"Country Life," New York Times, April 14, 1872.



Country Life


Experiences of a Family in Search of a Suburban Home
How to Build in the Country--The Annoyances and Pleasures
Fever and Ague and Gardening--Humorous Description of Life at
Paradise Park

Paradise Park, N.J., April 1872

You tell me that you find housekeeping in New-York too expensive for your means, and ask my advice about migrating to the suburbs. You shall have our experiences from beginning to end, and then draw your own conclusions.

We came out here because we had outgrown our quarters in the City. We had boarded for several years in a very pleasant and comfortable way; but in the mean time our boys, ALECK and BOB, had grown to be a boisterous pair of youngsters, as uneasy at being cooped up in our two rooms as we grown people should find ourselves if packed in a dry-goods box. They were running over with fun and frolic, and being limited to our apartments kept them much of the time in a state little short of Bedlam.

"We must make a change," my husband said, very decidedly, after a scene of more than ordinary uproar and confusion.

To take a house in the City, such as would suit us, was beyond our means, and as JOHN was sure we should not like living on a flat, we decided upon a home in the suburbs. After considerable looking about, we finally selected this for our location, as it was said to combine all possible suburban charms and advantages. It was easy of access from New-York, the scenery was beautiful, chills and fever unknown, mosquitoes warranted not to molest, schools and churches well established, taxes very light--a mere trifle--and property increasing so rapidly in value that purchasers were safe to double, if not treble, their money in five years. What more could a reasonable mortal desire? Clearly nothing, and Paradise Park was accordingly pitched upon as our future home.

Then came the delightful task of planning our house, the crowning difficulty in which was that of suiting at the same time both taste and means. When one knows to a T the style and proportions of the garment one covets, how very disagreeable it is to be obliged to cut according to the cloth; particularly if, as in our case, the cloth be not over abundant.

Our land, consisting of six city lots, cost a couple of thousand, and the raking and scraping together of all the odds and ends gave us another five thousand, one thousand of which had to be laid aside for furnishing the house, when built. After trying innumerable plans, we at last hit upon what seemed to be the only way out of our difficulties. We planned the sort of house we would like to build, and then, having submitted it to our architect, and received an estimate of its cost, we proceeded, with rueful faces, you may be sure, to leave out a bay-window here and a gable-window there, and to lop off now and then a coveted adornment, until we had at last a house within the limit of our means. Though shorn of much of its former glory, we thought it would still make a good show. The foundations were laid with the first softening of the frozen earth in March, and for a time such rapid progress was made that I felt sure the house would be completed and ready for occupation long before the promised time--the 1st of August.

"Don't be too sanguine; these contractors are slippery fellows," our architect said to me; and uncomfortably slippery we found them, when August arrived, and our house still awaiting its first dab of plaster.

There was nothing for it, however, but to possess our souls in patience, which we continued to do until November; and then, when nipping frosts and cold rains, and dismally-whistling winds had come to be the order of the day, we moved from the city, where we had sweltered through an uncommonly hot Summer, to our country house.

There is no romance about moving, even into one's own new house. So it was no fault of the suburbs that our bureaus came to us minus a handle or two, bedsteads with incurable wounds about their heads, tables with crippled legs and scratched faces, or sofas with broken springs. Badly as our household goods suffered, our household gods fared no better. Our beautiful DANTE had his nose broken, and his laurel-crowned head cruelly scalped. JOHN mourned bitterly over him. He took him in his arms, tenderly stroking his bald pate, and sat down to see if anything could be done for him. But alas! for the poor poet, he was doomed, for the next moment DANTE and JACK lay sprawling on the floor. He had sat down on one of our new parlor chairs that had a broken leg, but though JACK was none the worse for being taken down a peg or so, it was all up with DANTE. He was past patching up. JOHN made extraordinary purchases in glue and patent cements, and we mended whatever was susceptible of it. Articles which were gone past redemption we agreed were not worth mourning over, and when every room was arranged, the curtains all up, the pictures hung, and the last finishing touches given, nothing could exceed the admiration we felt for our new home. Had we been dwellers in the veritable Paradise, minus the park, we could scarcely have been more jubilant than we were in this first flush of home enjoyment.

There was one fact, however, bearing strongly upon our comfort which had entered very little into our calculations, which was that New-Jersey is liable to the very wintry inconvenience of snow. Not that snow is to be looked upon as an affliction or inconvenience when one is the happy possessor of a spanking team with a man to drive it, or even of a solitary nag; but when one has neither, and there are no paths made, and the snow, though it looks so smooth and fair, lies treacherously deep, it is a nuisance to say the least. JOHN certainly took that view of it when he gazed out of the window one morning upon the first snow of the season. The wind was blowing it into long ridges and deep banks, and whirling it wildly through the air, and when he started for the depot I watched him as his long legs went up and down, in and out among the white depths, and thought what hard work it was. "Poor, dear JOHN!" I said to myself, and left the window with a lump in my throat. You may be sure I was glad to see him come riding home at night, though his establishment was of the very queerest. A tall, gaunt white horse, with a curious hitch in its gait, and a sleigh that might once have carried some jolly Dutch farmer and his buxom frau, for it was very capacious. JOHN had engaged the turnout for the Winter, thinking that anything was better than making a snow-plow of himself, as he had done in the morning.

This establishment, with a vehicle on wheels a little less antiquated than the sleigh, proved to be the entire contents of the Park livery stable, the driver being also the proprietor. Five dollars a week was his price, which was scandalous, it being considerably less than a mile from our house to the depot. But you see the foxy Irishman had the advantage for it was PATRICK or nothing.

For several weeks JOHN got on very well with his Hibernian. Little was saved in the matter of time, to be sure, but much in wear and tear of the flesh, so he was satisfied. But after a time JOHN was left one evening to walk home in a furious snow storm. PATRICK appeared next morning with his neck done up in what appeared to be a small bed-blanket. He had had a convenient attack of rheumatism; then punctuality in the morning came to be only a remembrance, so JOHN having waited as long as he dared sometimes started on foot, meeting his conveyance on the road. Finally, having been left on one occasion to walk the whole distance to the depot, he arrived there just in time to see PATRICK drive up with his sleigh full of people. PAT was dumbfounded. He had calculated upon landing his passengers in time to escape JOHN, but he was fairly caught, though his Irish wit came to the rescue. "Be jabers," said he, an' this is an ondacent way o' traitin' ye, Sirr. I had plenty o' time to fetch ye; but Dexter--the onchristian owld brute--dropped hisself down in the road, and I lost thirty-five minutes a histen' him on his legs agin." JOHN knew the fellow was lying, so he told him to go the _____; he wouldn't take passage with him any longer. Of course this was very wicked in JOHN, though I think he had strong provocation. He paid dearly, however, for it, for there was rough weather still in store for him.

That JOHN suffered sorely from the elements during our first Winter in the country cannot be denied. Even his evenings he was not sure of, and it used to make my heart ache to see him stretch himself wearily after dinner, take a longing look at arm-chair, dressing-gown and slippers, then shoulder his shovel and go out to dig paths in the snow. JOHN found shoveling snow to be tolerably steady employment, for no sooner did he get rid of one when another came along. Then the river was often so obstructed by ice that the boats were an hour or more in crossing; and when a thaw succeeded to the intensely cold weather, the delays from fog were as frequent. To these annoyances were added the accidents upon the Erie Railroad, with the occasional result of an evening in the tunnel. I happened to be with JOHN on one of these occasions, when I spent from three to four hours in that delightfully airy and interesting place.

Upon the whole, this was the most trying Winter JOHN had ever experienced, though he never complained. But when Spring came, and then Summer, life became a different affair. JOHN succeeded, by dint of coaxing and extra pay, in securing the services of a man for one day to each week, into which he contrived to put all the jobs which most needed attention. Then the days grew long and sunny, with bright, fresh mornings and soft, balmy evenings, with ample time for something besides work and travel. The robins and blue-birds came and sang to us, built their nests and raised their little ones in our cedars. We had green fields all about us, thickets full of wild roses, the air smelling sweet with the breath of clover, with nothing to hide from us the beautiful western hills. We took walks in the fields and by the river, we played croquet on our lawn, worked in our garden, where we raised the most luscious peas, the sweetest corn, and such melons, the mere mention of which makes all our mouths water. I had my flower-beds, too, in which my satisfaction would have been complete had it net been for the depredations of two dogs belonging to a neighbor. To Tony and Trip life offered no higher enjoyment than frantic racing over field and garden. If, in the course of their antics, somebody's flower-beds came in their way--why, so much the worse for the flower-beds. Mine were, unfortunately, a favorite point in the race-course, and the two dogs tore ruthlessly through them, scattering earth and seeds in the winds, or ended the race with a frantic roll and tumble in their very midst. Tony was a great black New-Foundland, with wisdom enough in that sagacious-looking face of his to have taught him better manners. Such a noble-looking dog learns, while Trip was an insignificant little whelp of no particular breed. They were terrible pests. The flowers contrived to grow, however, in spite of canine raids, and I had at last a thriving little wilderness of bright colors and sweet odors, while John went to town every morning sporting fresh blossoms in his button-hole.

Contrary to our expectations the mosquito tribes came to the Park that year to stay. Whether they had come to the Park prospecting, or whether this was really an old resort of theirs, we never learned. Wire screens and mosquito nettings were the order of the day and night, for they came in multitudes.

But mosquitoes were a small evil in comparison with that which was yet to come, for with dismay we learned that in the fresh earth there lurked that dreadful disease, fever and ague. With all our extra care and caution we were not able to dodge it. I was the first to come down. I immediately swallowed a small handful of quinine pills and quietly went to bed. The next victim was JOHN. It was to no purpose that he had steamed through morning fogs in an overcoat, and carried that cumbersome garment on his arm with the thermometer at 95 in the shade for fear of a change in the weather. He came home one day at noon in a bona fide shake, with his lips the color of lead-pipe and his teeth chattering as though they would drop out. Poor JOHN had a serious time, being able to give very little attention to his business for the next three weeks, and at the end of that time he was very weak. ALECK also took his turn at the chills, BOB alone escaping. The rest of us continued to shiver and burn at regular intervals until the November frosts came kindly to our rescue and routed the ague.

The chills worked havoc in my kitchen also. At their first approach BRIDGET, who had been with me ever since we came to the Park, and who was quite a treasure, immediately gave warning. I suggested that she should wait and find out whether she was going to have the chills, but BRIDGET was too wise for that, and departed, so I set out upon the wearisome task of filling her place. The first person whom I encountered in an intelligence office was a young woman who had left Paradise Park a week previous, after a fortnight of chills which had worked mischief with a temper originally none too sweet. This exasperated female made such a terrible hullabaloo about the "shaky owld Park," that my chance at that office was ruined. I betook myself to another, where I was catechized severely concerning the various conveniences of my house. The women all refused to go, so I pounced upon a one-eyed girl sitting in the corner, who was too stupid to ask questions or make objections, and though a most unpromising specimen, I looked upon her as the forlorn hope, made a bargain with her, and had her on the way to the ferry before she had more than half found out what she was about; only, however, to repent of my desperation, for before one-eyed KATY's first week was over she had sprinkled salt on the berries, seasoned the soup with ginger, broken three cut-glass goblets, and upset a lamp filled with kerosene-oil upon the parlor carpet. I was compelled to give her a ticket of leave, and I did the best I could without help.

I have held the financial question in reserve, preferring to sum up at the end of our first year at the Park. Not but that we had balanced our accounts every month--much at first to our surprise, when the sum total loomed up large and round to the amount of $150, or thereabouts. We soon learned, however, that suburban butchers and grocers, with little or no competition, could set their own prices, and our bills would run up accordingly; for we do, in fact, pay far more for everything that goes on our table than the same thing would cost us in New-York. Then there are the taxes; $60 a year for this little place--"a mere trifle," you know; $25 for insurance, $70 for commutation, besides the numberless small outgoes necessary for the keeping up of a place. So you will not be surprised to learn that three thousand dollars barely covered our first year's house-keeping expenses.

We did not come here because it was a cheap place in which to live, and we certainly shall not stay here for that reason. There is, however, another reason which may induce us to remain, viz: that we can't get away, since no one will buy our place at any price approaching its cost.

Such has been our experience. If the story has made you enamored of suburban life you can any day buy a home here at a bargain. Terms easy, possession immediate.

D. D.



F&M College/American Studies/David Schuyler
Sept. 1, 1996