This is part one of a three-part series. Read part two here and part three here.


For many years I had looked towards the Alleghanies with great longing. There, rather than anywhere else, we may find the key to the history of our continent. There the leaves of the great stone book, which are sealed upon the plain, are upturned and opened, so that we may read that wonderful record of the first stages of the life of sea and land. The student of mountains finds there an almost unexplored field; for though that chain, in its great stretch from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, offers better opportunities for the study of those dislocating forces which have broken the earth’s crust than are found in any other country, our students have given it little attention. Guyot has measured its height and described its general features, Leslie has studied its topography, and J. D. Rogers has used its evidence to support a remarkable theory of mountain building; but naturalists have not begun to anatomize these mountains, or to seek in their grand and simple outlines the general truths which may be sought in vain among the confused details of the Alps or the Himalayas. But it is not alone the interest of a naturalist or of the mere seeker for the picturesque which may well make the Alleghanies attractive ground for the traveller; he who looks with interest upon the future of the many different peoples who have settled this country will find there opportunities for the study of the most interesting questions. He will find in these mountains, with the permanence of character which mountains seem to infuse into their inhabitants, representatives of all the stocks which have been planted in our country. In the northernmost end, in the Notre Dame Mountains, dwells the purest blood of the Catholic French, who have given to its peaks the name of their patroness and the guide in their wanderings. Then come the Puritan people, a world apart, in all that makes life, from their northern neighbors. Then, in different but equal contrast, the Dutch of the Catskills and the Hudson, the great valley which separates two sections of this great chain as diverse as their peoples. South of them are the Quakers and Germans of Pennsylvania. Farther yet we come upon the pure English of Virginia; and in North Carolina the traveller may see the Gaelic blood of Scotland in more southern conditions than it has found on any other part of our continent. It is said, indeed, that you may still find Gaelic-speaking folk in the western counties of that State. Thus a journey of a thousand miles or so, through a region as picturesque as any part of Europe, though it may want the grandeur of Alps or Pyrenees, may give us as varied surroundings as any that could be found in a journey of equal length in the Old World.

But the reader must not think it possible to see all this in the common way of going. Students seeking to explore must be free to move in any direction the moment may require. There was but one way open: a journey must be made by the highway, and those who went upon it must be free to vary their course as the exigency of the time demanded. The party for whom the plans were to be made included over a dozen persons, — nine students, the writer and his family, and two servant-men. Any one who knows the character of our country inns could foresee that such a party, with the appetites which life in the open air gives, would soon be “taverned out.” It was by no means pleasant to look forward to the chances of bed and board which might easily eclipse all the other satisfactions of the journey. It was therefore determined that our holiday should begin with a declaration of independence of the most perfect kind. We would live in tents, cook by our own fireside, and be as free as Crusoe. As our journey was to last nearly three months, this perfect freedom required a great deal of preparation. Although the men of the party expected to trust much to their legs, it was not thought prudent to have less transportation than would suffice to put the whole party on wheels and carry their necessary luggage. This required a travelling-carriage for the family, a luggage-wagon for the heavier camp-fixtures, and three lighter vehicles, such as chance and the least money brought to hand, for the younger men. Many a youth thinks, because he has walked his thirty miles or done five-and-twenty for three days on a stretch, that he can make his twenty miles as the average of a month’s journey; but it is far safer as a boast than an experiment. If you walk for pleasure and for profit (other than pecuniary), don’t do over ten miles a day. Otherwise your soul goes to your shoes, and you have not nervous force enough left to be keenly appreciative of that which passes around you.1

As we had to provide for our own table, it was necessary to have a cook who could do his work by an open fire. It would seem as if a nation just out of camps should abound in cooks who had learned this primitive art. But though a throng as varied as Falstaff’s legion came in answer to an advertisement, — decayed gentlemen, ruffianly-looking foreigners of mixed nationality, broken-down actors, and sickly Irish boys, — not one could prove that he had ever cooked except through the medium of hot iron. It was necessary to send to Virginia for one of the race of cooks who have never unlearned the good old ways of getting fire to food. There are not many prizes in the domestic lottery in the way of cooks, yet we had good reason to be content with our lot. George —— was as worthy a fellow as ever turned a flapjack, and he fed our ravenous appetites with the most exemplary patience.

We started from Cambridge on the morning of the 22d of June. Once in our wagons and in motion, after the chafing work of final preparation, there came a sensation like that of a school-boy when he climbs the hill which has hitherto bounded his little world. That lovely way which leads from Cambridge straight west through Waltham, now that it was the hither end of a thousand miles, seemed strangely unlike itself. Everything had something of the freshness of our own feelings. An hour’s going took us past the homelike part of our road, over the six miles or so where the city shades away by interrupted grades into the country. There never seems to have been in the New-Englander that fancy for burying himself in the depths of the forest which we see in the old frontiersmen of Virginia and Kentucky. The spirit of Boone and Kenton, for whom the deep forest had an attraction as strong as that which drew the satyrs to their recesses, is not shown among this people. They have been far more social than the Virginia branch of the English stock. Every road has its strip of inhabited land beside it, and it is rare to see a house four hundred feet from the way.

The country is very beautiful; it lacks grand outlines, but it abounds in detail. The glacial period, that great night-time from which our world has just awakened, though it did much to shear the great hills of their height, built of their ruins a surface wrought into a thousand varied forms. The mounds of gravel which make up the fields, the vast boulders, some hearing trees upon their tops, even the picturesque stone-walls, by far the most eye-satisfying things in this landscape, are due to that time. The stones which have been heaped in those walls, not so much to make boundaries as to give access to the soil, were once angular fragments, which, bedded in the mile-deep ice, have, in the chances of their long journey, been worn against each other until they have a sort of faceted roundness. Over the fences, when the orderly spirit of the owner is not too great, there grows a wealth of vines, which, with the mosses and lichens, make them the loveliest border to the way. At noon, being some nine miles on our road, we found a halting-place under some noble elms, where we could look away over the marshes of the Sudbury River and beyond to the sharp crests of Monadnock and Wachusett. The valley is broad and the river more winding than is usual with New England streams, which have something of the directness which marks all the other natural and acquired features of the land.

Our afternoon travel was through a rather monotonous country, relieved by its beautiful woods, and with pleasant distant views. We have left behind the mixed races of the city neighborhoods; all the people seem of the old New England stock, though the new look of the houses and farms makes the country seem as if it had not been settled more than a hundred years. It is interesting to notice how little curiosity is shown by the country people concerning the queer caravan we are taking over their roads; small boys are interested to determine the kind of show, and are somewhat puzzled by the answers; but the grown-up people scrupulously take no notice of us. We stopped at a country store to buy some chains to strengthen the baggage-wagon. We were more of a spectacle, doubtless, than had been seen there in a half-year, yet the little knot of loiterers did not come to the door, no one guessed or “calculated” anything about us, at least in an audible way.

In Framingham, through which our road carried us late in the afternoon, we found the first of the manufacturing villages we were to encounter. There is a painful contrast between the aspect of the country people and those one sees on the streets of a mill village late in the afternoon. The country people are sturdy-looking in their way; rather lean, not showing the effect of much good food, but free from marks of drunkenness; well to do in every way. The factory hands look like another race, and, so far as a glance would tell, much inferior in bodily condition to the countryman. A bad climate is generally worse for indoor life than for the open-air occupations. We have much to fear for the future of a race whose parentage has felt the unhappy influences of our manufactories.

After passing Framingham we began to seek a camp-ground. The conditions of a good camp are not easily found; there must be open ground for the tents, wood and water for the cook, and poles for the tents. A native of Massachusetts, who had spent half his life in tents, thought it absurd to try to find camp-grounds in this country, “where all the land was in door-yards.” But we did not search far before we found a pleasant wood where there was no fence to bar us out; and after some small mishaps we gathered round our first camp-fire. Though only a few hundred feet away from some scattered houses, we were troubled by no visitors. A few people passed on the wood-road, by the side of which we had camped, but they scarcely gave us a glance. In the morning the good woman on whose land our tents were pitched gathered courage to put a few questions, and hoped we might some day come that way again.

As we get away from the coast the people and the face of the land both show some change. Nearly every village has drawn to it a mixture of outlandish people, and so has lost its native look; but the people who bear the native stamp are sturdier than those seen on our yesterday’s journey. Except under the shadow of the manufactories, there is no sign of growth since we got away from the stimulus of the city. But there are no abandoned houses, not a trace of poverty, save where some family from Ireland have planted themselves in a once neat home and are making havoc with its proprieties. We can perceive the effects of one such household over a radius of a quarter of a mile. Such stuff will try the digestion of our New England civilization; if we can assimilate it, there is no fear of the Chinese proving fatal to the body politic. It would cheer the longest-faced Malthusian to see the scarcity of children in this country. One is at times tempted to think that the people must, like Topsy, be “born grown up.” Something must be attributed to the school laws, which, enforced by the truant officers, keep all except the toddling infants off the streets during school-hours. But there are the children in arms to be accounted for. In two days we have not seen a child in its mothers arms.

A part of our day’s journey was over an old stage-road; its once broad way was contracted at times by the invasion of the stronger plants from the roadside, until the wheel-tracks and the narrow paths of the horses are all that remain perfectly clear of vegetation. Here one has the perfection of travelling, — an excellent roadway, dustless and nearly noiseless, and a country wild enough to satisfy the mind wearied of too much civilization. Yet there is something sad about the look of the land. One never sees an acre gained from the forest; around the pasture-lands there is often a belt where the wood marks its gain upon the cultured tract. It is questionable whether more than one third of Massachusetts was ever at one time cleared from its forests. If things go as they are now going, there will be much less than that within the century. One industry seems to be flourishing: cattle-raising is on the gain; the few new roofs one sees are evidently for cow-sheds, and the large milk-cans by the roadside are manifestly awaiting the cheese-factory wag on. The farmers, who have evidently ceased to look to their annual crops for a support, seem to have more heart in this last work than in any other. The fact seems to be that the soil of this country has much run down by half-culture. The stones decay slowly, and cannot, like the limestone soils of Kentucky or Virginia, give new material as fast as the old is worn away by culture. Each year of the two centuries of culture has brought a certain waste, until the capital of the farmer has been consumed. It would seem as if the cheap device of the Western farmer, clearing more land, might be resorted to; but clearing land here is no easy work. When the soil is stripped of the forest, the work is but begun; there are the stones which must be buried or piled in broad fence-walls before the thin soil is reached. When this is done the clearing has cost from fifty to one hundred dollars per acre, four or five times as much as the rich prairie soil would cost. There is one good symptom about the agriculture here: there are now and then signs that the country capitalists are taking to farming as an occupation of leisure. Such men can make new experiments without risking everything on the result of the trial, as the farmer who farms for a livelihood must do. Moreover, the man of the land may think better of his occupation when he finds that it is looked upon with favor by his richer neighbors. There are signs of the revival of the English love of land for lands sake, which has done more to keep up English agriculture than all the profit of the work. If we can only get the calculating Yankee to feel that a thousand acres pays at least three per cent interest in dignity and the imperceptible but weighty emoluments of social life, he will get it and value it; until then he prefers a larger profit from a shoe factory. Nothing shows better the tangential force with which the Pilgrims flew away from the old English orbit, than the absence of all desire for land and tenants; that feeling, so strong in the old stock, has been utterly absent during the two centuries of the past.

Our second camp was near Worcester, at the west end of the bridge over Long Pond. Next day we struck away from the railway into the high country in which lie the towns of Barre and New Braintree. The rise of some hundred feet above Worcester led us into a region where the old stock was purer than before. The foreign tide which sweeps into New England follows the great routes of travel and gathers on the lowlands. It is rare to find it more than four hundred feet above the sea. On this, the highest part of Massachusetts east of the Berkshire Hills, we find the people what their climate, institutions, and forefathers made them. The result is good; better, perhaps, than can be found in any equally isolated people in the world. There is a manifest improvement in the average physical condition since we passed the centre of the State, and this notwithstanding the fact that for a century the population has been drained of its youth and vigor to feed the great West. The fact that the best and the most vigorous have been selected, and the feeble left to breed, must be always kept in mind if we would get a true measure of the natural results of the influences of this region, mental, moral, and physical. The drain of people to other regions is more evident here than before; though the fields have been kept under culture, from time to time one sees deserted houses, — four or five, I should think, during the day.

Our camp was made in a pelting rainstorm, in a large pine wood of second growth, where the ground was covered with moss; digging this away, we managed to get a solid basis of dry earth, and, as our tents only leaked at one or two points, we were quite comfortable. Having got through a severe easterly storm, we felt quite sure of our equipments, and willing to look all the risks of the journey in the face. The early morning found us in the valley of Ware, near a charming stream which heads in the high land between the Connecticut and the Nashua, and falls with picturesque rapidity into the Connecticut. The many mills, with their clustered villages about them, and a new railway, gave a look of active life such as we had not seen in seventy miles. The Yankee has a remarkable appreciation of water-power; he follows the streams from the time they begin to be trout-brooks to the sea, seizing every chance to plant a mill, and get, by overshot, undershot, or turbine, a share of the solar force embodied in the stream.

Our route carried us by a shorter way than the river course to the Connecticut Valley. We came into that lovely region at Belchertown which, though separated from the river by a local uplift of trap rocks, is still in the great valley itself. The descent from the sterile uplands, its eastern boundary, into this valley, lovelier than the Hudson though not so grand, affords a wonderful contrast, reminding one of the transition from the rugged highlands of the Alps to the fertile plain of Switzerland. Our road lay through Northampton, and a détour of a few miles enabled us to visit Amherst College. Surely there is no school in the world so admirably placed as to the teaching power of an exquisite scenery; far enough within the valley to secure the fertility and shelter which it gives, yet sufficiently above it to obtain ample views up and down and over the broad and far-reaching vale. The college itself is one of the most satisfactory of our American institutions. Without pretending to do more than it is in the power of any institution which has neither the growth of centuries nor the strength of a kingdom for its support, it does thoroughly well the work required by the future of most of our American youth. The buildings are generally simple and in good taste, and the village of Amherst is in happy accord with the college to which it owes its growth; a few broad, but unpretending streets, happily free from the stupid “blocks” which degrade with civic pretence the look of many of our American villages, well-individualized dwellings, half a dozen churches, two of them really charming bits of modern Gothic, and all free from undue ostentation, make up the town.2

We left the broad terrace on which Amherst stands, and went down into the wide grain-fields which border the Connecticut River. The valley is as charming in its near as in its distant aspect. The annual floods, which spread the muddy waters of the river far and wide over the grain and tobacco fields along its banks, give an extraordinary richness to the soil, the more remarkable from the sterility of the bordering bills. To these floods we owe also the absence of fences and houses on a large part of the bottom land, — a charming feature, as the foreground of the view loses the choppiness so common to an American landscape. Over the mile-wide fields to the southward rises the rugged wall of Mount Holyoke, only a thousand feet high, but springing with such suddenness from the plain that the eye accepts it as a mountain. A gap, evidently the work of the river, though we do not see the stream, separates the serrated ridge from the more uniform outline of Mount Tom, which continues the line of hills to some twelve miles away in more massive curves. To the northward we have some noble trap-hills such as diversify the valley of the Rhine from Bingen to Cologne. There they would each have some tottering masonry to top them, — robber castles or ruined windmills alike serving to hang some romance upon; in default of these we may admire the stately trees which crown them, and are, in their way, a nobler capping than the crumbling den of any mediæval toll-gatherer. The town of Northampton, which lies about six miles from Amherst and through which our road lay, rises over the level plain in a very stately fashion. The lofty hill in the centre of the town—where there should be either a church or a castle, according to the Old World precedents which we instinctively apply to this wonderfully European scene—is topped by a rather fine-looking building, once the famous Round Hill School, and now a water-cure. Northampton is a singularly well-balanced town. A little trade, a little manufacturing, a good deal of resident capital, agricultural interests, — all combine to support a charming little city. It is a good place for one to get an impression of the population of the valley, as there has been less influx of foreign population than in most New England towns of this size. The people look more stalwart than those we have been passing among for the last few days. Except for the difference in hue, one might often mistake persons here for English people of the most beefy sort. The women, especially, look in better condition than I have ever seen them in New England.

Down the Connecticut Valley there have naturally flowed, from their homes near its source, large numbers of Canadian French. In all the factories and among the navvies on the railway there are many of these people to he found. Those who believe that the infertility of the French people in France has anything to do with the race should look at the history of our American French. There are reasons for believing that, from the few thousand colonists who settled the region about the river and gulf of St. Lawrence during the seventeenth and the early part of the eighteenth centuries, there has sprung a population of not less than a million and a half of souls. This increase has been more rapid than that of the English dwellers in the same region, and the fecundity of the stock at the present time is probably greater than that of any other branch of the Aryan race. Of this people over half a million souls are now within the United States, and each year there is a great movement over the border line which separates their country from our own. Should they keep their marvellously rapid rate of increase, they will be to this State the great source of supply for laboring classes during the century to come. It may seem like a strange, but I am sure that it is not an improbable, result, that the old English blood of the tillers of New England soil should be washed out by that of a French colony. The conditions all favor it: the attitudes of the two nations in Europe are reversed, the French are to the north of the English here; the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” is losing that breeding power which has for so long been one of his most distinguishing physical characteristics, while the Frenchman has gained what his race once wanted, this same power of multiplying. It is not a pleasant thing for any one who has seen the wonderful influence of New England in this country, to think of its yeoman class being swept away by any other stock in the world; but there can be no doubt that it would be better to have this branch of the Celtic people than the other, which has threatened to overwhelm us for so long, — better the French than the Irish. Though exposed to more change in climate and conditions than any other of the American colonies, these Frenchmen have changed less than any other of our stocks, — a reason to hope a good future for them. The Acadian is a true French peasant, his speech a little changed but nothing more; in size, manner, habits, and propensities, he is wonderfully near to his origin. Mingled with the Yankee population, the Canadians become a frugal, industrious, even hard-working people, somewhat given t6 drink and rather immoral, but with none of that shiftlessness which belongs to the Irishman of the same grade. Our hostler is a “Kanuck” of the Canada region. He is a little fellow, but very vigorous, energetic, plausible, able to make his way with his tongue to much advantage, careful of his money, and anxious to get it. With a name which might once have been noble, and a person which looks gentlemanly with the slightest aid of dress, he is still only a good specimen of the peasant-folk of his race.

From our quiet camp, on a pleasant glade within a deep wood a few miles west of Northampton, we began our climb up the slopes which lead into the Berkshire Hills, — the Massachusetts section of the great Appalachian chain. We mount from the valley by the easy stages of a road which leads up a pretty brook where the well-husbanded water turns a few mills; and every mile or two gives us a little village which seems to have made something out of the brook, for there is on every hand evidence of comfort and even of wealth. As we get some ten miles away from Northampton, the road rises faster, the branches of the stream no longer give enough water to turn the smallest wheels, and so are left to themselves.

The road grows steeper, the soil more sterile, as we ascend the mountain. Our afternoon journey was through the most barren part of the country we had yet seen. It is evident that we have left old New England behind. There is a great deal of the frontier look of the far West, but not such as the best blood of New England makes. The school-houses begin to be poor, the farm-houses meaner, and the barns smaller than before. Very often the people remind me of those in Western Pennsylvania, or other regions far away from New England influences. There must be less of the Puritan leaven here than elsewhere in Massachusetts. But though there be little to tempt the settler or to keep the youth on the land, nature is very beautiful. The woods are fine, and varied in their admixture of deciduous and evergreen trees, as nearly all Massachusetts woods are, but richer in their detail than any I have ever seen. Ever since we passed Framingham, the ferns have been increasing in numbers and luxuriance; but as we ascend these steep hillsides to a thousand feet or more above the sea, they become a wonderful element of beauty; not a brook tumbles down the rocky hillside, but it is festooned with ferns and bordered or cased in mosses. Every dark dell is carpeted with them, and in the swampy places they are brave enough to face the sun in full luxuriance. Here we get the kalmias in abundance; after passing Worcester we begin to find stragglers, evidently the outposts of some great field where they abound; now the paths are bordered by their exquisite bells, richer and richer as we climb higher, until they surpass in floral effect anything I have ever seen. In the Alps the flowers are incomparably more varied than in our American mountains; but when our kalmias, rhododendrons, or asters are in their prime, what can equal them? There is such a rush of water from these hills, that I am tempted to believe that we must underestimate the inches of rain-fall here, as we have done in most parts of our Alleghany chain. Every hill seems to have its brook, with water which is far better than in any mountain region I have traversed. What there may have been in the way of mineral material soluble in water has long since been washed away; each spring is equal to the others in purity.

Our sixth camp was made with some difficulty. So steep were all the slopes by the roadsides, that it took much pushing and pulling of our wagons to get far enough away to find seclusion. It was a lovely place, however; a brook, whose source was far up the steep mountain-side, tame leaping out of the darkness of the wood which clung to the slope, lingered a moment on the terrace where we had ensconced ourselves, and then went clamoring down the glen. There was abundant shade, with the dryness which is found in the densest of those mountain woods. The morning brought with it a freshness which of itself was sign enough that we were well above the sea. For some hours the next day our road still lay upward, until at Peru we found ourselves at the highest point on the old highway between Boston and the great Western country. A more modern road-maker would have carried his road a little roundabout, to have saved half a thousand feet of height. This way was laid, however, at the time when the Puritans put more directness into their works, when they attacked a hill with something of the spirit with which they assaulted less substantial oppositions. One would like to think that it was the noble view which brought them so far against gravitation. There is no great mountain effect, for one is too much surrounded with country of the same level; but the long ridges with their processional pines, the deep valleys with their glancing streams seen through the limpid upland air, made a picture that was very beautiful.

Once over the mountain summit, the down grades enabled us to travel rapidly towards New York. A few hours carried us to Pittsfield, far more New Englandish in its look than the villages we had passed during the day; exquisitely placed where the broad valley of the Housatonic is overlooked by the hills of the east and west members of the Berkshire Range. Out of the town our road led by way of a pretty brook up to a pass through the Canaan Range. The rock is the ancient Stockbridge limestone, the oldest work of life upon this continent. But all traces of its builders have disappeared. It is now a very crystalline rock, with no fossils, looking sometimes as white as statuary marble. While we are upon it we have soft outlines and a richer soil than usual; but it sucks the water into its caves in such a fashion that we look long without finding a camp.

When we left the limestone we climbed the steeper rocks beyond, and found ourselves on the border line of Massachusetts and in sight of the valley of the Hudson. The view was enchanting; past the rugged foreground of the barren hill-tops, the eye ranged over the broad valley of the Hudson. We were high enough to look down into several lesser valleys, tributaries of the great stream, and to see in the distance the lower mountain-chains which run parallel to the ridges we have been crossing, and in the farther distance the bordering hills beyond the river. Our camp-ground was on the skirts of one of the Shaker villages, in a wood which belonged to the community. The Elders, a little alarmed at this Gentile invasion, mustered in force, but, good, gentlemen, were appeased with a kindly word, and welcomed us to the inexpensive hospitality we sought. Our camp-ground was on the hithermost side of their settlements, we were told and our mornings travel soon brought us into the country where these people had taken up all the land with their communities. The soil is very fertile indeed; the Shakers show the skill of the old monks in planting themselves in the most fruitful regions. Our hosts were only an outpost of the greater communities some miles farther east. Their home was a simple farmhouse and buildings, with one or two frigid-looking barracks for the required isolation of the sexes, and a bigger barn to house their good harvests. In time they hoped to grow as rich as the mother colony; and to this aggrandizement of their family, as the old souls called it, they will toil out their declining years with all the devotion that the conscious founder of a great house could feel. The country we have journeyed through has been cleanly and neat, but here we have order as an inevitable law. The first Shaker settlement we visited seemed like a deserted village; all the men and most of the women were away at their work. One good woman was left, however, who took us over the grounds. She was greatly interested in the child of our party, and showed, in her way, how impossible it is, even with forty years of this life, to change the woman’s instincts. To me the great barn was the most interesting of their economies; it was a wonder of convenience, and more novel than any other thing I have seen here, — a circular stone building, one hundred and fifty feet across and forty feet to the eaves, with a cone roof and a central lantern; a driveway from the hillside led to a huge door, through which the loaded hay-wagons could drive to a staging which carried the roadway quite around the inside of the building. A dozen wagons could unload at once, heaping their burdens into the vast central space. Beneath the roadway were stalls for beasts, who in the long winter were to empty the great central garner. At this season it was empty, and its vast space, lighted by the central lantern and fretted with its cobwebbed beams, was very imposing, — a sort of agricultural Pantheon.

As we come to the principal village, we are struck by the evident wealth of the people; it looks the best-built village I have ever seen. The houses have one and all the look of extreme economy, not a penny being devoted to ornament, but every need of stability consulted.

As we needed another horse for some of our party who had found that twenty miles a day afoot was more than a man was made for, it was thought better to trust to the proverbial fairness of these people than take the risk of buying at any chance by the roadside. A boy—something of a phenomenon here, where life has no provision for boys—who was ploughing by the roadside, said that the boss of his family had one to sell. It was the only horse I ever saw over ten years of age, by the sellers reckoning; and his faults were given equal show with his virtues. The boss sent word that we could take or leave the horse, as we pleased, at the price fixed. Searching behind the scenes for this person, I found a silent man with a face of strong lines, but of fixed, almost fiercely stolid, expression. The bargaining, which brought but few low-toned words from him, did not in the least interrupt his work of finishing a withe-bottomed chair; his eyes followed his hands, and not his words. I doubt whether he saw me at all, or whether the matter, germane as it was to his life-work, broke the loneliness which seemed to surround him as it might some ascetic of old. At the communal store there was a buxom, pretty woman, who seemed as much in the world as the sour-faced boss was out of it. One may go a day’s journey without finding a brighter picture than this happy woman, seemingly busy with a thousand things, and without one trace of care. She showed us the sleeping-rooms of the sisters, which were miracles of neatness and taste, with a little less of a lived-in look than would be desirable if they are to pass as specimens of the actual quarters of the women; sold us with skill all and more than we wanted from the store; found time to see that we had bought the horse from Elder So-and-so’s family; told us which foot he was lame in, how it befell, and other minutiæ. All the folk I have seen are evidently of American birth, and few carry the stamp of much intelligence. Their physical condition seems excellent temperance has left its mark everywhere.

Another sudden transition as we enter New York; a great change, and that for the worse, from all we have left behind. We come at once upon a people of a different origin; the growth is no longer from the Puritan seed, which seemed to have sprouted anew in the hard-faced folk we have just left. German, Dutch, and Irish faces are mingled on the streets, and their names entangled—O’s, Vons, and Vans—together on the signs of the villages. The bar-rooms appear, and when not in sight are well advertised by the blear eyes and red noses carried by about one in five of the adult men. The sacred door-yard with its paling, propylæ to the domestic temple, has begun to go. The crowded dwellings jostle each other on the street line. The homes are less orderly, though, in a rougher way, as good as those in Yankee land. Strong facesthere are, — broad Hollandish people, big-bellied and churlish; handsome when young, but generally looking a bit too animal-like when grown. The women are also stronger-looking than in New England, but less refined; children seem more plentiful. One sees the Dutch or German blood in nearly half the people; but the Dutch cleanliness, if it had been invented when our American offshoot left the parent bulb, has not survived here. The want of homogeneity makes a painful impression after one has travelled through New England, where, despite the much-talked-of expulsion of the original stock, the impression made upon the traveller’s eye is singularly homogeneous.

Our road carried us through Albany, whence our way was over a series of bad country-roads towards the Scoharie Valley. As we ascend the table-land at the base of the Helderberg Mountains, we get broader and broader views over the Hudson Valley; it is so wide that it seems more like a plain bordered by mountains than the excavation of the river which flows through it.

The population of the country west of Albany is well-to-do until we leave the fertile section; but the general American aversion to poor land is shown as soon as we get into the more sterile region on the flanks of the Helderbergs. Our nooning, the first day’s journey beyond Albany, was in a mean village where there was scarcely a trace of culture, and not a little of what came as close to squalor as could well be. There were no less than twenty men who seemed to have nothing better to do than to support the bar-room by constant application of their bodies to its walls, and its contents to their stomachs. Fortunately for us, the attention which our unwilling delay in the town aroused was divided by the diverting spectacle of an old farmer trying to hive a swarm of bees. The bees were gathered upon a branch of a pear-tree which overhung the road some ten feet from the ground, in a writhing, unhappy mass, as is their custom. The old fellow, his head wrapped in an apron, was beating a tin pan and shouting inanely. From time to time an ungyved prance showed that one of the offended communists had put a little young blood into the would-be appropriator of their labor. The loafers of the town bawled brave advice from a safe distance, abounded in post factum wisdom, and shouted their satisfaction every time the old fellow showed that he was bit. As we slipped away from the town a louder shout announced that either success or failure had ended the affair. As we got beyond the poor land on the northernmost spurs of the Helderbergs, and began to enter upon the fertile fields of the Mohawk Valley, we came upon more comfort and decency. The grain fields widen and deepen as we go on, and the richness of their hue is something wonderful. Poultry, so rare and dear in Massachusetts, is now becoming plenty; and all along the palings in front of the farms hang long rows of tin or earthen milk-vessels getting that mysterious something sunshine is supposed to give. Our cook’s labors in search of the wherewithal for a meal are lightened, and it looks as if we shall have a good dinner for the Fourth of July that comes to-morrow.

Our long and hot day’s journey ended by the side of a lovely little lake, where, on a high bank covered with pines, through the branches of which we looked down upon the placid waters, and over upon a woodland bathed in the sunset, we found grateful repose. A universal bath—for even the horses were made to swim, and the wagons were washed—fitted us all to enjoy our evening meal and our sleep on the fragrant pine straw.

We left our camp-ground early, in order to make way for a picnic that was to occupy the same ground, and took our course towards the Scoharie Valley. Our pace was slower, for we were now on ground where every step was a revelation concerning the life of the early time when the lands were building beneath the sea; nearly every step rested upon some fossil which was one round of the great ladder of life.

All the country was pouring towards the town of Scoharie. There was nothing in the town itself, — a rather pretty village on one long street, — but the people were happy with the small sensation to be got from the slightest accidents of an unwonted crowd. Here we found the cabinet of an old gentleman who for a long lifetime had been gathering together the fossils of this country. His treasures were in an old shop beneath generations of dust, heaped in a disorder as great as that of the original deposition. The heap had overflowed the shop and had filled the sheds of the rear and was piled in cairns in the yard. He was a cheery person, with a bevy of children around him, — a dozen little girls, who, in their holiday clothes, played hide-and-seek among his stacks of stones.

Scoharie Creek has a lovely valley, amazingly fertile; it is also very picturesque. The settlers are the descend-ants of Hollanders and Germans, with a sprinkling of Americans. I have never seen a healthier-looking population. As we travelled on we passed, in the afternoon, the village of Middleburg. Here was a throng of many thousands waiting for a procession of maskers on horseback; sidewalks, fences, windows, and house-tops were packed with people. There could not have been fewer than four thousand children in a crowd of five thousand or so. The sturdy look of the little ones, and the handsome, buxom women, make one sure that, whatever the fate of our race elsewhere, there is no loss of power here. Shortly came the maskers, thirty or so on horseback, tricked out in fantastic disguises; they rode down the street amid hootings and peltings. Our road was the same, so we, taken by most as a part of the show, shared in the carnival pranks. All night long tipsy revellers went roistering down the road beside which we camped, their whiskey hardly dampened by the pelting rain. The next day our camp was besieged by those who took us for gypsies; there came lovers, hand in hand, to have their fortunes told, who would not be undeceived, taking our refusals as mere pretexts for a larger charge than usual for the vaticination. It is the end of our undisturbed life. In Massachusetts every one took pains not to see us; many a man who would, I dare say, have given a pretty thing to know what our queer caravan meant, fixed his eyes very resolutely before him, and looked only from their corners. Here we are beset by curiosity. Yet with all drawbacks, our journey was pleasanter than before. As the valley narrowed it became more picturesque, and here on the watershed between the Hudson and the Delaware we have lovely views as far as the Catskill Range, — a blue, serrated line, with a few noble peaks, rising across the wilderness which looks untrodden. Here again the land is poor and the crops shrunk to half their former size. One of the natives assured me that it was impossible to keep a woman on less than one hundred acres of land! With the infertile land comes a meaner race, bad roads, no school-houses, and more bad whiskey. As the palm redeems the desert, so the laurel (Rhododendron maximum) redeems these sombre woods. We came upon it first on the Beaver Kill, a branch of the east fork of the Delaware; almost with the first flower came forests of it, every woodland path was made a fairy way with their myriad bells. Great bloom-laden branches swept into your face, and here and there the streams were whitened with the flakes of the fallen petals.

We spent several unhappy days on the bad roads, torn by continuous rains, which traverse this country, and at length succeeded in getting over into the vast, depressed plain which lies between the Catskill plateau and the Shawangunk Hills. As we came out of our wilderness the view out into this noble valley was enchanting; the foreground was as brilliant as culture could make it, and over the vast stretch of tilled and grazing land rose the stately arches of the Shawangunk Hills. In them we see the first trace of the symmetrical mountains we are to find in Pennsylvania. To the southward the valley down which our road lay was limited only by low rolling country, which we knew to be the border of the Delaware. Here already we begin to come upon the Germans of Pennsylvania. The barns begin to grow bigger, and the fields to have the cared-for look so characteristic of that people. The English people lose their thrift much easier than the Germans. Two centuries of struggle with the rude difficulties of our forests often break down their economical spirit, while the German preserves his intact. Out of the squalor and thriftlessness of the poor region we have traversed for several days, we come to the “Pennsylvania Dutch” with a sense of æsthetic relief.

This is part one of a three-part series. Read part two here and part three here.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

  1. For our shelter we carried four tents; the two largest nine feet by twelve, with the side-walls four feet high. One of these was provided with a floor of oil-cloth and a bright red woollen carpet, which served to give a look of warmth on many a rainy night and chilling mountain morning. Our beds were upon a simple plan which has proved useful on several journeys. A piece of sail-cloth three feet and a half wide is folded and sewed on the edges so as to make holes, through which stout turned rods of ash one and a half inches thick can be passed. This forms the bottom and sides of the bed. Two bits of plank a foot wide and three feet three inches long, with two holes near one border of each, three feet apart, form the head and foot. As separate pieces these pack readily, and weigh only about twenty pounds or less. When put together, they make a bed as soft as a hammock and as snug as a cradle.
  2. One thing the proudest university of Europe might well envy Amherst; it is the collection of fossil footprints which fills the lower story of one of the largest halls of the college. As it is by far the most remarkable collection of any kind in America, one of the noteworthy geological monuments of the world, it deserves more than passing notice. At a mid-stage in the history of life on nor earth, when land-life had just come out of the sombre clothing of the carboniferous time, the Connecticut Valley was already a broad trough, as it is now; but it was then filled by an sins of the sea up which the tides swept, and poured over the broad, marshy flats on either side. The museum contains a hundred or more slabs of this marsh-mud made up of the sand washed from the ancient hills, which still send their tribute to the valley, cemented with iron grains; and from these we see that, in that distant time, this valley had a strange peopling. Gigantic creatures, sharing the characters of reptile and bird, stalked along its shores, some with forelegs which were brought, from time to time, to the ground, as are those of a kangaroo; others with the free biped stride of the ostrich, though with a stretch which a man can hardly make in a bound, and a depth of imprint which seems to show a weight of many hundreds of pounds. Among these giants, which seem to have been as numerous as cranes in a Southern swamp, ran a host of lesser creatures, more birdlike than the others, down to forms as tiny as our sparrows. Some slabs are trodden into shapelessness by these prints; and they seem to point to thousands on thousands of the creatures who made them. All this stone is from little quarries, which altogether do not represent much more than an acre of area in the valley.