With the centennial of the Spirit of Life and Spencer Trask Memorial sixteen months away in June 2015, the City of Saratoga Springs is starting physical restoration work at the site. Trees in Congress Park behind the Memorial are being removed because they are in decline and pose a risk to the Spirit of Life and the masonry architectural surround. This danger was highlighted by a 2011 Tree Risk Assessment conducted by Finch Forest Management of Glens Falls. A total of thirty trees were measured, mapped and tagged. Trees were examined for defects, including decay, cracks, root problems, weak branch unions, poor architecture and dead and broken sections. Seventeen trees were found to represent a high risk – that is, have the potential in a severe storm to hit the sculpture or the masonry architectural surround. “Given their age and declining health, combined with extreme weather conditions,” Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco said, “falling trees or branches pose are significant threat to our irreplaceable nationally significant Memorial and symbol of our community. The trees are overgrown and out of proportion to the site. New trees planted during the restoration will be consistent with the original design.”
The Spirit of Life sculpture is the centerpiece of the Trask Memorial, which was erected in 1915. The Memorial was a collaborative effort by three prominent American designers of the era – sculptor Daniel Chester French, architect Henry Bacon, and landscape architect/engineer Charles W. Leavitt. French and Bacon are best known for the Lincoln Monument in Washington D.C., while Leavitt was responsible for the significant changes to the Saratoga Race Course at the turn of the century. The Memorial was a gift to the City from Katrina Trask and George Foster Peabody in memory of Katrina’s husband, Spencer Trask. Trask, a successful financier and resident of Saratoga Springs, was largely responsible for the preservation of the natural springs of our city and the creation of the Saratoga Spa Reservation, known today as the Saratoga Spa State Park. Today the Spencer Trask Memorial is recognized as a major contributing element to the National Historic Landmark status of Congress Park.
While the Memorial was the subject of extensive masonry restoration and sculpture conservation in the early 1980s, the landscape did not receive the same level of attention. As it did thirty years ago, the City of Saratoga Springs is once again partnering with the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation to undertake the restoration work. Last year the City hired preservation consultants Dan Wilson and Martha Lyon to do historic research, assess the site’s existing conditions, make treatment recommendations, and prepare plans and specifications for the masonry surround and landscape.
This month the city’s arborist, Josh Dulmer, and fellow crew members from the Department of Public Works will remove the white pine trees that tower over the Memorial in preparation for the masonry phase of work which will commence this summer. Due to the poor health of the trees and poor condition of the wood, they will be chipped and recycled.
The goal of the project is to fully restore the entire Memorial – the Spirit of Life sculpture, the masonry architectural surround, and the landscape setting – to the extent practical, to its original 1915 appearance. Detailed information about the project, including the Finch Forest Management Tree Risk Assessment Report and the masonry and landscape reports, is available at www.spiritofliferestoration.org or at the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation office.
The Spirit of Life and Spencer Trask Memorial restoration is a community-wide effort and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation is raising funds to support the work. The organization will hold the TRASK, art show and silent auction of art from local artists at the Casino on Thursday, June 26, 2014. All proceeds will go directly towards the restoration. Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the restoration campaign can do so online at www.spiritofliferestoration.org or by contacting the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation at (518) 587-5030.