The 19th-century spa and resort community of Sharon Springs (pop. 543), 20 miles west of Albany, was once on a par with Saratoga Springs, but for most of the past 75-plus years the silent streets have been lined by the slowly crumbling remains of once-grand wooden Victorian-era hotels. In its pre–Civil War heyday, the spas here attracted as many as 10,000 visitors at a time, but for the past decades Sharon Springs has been kept alive thanks to its unlikely role as a seasonal escape for Orthodox Hasidic Jews fleeing the heat of New York City summers. Throughout the ups and downs, the sulfurous, supposedly health-giving waters have continued to flow, bubbling up into a small fountain in the small park at the center of town, and into large tubs at the public Imperial Baths bathhouse farther down Main Street. Most of the patrons at the Imperial Baths are Russian or Eastern European, giving the place a totally foreign, time-warped feel.
In recent years, Sharon Springs has seemed set for a revival. On Main Street, the white-columned hotels have been undergoing total overhauls; the stately American Hotel ($120 and up; 518/284-2105) now has a very good dining room, with a stylish cocktail bar, and guests can settle into comfy chairs lined up along the spacious front porch and watch the world go by.
There’s also a nice pizza place (Geno’s), a general store, a kosher hotel (the Adler), and an intriguing local-history museum, with plaques all over town telling the story of Sharon Springs’ varied incarnations.