|NYSNYS NEWS: Historic Katrina Trask gate restored in Saratoga Springs. Youtube video included.|
By Kyle Hughes
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY (November 15) -- Katrina Trask, the 19th century pillar of society, philanthropist and founder of Yaddo, was honored here Friday with a ceremony rededicating her memorial gateway in Congress Park after two years of careful restoration.
"It was a labor of love," Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco said of the project, which followed the 2015 restoration of the city's iconic Spirit of Life memorial to her husband, financier Spencer Trask. The two imposing monuments bookend the historic park in the center of the Spa City.
"The men and women (workers) of the Yaddo estate donated this gateway in Katrina's memory on this date in 1922," Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly told the crowd bundled up in the cold weather. She quoted remarks by the city's mayor at time of the project's original dedication 97 years ago: "Katrina Trask was herself in the vanguard of all movement that promised betterment of the world and the beautifying and enrichment of human life."
Samantha Bosshart of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, who opened the ceremony, said Katrina Trask was a great supporter of women and the arts. The gateway is "a lovely testament to her contributions to the community... It's here for everybody to enjoy and it's already a place where people gather to take wedding photographs and other important photographs and I'm sure it will become even more so now after this dedication."
The $471,000 project involved resetting and replacing the pink granite stone quarried along the Schroon River in the Adirondacks and shoring up the walls. New drains were installed as well as a new gate at the top. The original poured concrete staircase was replaced with pre-cast materials. The original gate and fencing were long gone, and the stairs were a hazard before the restoration began.
The restoration work was done by Ganem Contracting Corp. of Round Lake, with the assistance of DPW workers. Ganem specializes in restoration of historic buildings and masonry.
Scirocco and other organizers of Friday's ceremony took pains to tie it to the original dedication. Members of the Bethesda Episcopal Church choir performed, as their counterparts did 97 years ago when leading a procession to open the gates. The new gates were formally opened by Mary Ellen Ryall, a descendant of William Ryall, the Yaddo gardener who unlocked the gates for the first time in the 1922 ceremony. She was accompanied by Bradford RItchie, a relative of the brothers who built the staircase and presented William Ryall with the key during the 1922 opening.
Also participating was Joseph Jacob, a Syrian immigrant who read a poem in Arabic written by his wife, Dr. Rana Bitar. The Jacob and Bitar family participation was a nod to the 1922 ceremony that included a benediction in Arabic by a Syrian archbishop who was close friend and supporter of Katrina Trask.
The stairs once led into the park from the Katrina Trask House, a center for women she established. It stood on the property that is now occupied by the Holiday Inn, the rear of which stands yards from the gateway. During the era of the massive hotels on Broadway, the stairs were used by visitors to descend the steep hillside into the park, which sits along a portion of the geological fault from where Saratoga's famed mineral springs originate.
The stone staircase replaced an earlier set of wooden stairs and was built by George Foster Peabody, Trask's husband of one year and the former business partner of her late husband. Katrina had died of pneumonia in January 1922, 13 years after Spencer died in a railroad accident. The family's tragic story included the premature deaths of all four of their children.
Beside turning their estate into what eventually became the Yaddo arts colony that has been open for a century next to Saratoga Race Course, the Trasks were instrumental forces in creating the state reservation that eventually led to the development of the Saratoga Spa State Park. Trask was one of the most successful businessmen of the 19th century, financing Thomas Edison's work on inventing the electric light bulb and at one time owning The New York Times.
The Trasks also established Wiawaka on Lake George in 1902, a prelude to the Yaddo Corporation that eventually became a womens holiday house. The property still operates as a retreat and educational center for women.