John Burroughs' "Slabsides" Cabin
West Park, NY - May 17, 2014
I have to admit I have not heard of John Burroughs before, author and conservationist in the late 1800s to early 1900s, but our local paper said the log cabin he built at Esopus, NY will be open to the public for one day only. So armed with our cameras and tripod, Vi and I went to take some photos.

John Burroughs was an essayist whose works were published in leading magazines and 27 books. His grandchildren today like to tell the story of how he was married to a woman, Ursula, who had a thing for keeping the house clean. John on the other hand “refused to take housekeeping as seriously as she did.” She even advised her husband to give up writing and try carpentry instead. In the end, the gulf that separated their attitudes regarding cleanliness was so vast that he built himself a log cabin in the woods in 1895 where he could then get some peace and quiet writing his essays in isolation away from his wife who came at the most inopportune moments when he was in his best mood to write with her chores that ruined his train of thought. His log cabin, always unkempt but very rustic, he settled on the name “Slabsides”.

His essays have been gaining admirers and soon visitors started pouring in to his cabin. Not just by the dozens but by the hundreds. His guests included important people, too—Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison to name a few. The irony was, whereas he built the log cabin for privacy, he instead found himself entertaining visitors in droves and enjoyed every moment of it.

We arrived at Slabsides around noon with a sizable crowd already gathered. Four musicians played songs they wrote each having some connection to Slabsides. They grew up around the area and played there as kids. Vi took pictures of the surrounding trails while I sat listening to the songs.

When I went inside the cabin, a woman followed me. Sensing she was a Burroughs family member, I asked if it was OK to take pictures. She said sure and asked how I knew about Slabsides. I admitted I only learned about it from the papers. She then gave me a quick tour of the cabin. She said John Burroughs owned property in Roxbury in the Catskills and the estate where he and his wife lived was nearby. When I asked if John Burroughs was well-off in his time, she nodded with big bobbing head motions. When I mentioned that just across the river were the mansions of the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers, she started shaking her head in slow wide arcs before I was even able to finish my sentence. OK, maybe not that well-off.

Outside the cabin I purchased a book by one his granddaughters. From it I gathered that early in their marriage John and Ursula picked cherries to supplement his meager schoolteacher income. He then obtained a better paying job in Washington and with enough money saved, came back to the Mid Hudson to purchase the estate that he called Riverby (pronounced Riverbee). He felt “a sense of place and purpose” that he was meant to live surrounded by nature.

While paying for the book, another descendant asked and we talked about my photography. She handed me her business card saying she wanted to see our photos. I had since sent her the photos via e-mail to which she replied we had given them “a special gift” and was very thankful. She wanted to see us again in the future.

Overall I’d say “Slabsides Day Open House” as the event was called had an air of warmth and coziness. One got the sense that John Burroughs’ descendants were happy with the size of the crowd that showed up. One got the sense, too, that they were very proud and very fond of their (great) grandfather. They engaged every stranger that came. We, for instance, came only to take pictures of a local attraction but left feeling we have taken so much more, like we have just been welcomed into a household. I would not be surprised then if the hundreds who came before us nearly a century ago to visit the colorful man that once lived there also left the place feeling the same. To have it all happen in a place surrounded by nature was an added touch that made the experience feel like one is finally home.

Click on a picture to enlarge.
Vi took this photo.
Vi took this photo.
Vi took this photo.
Vi took this photo.
Vi took this photo.
Vi took this photo.
Vi took this photo.
The book that I bought: “John Burroughs: Naturalist
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