of his many brothers doing two tours in Viet Nam almost forty years ago.  Warren had been wounded twice, and his family always felt grateful he came home in good health.

Recently, a Vet from Kansas made a trip to Viet Nam.  While there, he visited a junk shop that offered a large tray of American soldiers’ dog tags for sale.   The fellow from Kansas purchased the whole tray and brought them back to a Boy Scout troop he was involved with back home.

Warren has just received his dog tags along with a detailed letter explaining the project from the young men of the Boy Scout troop.

I hope they all earned a merit badge.

A Child’s Eye View

During the Christmas holidays,  I was asked by a niece to review her college applications.  Such pressure on young people!

I was reminded of our youngest daughter’s application process many years ago.  After much thought, she wrote an essay that could be tweaked with a sentence or two and it then worked for each of the colleges to which she applied.

When this child was six, we purchased a motel and an old farmhouse on the outskirts of town and pioneered the Bed and Breakfast concept in Saratoga Springs.  To our surprise youngest daughter chose as her college application essay topic, How My Character was Affected or Developed by being Raised in a Bed and Breakfast.

Youngest daughter wrote that if a car pulled in the yard with Michigan plates, she knew that they would never share a bathroom.  If a car with Canadian plates came in, they would choose the least expensive room.  If people got out of their car all dressed in black, she knew they were from New York City and that they would not eat eggs for breakfast but would all try to smoke in their rooms.

Now all these years later, there are very few B & B’s that ask you to share a bath, the Canadian dollar is worth more than the US dollar and youngest daughter did not choose a career in the hospitality industry.

Learning Another Lesson

Daughter just had a sitdown with her mother explaining the duties of a blogger.  I am not paying attention to the timeliness factor.  Well, said I, business is starting to “seasonally adjust” and I took a trip to visit her sister and the triplets, visited her baby sister to celebrate her last birthday in the 20’s and by way of a long, long story, I attended the awards dinner for the International Center for Journalists at the Reagan Building in Washington, DC.

George Stephanopoulos was Master of Ceremonies, I had a chance to “mingle” with Bob Schieffer (and tell him how much I enjoyed him on the CBS nightly news), Tom Brokaw and Bob and Leigh Woodruff and lots of other interesting people.  One of the honorees that evening was a young Egyptian man named Wael Abbas.  He received the 2007 Knight International Journalism Award, the first time such a prestigious award had been given to a blogger.  His introduction stated that “Egyptian journalists are struggling to work as the government imposes new restrictions on their activities, underscored by arrests, convictions and imprisonment. …It is in this context that in 2004 Abbas launched his ‘Egyptian Awareness’ blog.  Abbas has broken news on subjects generally avoided by local media:  protests, corruption, and police brutality.  His vivid first-hand reports, videos and photographs have attracted thousands of viewers and the attention of mainstream news outlets…He has been arrested, beaten by thugs, and faces persistent government harassment and intimidation.  ‘I am an Egyptian blogger,’ he wrote in The Washington Post, ‘and the Mubarak regime is out to get me and others like me.'”

As I listened to the efforts he makes to get his blog out, I thought perhaps I could pay a little more attention to mine.

Owners of Saratoga Arms Learning from the Next Generation

“Mom, you’re going to write a blog.” my thirty something daughter said to me. She had just spent eight months convincing her seventy year old father and sixty year old mother that we were going to spend a small fortune to redesign our hotel’s website and give a young woman in Hawaii the job of promoting it. Hard for me to swallow. We were getting so much of our reservations from our old website, and besides, everyone knows that no one actually works in Hawaii. The new Saratoga Arms’ website went live a month ago. Within ten days we had pulled in enough online reservations and a conference to pay for it. It must be very difficult to be a smart, sharp, tech savvy daughter of the founders of Saratoga’s very best lodging property and have to combat twentieth century parents with whom you work.

The next hurdle is to educate her old mother to blog protocol. Like Betty Davis said, fasten your seatbelts. It could be a bumpy ride.