Skaneateles, 1841

This letter to the New York Tribune, dated August 12, 1841, is from a visitor to Skaneateles who stayed at the Richard L. De Zeng mansion (today’s Roosevelt Hall) shortly after it had been completed. This is the only instance I have seen of De Zeng referring to his home as “Lake Lawn.”

“Friend G: Don’t consider me an intruder, as you lay aside for a moment your editorial pen to see what can be written from some other place than Washington and Saratoga, while with proper diffidence I venture upon an attempt to depict the beauties of the Country, but especially of the enchanting Village of Skaneateles, which I have now for the first time visited. I entered the place late in the evening, and an evening so dark that it was impossible to distinguish a field of flowering Buckwheat from one of Corn or Potatoes, or land from water, save by any sense of feeling, — which sense, by the way, I was fully conscious of possessing, for the rain fell in torrents as I was borne to the residence of my friend, Mr. DeZ., who met me at the threshold of his mansion with characteristic and cordial hospitality.

“The following morning presented a cloudless sky; and from my window, at an early hour, I was introduced to as picturesque and beautiful a view as ever the eye rested upon. A self-introduction briefly preceded a strong attachment; and I envy not the man who can resist such charms, or turn a deaf ear to the winning voice of Nature, when, with more than queenly majesty and grace, arrayed in her most beautiful robes, she thus presents herself for admiration.

“You should go to Skaneateles if you would see the glory of a Country life. As you stand upon the Eastern piazza, there is a fine view of Skaneateles Lake—the word meaning, as you know, ‘beautiful squaw,’ (according to tradition) though I could trace no resemblance, unless its sparkling surface may be considered an emblem of her brilliant eyes when suffused with tears. As you look down this superb sheet of water to its apparent termination, (but only apparent, for it is sixteen miles in length,) it requires no stretch of the imagination to believe you are looking upon the noble Hudson and its scenery between Newburg and West Point.

“Upon the opposite shore, and near the foot of the Lake, you discover almost a hidden Paradise, among the profusion of shade-trees with luxuriant foliage, the snow-white dwellings of the Village and its modest spires, distant from ‘Lake Lawn,’ as the residence of my friend is properly termed, about half a mile. Standing upon this most bewitching spot, and casting your eye in whatever direction you will, the sense are gratified by the lovely face of Nature; and gazing upon the lake, its richly variegated borders reflected in its transparent waters, the imagination is excited by the most noble of prospects.

“On each side of the Lake, for several miles over a superb road, there are delightful drives, leaving in the shade entirely the drive to ‘Burnham’s’ and ‘Stryker’s Bay,’ the latter bearing no more comparison to the former, as to scenery, than Washington Square, in point of size, to Hyde Park in London; and whether you drive on the East or West side, you are struck with the air of neatness, comfort and beauty of the various residences of gentlemen who are above no honest employment, who drive a pair of horses or a yoke of oxen with equal tact and cheerfulness, who have none but wholesome farming cares, who labor with honest yeomen, and who are spared the mortifications, envies, coldness, misapprehensions and etiquettes of a City residence.

“As you are aware that I have been to Geneva and Canandaigua during my recent tour, you may wonder why I should confine my remarks to Skaneateles. My reason for so doing is very obvious: they, being on the direct route to the Falls, are frequently visited by travelers, who are well satisfied that too much cannot be said in their praise, whereas the village of Skaneateles is several miles distant from the grand thoroughfare, and consequently its attractions are less known.

“Yours sincerely, J.H.W.”

— “Glimpses of the Country – Skaneateles.” Correspondence of The Tribune. Hoboken, August 12, 1841


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