Out-Doors at Idlewild; or, The Shaping of a Home on the Banks of the Hudson

By Nathaniel Parker Willis
Introduction by Edward Renehan

Subjects: New York/regional, Memoir, American History
Series: Excelsior Editions, New York Classics
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438486239, 302 pages, November 2021
Paperback : 9781438486222, 302 pages, July 2022

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Table of contents

New Introduction
Edward Renehan



LETTER I. The Highland Terrace

LETTER II. Highland Terrace, Continued

LETTER III. Lessening the Brook—Pig-Prophecy—Nearing of the City with Spring—the City Eye, as felt in the Country—Telegraph Wires, Æolian

LETTER IV. Slight of Small Streams in the Landscape—Character of Idlewild Brook—Legend and Name of our Nearest Village

LETTER V. Reasons for Neighbors moving Off—Morals of Steamboat Landings—Class that is gradually taking Possession of the Hudson—Thought-property in a Residence—Horizon-clock of Idlewild—Society for the Eye, in a View

LETTER VI. Evergreen Independence of Seasons—Nature's Landscape Gardening—Weakness as to Reluctance in Planting Trees

LETTER VII. Earlier City Migration to the Country than usual—Peculiar Dignity-plant—Object of Country Farmers in taking City Boarders for the Summer—Suggestion as to City and Country Exchange of Hospitality

LETTER VIII. Ownership in Nature worth Realizing—Thumb-and-finger Nationality of Yankees—United Experience of Many, as expressed in a Common-minded Man's Better Knowledge—Lack of Expression and Variety in Gates—Pigtight Gates

LETTER IX. Private Performance of Thunder-storms—Nature's Sundays—Marriage of Two Brooks—Funnychild's Deserted Bed

LETTER X. Making a Shelf-road—Character shown in Wall-laying—By-the-Day and By-the-Job—English Literalness and Yankee "Gumption."

LETTER XI. Plank Foot-bridge over the Ravine—Its Hidden Location—Value of Oldman Friendships—Friend S.—His Visit to the Bridge—His Remembrance of Washington—Tobacco Juice on Trees to Prevent Horse-biting, &c., &c.

LETTER XII. Foliage and its Wonders—Caprice of Tree-living—Auto-verdure of Posts—Hemlock, the Homestead Emblem, &c., &c.

LETTER XIII. Noon Visitors to Scenery—The Bull-Frog at the Gate—Inconvenient Opening of a Spring—Frog Curiosity and Intelligence—Process of Animal Progression, &c., &c.

LETTER XIV. Canterbury Rowdies—Pianos and Porkers—Unwelcome Visitors—Penalty of Pounding—A Public Benefactor

LETTER XV. Trouble in Gate Designing—Letter from an Unknown Correspondent, on Gates—Invisible Society at Idlewild—Correction of Error as to Hemlocks—Handsome Irishman's Mistake in Felling Trees, &c.

LETTER XVI. Laurel-blossoming—The Imbedded Stone, and Jem's Neglect of his Countryman's honors—Sabbath stop to our Running Water, &c., &c.

LETTER XVII. Effect of clearing out Underbrush from a Wood—Praise Disclaimed—Horror of Bloomeri-ized Evergreens—Neglect of departed Great Men—Carrion Nuisance, &c., &c.

LETTER XVIII. Summer of Even Weather—Lightning-rods falling into Disuse—Filling of Country Boarding-houses—Luxury of Rural Remoteness—Viewless Peopling of a Spot—Wallace the Composer, and his Tribute to Alexander Smith, &c., &c.

LETTER XIX. Neglect of Personal Appearance in Country Seclusion—Unexploring Habits of City People—Dignity of Un-damage-able Dress—Thoughts on Cooper's Mansion being turned into a Boarding-house—Suggestion to Authors, as to turning their Influence to better Account—Letter from Cooperstown, &c., &c.

LETTER XX. Timely Seasons and Untimely Age in America—Wild Glen so near the Hudson—Finding of Water Lilies—Anchoring a Lily in a Brook—Name of Moodna, &c., &c.

LETTER XXI. Avalanche or Storm-King—Idlewild Ravaged by the Flood—Accidents to Persons and Destruction to Property—House Laid Open—Rareness of such Phenomena, &c., &c.

LETTER XXII. Gentleman towing a Cow—Daughter taken out in the Storm to see the Freshet—The Power of a Flood—Lofty Bridge Swept Away—Extent of Desolation, &c., &c.

LETTER XXIII. Young Lady killed by Lightning at our Neighbor's House—Another Paralyzed—Careless General Attention to such Fearful Events, &c., &c.

LETTER XXIV. Dilemma as to Placing Settees—Double Service of out-of-door Seats—Difference Between Appreciation of Landscape by Men and by Women—Right of all Strangers to enter Beautiful Grounds—Favor of being Figures on the Land-scape—&c., &c.

LETTER XXV. A Wet September—Effect on Trees—Freshets—Dam-building—Nature's Lesson in Water-power, &c., &c.

LETTER XXVI. Wet Seasons Unfavorable to Hemlocks—The First Inland Mile on the Hudson—The American Malvern and Cheltenham—The Steamboat Landing a Fashionable Resort—The Highland Gap at Sunset, &c.

LETTER XXVII. Highway Pigs—Giving the Old Woman a Ride—Her Favorite Jemmy—Pork and Poets—Common Folks' Knowledge of Neighbors—Letter from a Correspondent, &c., &c.

LETTER XXVIII. Autumnal Privileges—Extent of Personal Orbit—Dignity of a Daily Diameter—Difference between Saddle and Carriage-Riding—Health in a Nobody-bath, &c., &c.

LETTER XXIX. October's First Sunday—Silverbrook, and the Blacksmith's Story of its History—Storm-King and Black Peter—Effects of the Avalanche—Tribute to Children's Love, &c., &c.

LETTER XXX. Working for Neighbors—Answers of Inquiries as to the price of Land, Farms, &c.—"Harriet's" Letter—Apples Promiscuous on Barn-floor—Account of Society around us, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXI. Autumn Splendors—Road Tax and amateur Road Making—Society for Volunteer Raking—Difference of Roads and Neighborhoods—North and South of Idle-wild, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXII. Discovery of an Iron Mine in the Neighborhood—Lack of National Quickness at Beautifying Scenery—Poem on the Flood-ravages at Idlewild—Drawing and Landscape-Gardening, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXIII. Sudden Fall of Leaves—November Haze—Fame of Newspaper-wrappers—Naming of a Village—Legend of Moodna, the Indian Chief—Importance of Immortalizing Men and Events by the Naming of Towns, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXIV. Mellow Middle in a November day—Ascent to Storm-King—Road from Newburg to West Point—Chances for Human Eyries—Difference of Climate between the two Mountain-sides—Home-like familiarity of a Brook, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXV. Instance of Stick-a-pin-there—Survey of Premises after a Freshet—History of a Dam—Specimen of Yankee Coax-ocracy, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXVI. Fine Specimen of a Boy—Young America—Mr. Roe's Boys' School—Surveying Class in the Paths of the Ravine, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXVII. Interesting to Invalids only—Letter from an Invalid Clergyman—Reply—Keeping Disease in the Minority—Climate of the Tropics—Importance of Attention to Trifles, in Convalescence, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXVIII. Summer in December—Flippertigibbet—Idleness—Annual Quarrelsomeness of Dogs—Pig-influence—Home without a Hog, &c., &c.

LETTER XXXIX. Visit to Seven Lakes and Natural Bridge—Torrey the Blacksmith—Sunday in Nature—My Companion's Hobby—Hollett the Quaker—Morning Sensations—Jonny Kronk's and its Cemetery—Mammoth Snapping-Turtle—Iron Mine, &c., &c.

LETTER XL. Many-Lake Alps and their Woodsmen—Highland Life—Contrast between it and New York, only three Hours' Distance—The Difficulty—Natural Bridge—Driven on the Rocks—Hollett's House, and our Ascent to the Peak—Seven Lakes—Quaker and Panther Meeting in the Woods, &c., &c.

LETTER XLI. Degrees of Horseback Acquaintance with a Road—Slaughter-House "Round by Headley's"—Geese and their Envy—Goose-Descent upon Unexpected Ice, &c., &c.

LETTER XLII. Pool of Bethesda above the Highlands—Climate of Highland Terrace—Late Snows—Christmas, and Dressing of Church—Poem on Farmers' Christmas Preparations—Black Peter—Snake Love of Solitude, &c., &c.

LETTER XLIII. Trip of the Family Wagon to Newburgh—The Fashionable Resort—Chapman's Bakery—Aristocracy "setled down"—Newburgh as a Neighbor

LETTER XLIV. Personal Experience interesting to Invalids—Difficulty as to Horseback Exercise—Advice as to Winter-riding—Economies in Horse-owning—New Idea as to Exposure—Philosophy of Exercise to Scholars, &c., &c.

LETTER XLV. Snow and its Uses—Winter View of Grounds, as to Improvements—Old Women's Weather-Prophecy—Finding of an Indian God in the Glen—Idlewild a Sanctuary of Deities of the Weather—Name of Moodna, &c.,

LETTER XLVI. Hudson Frozen Solid—Boats on Runners—Water-lilies—Indian Legend, and Poem on it by a Friend—Philosophy of naming Streams hereabouts—Angola and its Epidemic—Story of Smart Boy, &c., &c.

LETTER XLVII. Boy-Teamster—Our Republic's worst-treated Citizen—Boy Condition in the Country—Our Neighborhood suited to Boy-Education in Farming—Vicinity of New York Market—Boy-Labor and Boy-Slavery—City Parents and their Disposal of Boys—Gardening Profits, &c., &c.

LETTER XLVIII. Living in the Country all the Year round—Trips to the City—Hindrances by Snow on the Track—Chat in the hindered Cars—Mr. Irving—Bad Ventilation—Late Arrival, &c., &c.

LETTER XLIX. First Signs of Spring—A Public of Invalids—An Invalid Chronicle—Letter from a Lady—Our Friend S.—Beauty of Old Age, &c., &c.

LETTER L. Breaking up of the River-ice—Dates of previous Resumings of Navigation—Companionship in the distant Views of Travel—Nature's Illnesses—Hillsides, &c., &c.

LETTER LI. Weather-wise Squirrels—Effect of Spring Winds on Roads—Dodge of Turnpike Companies—Anecdote of a Teamster's Revenge—The Kings in Republics—Road from Newburgh to West Point, &c., &c.

LETTER LII. Deceptive Grass-Patch—Why Northerners love Home—Tragedy and Turkey-cock—Suspicion of Neighborhood and Vindication—Don Quixote, the Newfoundland Dog—Flippertigibbet, the Terrier—My Mare and her Illness, &c.

LETTER LIII. Cedar-Trees and their Secrets—Bird-Presence about Home—Our Night-Owl—A Bird's Claim on Hospitality—Difference between City and Country Influences—Death in a Neighbor's House, &c., &c.

LETTER LIV. A Newfoundland Dog and his Nature—The Beauty of a Brook as a Playfellow for Children—Country Life's Opportunity to cultivate Intimacy with Children—Local Protection against East Winds—Mechanical Alleviation for Night-Coughs, &c., &c.

LETTER LV. Snow-Storm in April—Newburgh to become a Seaport—Railroad from Hoboken, opposite Chamber Street, to West Point and Newburgh—Dutch Aristocracy—American difference from England as to Living near the Old Families, &c.

LETTER LVI. Birds suffering from Snow—Answer to a Fault-finder—Preparing for Old Age by learning to live with Nature—Another Estimate of the Value of Farming—Common and strangely unvaried Idea of "a Villa"—Hints as to choosing and arranging a Home in the Country, &c., &c.

LETTER LVII. Remarkable Land-slide—Woman nearly Buried—Our Gateway Stopped—Ravages of Floods—Embellishment of a Neighbor's Grounds by a Landslide, &c., &c.

LETTER LVIII. Immense Freshets—Islands in Solution—Curious Slides—Brickyards along the Hudson—Irish Laborers, and the Contrast between them and Native-Born Country People—The Infusorial Cemetery, &c., &c.

LETTER LIX. Distinctions of Rank in Vegetables—Splendid Outburst of Spring—Chivalry among Fowls—A daily Steamboat Luxury for this Neighborhood—Philosophy of Visits to the City, &c., &c.

LETTER LX. Newness of Junes—Effects of the Eclipse—Cows embarrassed—Nature's Caprices—Visit to West Point—The Salute to the Visiting Committee—Cadets' Mess-Room—Professor Weir and the Gallery of Drawings—Parade—Stature of the Present Class of Cadets, &c., &c.

LETTER LXI. Adventure with a Snapping-Turtle—Wild black Cat, and other quadruped Bandits—Visit to a Revolutionary Soldier—Venerable Companion—Privations of the Army—Washington's features, &c., &c.

LETTER LXII. Celebration of the Fourth of July by Children—Procession through the Grounds of Idlewild—Song by the Children—Their Pic-nic in the Grove—Speeches, &c., &c.

LETTER LXIII. Government of the American Homestead—Republic in the Country, but not in the City—Aristocracy of upper Servants not tolerated—Each Individual's Self-Esteem to be cared for—Irish lad in his progress in Americanizing—Difficulty of other Servants allowing a Head Man, &c., &c.

LETTER LXIV. Invalid Wishes for Letters on their Class of Subjects—Boston Physician and his Alkaline Treatment—Experiment and its Failure—Consumption and its Alleviations, &c., &c.

LETTER LXV. Affection for our Doctors—Excellent Letter from my Friend of the Alkali—Taboo upon Tea—Letter from an Allopathic Physician—Doctor's Visits, &c., &c.

LETTER LXVI. Chat upon Invalid Indiscretions—Dietetics of the Soul—Forenoon on Horseback—Use of an Errand in a Ride—Steel Pens, and the consequent Decline of Penknives—Fatigue after Pleasure, &c., &c.

LETTER LXVII. Sufferers from Drought—Our Hyla or Tree-toad—Cure of Jaundice—Abuses by Telegraph-menders, &c., &c.

LETTER LXVIII. Difficulty of knowing what cures Us—Od-ic Influence—Letter from an Artist, introducing and describing an Od-ometrician—His Letter—The Experiment—Table-movings, &c., &c.

LETTER LXIX. Acquaintance across the Styx—Letter from our Friend the Od-ometrician, &c.

LETTER LXX. Certainty of a Genius Loci—His Susceptibility of Pique—Curious Exercise of it—The Drip-Rock Parlor—Check to a falling Leaf—Farewell

Chronicles the creation of a picturesque home and landscape on the Hudson River by one of the nineteenth century's leading authors.


During the 1850s and '60s, by far the most prominent author in all of New York State was the writer, editor, and publisher Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867). Nearly as prominent as Willis himself was his Hudson Valley estate, Idlewild, where literary elites gathered and about which Willis himself wrote and published extensively. In 1846, Willis founded the Home Journal, which would go on to become Town and Country. In Out-Doors at Idlewild, first published in 1855, Willis chronicled the creation of his estate at Cornwall-on-Hudson (near West Point), as well as life amid its countryside. The land afforded brilliant views of the river and the mountains to the East. Calvert Vaux, the famed architect of both landscapes and houses, designed the elaborate and ornate Gothic Revival home, which Willis named Idlewood (whereas he called the estate Idlewild), and into which the Willis family moved in July of 1853. Here, Willis wrote a series of papers for the Home Journal documenting life at the seventy-acre estate. These papers were gathered together in Out-Doors at Idlewild, a celebration of Willis's home and estate.

Nathaniel Parker Willis was a prominent nineteenth-century author, poet, and editor. Edward Renehan is the author of more than twenty books. He lives in Wickford, Rhode Island.


"Whether sharing moments of inspiration or irritation, the book emanates with [Willis's] deep interest in and affection for the Hudson Highlands, as well as Newburgh to their north, in a way that still engages readers." — Hudson River Valley Review