July 1990

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from Country Margins and Rambles of a Journalist, 1855


Samuel H. Hammond

I am at Canandaigua, certainly one of the most beautiful country towns in the State. The scenery about it is not grand or sublime; there are no rugged mountains rearing their tall heads to the clouds, frowning in eternal barrenness upon majestic rivers sweeping around their base, or lakes sleeping in quiet valleys below them; there are no waterfalls rushing down from the hills in foaming cascades, or winding in deep ravines among old primeval woods; but there is that which is better. There are rich farms spread out all around, far as the eye can reach, fields of grain waving in the summer breeze, meadows covered with rich grass ready for the mower, and pastures in which flocks and herds are feeding; fine farm houses hid away among the tall trees and shrubbery, and barns filled with the products of agriculture, are in view.

On the south is a beautiful lake winding away around low promontories, with cultivated fields or patches of green woods stretching away from the beach. Such is the scenery around Canandaigua. There are pleasant drives in every direction. The road that winds along the shore of the lake will afford a delightful ride of a summer morning or evening, and the other avenues leading away into the country are scarcely less pleasant. Everywhere are the evidences of wealth, or progress, and of civilization. Fine horses, fine cattle and sheep, and rich harvests, are constantly in view. These things are around Canandaigua, outside of the village, within range of a walk or a drive. But the village itself affords a greater display of quiet beauty and taste than I have seen elsewhere. The houses are massive and elegant, surrounded by large and tastefully laid out grounds and gardens, decorated with the rarest flowers, and the richest shrubbery.

There are "solid men," as Daniel Webster would say, in Canandaigua—"solid" in intelligence and social qualities, in moral and political influence, and solid in dollars. Men who live for something beyond the mere accumulation of wealth; who will leave behind them a monument in the taste with which they have adorned the spots they occupy. These beautiful residences, the grounds decorated with rare shrubbery, and abounding in the richest fruits; these gardens, sending abroad upon the air the fragrance of flowers that charm the vision by their beauty, and entrance the senses by their sweetness, are better than railroad stocks or vast investments in the funds, to leave as a monument when one dies. The tree one plants, survives him; the grape vine remains when the hand that plants it is cold; the rose-bush blossoms when he who places it in the garden is alone in the quiet house of death; and while the tree bears its fruit, the grape-vine its rich clusters, or the rose its sweet blossoms, his name will remain connected with them, as if chiselled in marble.

I remember that in one of the old towns of New England, I was conversing with a lady who is not unknown to fame, when she pointed to some elms that stood on the lawn in front of her dwelling, and said, "these trees were planted by my grandfather," and then pointing to some venerable pear-trees that hung with then unripe fruit, said, "those were planted by the original proprietor of these grounds, of whom my grandfather purchased them," The name she gave I have forgotten, but it was associated with the old pear-trees, and had been for more than a hundred years. And so it will be with the trees and shrubbery of these beautiful grounds. They will preserve the memory of those who placed them where they stand, and for generations be a monument to their virtues and their name.

From an observatory on the top of one of the most splendid dwellings in the village, I had a view of the country around. The glass was slightly stained, of the windows through which I looked, and it gave a mellowness to the picture that was exceedingly beautiful. I have never been in Italy; I know about an Italian sunset only from descriptions by tourists and from paintings by masters of the art, but if an Italian sunset exceeds in beauty the prospect that was before me, as I looked from that observatory, it is then beautiful indeed. The lake, the farms and avenues lined with trees in the distance, the village residences, the gardens and grounds near by, and the delightful walks and trees and rich fruits and flowers immediately beneath and around me, formed a landscape which, seen in the mellow light afforded by the stained glass of the windows through which I looked, no painter could transfer to canvas, or Italy excel.

I dined with the owner of this residence and his excellent lady, in the true style of Scotch hospitality. They were among the pioneers of what years ago was known as the Genesee Country. They have seen the ancient forests standing on the site of Canandaigua, and stretching away to the great lakes, and they have watched the progress of that war which civilization makes upon the old primeval things, sweeping away the woods and spreading out broad farms, planting churches and school-houses, and building up cities and towns. They heard the first blast of the stage coachman's horn on the great stage route through the centre of the State, and they heard its dying echoes as it was succeeded by the scream of the steam-whistle and the snort of the iron horse. They shared the trials and hardships incident to the settlement of a new country, and in their declining years they are reaping a rich harvest, as the reward of their perseverance and energy. May they be long spared to enjoy the fruits of their labors; and when their appointed time shall come, may they pass away quietly and calmly as the last lingering stars pass from the twilight of morning into the brightness of the perfect day.

As we were walking in the garden after dinner, among the beautiful and rare flowers and shrubbery, I said to the excellent lady of the mansion, "It seems to me that you are blessed, certainly not beyond your deserts, but beyond the ordinary lot of the people of this world. You have wealth, and you have the taste to use and enjoy it. You have this beautiful mansion, and these delightful grounds, these flowers, these fruit and shade trees, these pleasant walks, and all that can make life pleasant. You have health, and spirits to enjoy it all. While I, who have all the love for all these things, have neither house nor grounds, can cultivate no shrubbery or flowers. My life is a long struggle for bread."

"My friend," she replied, and a shade of sadness came over her countenance as she spoke, "we do not differ so much from you. We have no children to bestow our affections upon. You have. Would you exchange them for all that you have seen here? They are your garden."

And I thought of the cherished flower that death had so recently plucked from the garden of my home, and how I missed its perfume, and that I would give all the treasures of earth, were they mine, to look upon the sweet blossom again.

There is, at Canandaigua, one of the finest hotels in the country. It is spacious and new. The rooms are large and airy, and furnished with great taste and neatness. In no hotel have I found more care or attention paid to the comfort and convenience, and even the luxury of the guests. To those who love quiet, who would be away from the bustle and noise of a city, who have no taste for the excitement of the watering-places or fashionable resorts, Canandaigua offers peculiar inducements to tempt a stay. The hotel, I repeat, is among the very best in the State. The country around is charming, the drives delightful. Everything that can add to the luxury of quiet and repose during the heat of summer, is to be found here.

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