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Recollections from a Visit to Anna Botsford Comstock’s Lake Cottage

Anna and Henry Comstock

Every reader of the Handbook of Nature Study (the book) knows who Anna Botsford Comstock is….the esteemed author of our nature study guide and lessons. She wrote the words that have touched my personal life in such a profound way, changing how we view the world in our own backyard. She may have touched your life in a similar way through the pages of the Handbook of Nature Study as you worked through the Outdoor Hour Challenges.
Comstock Cottage - New York
When the opportunity was offered to me a few years ago to visit and actually stay at her cottage in New York outside Ithaca, I wasn’t able to make the trip at that time. It was on my mind a lot through the years so when a last minute trip involved traveling in New York came up last month, I immediately contacted the family that now owns the cottage to see if it was available during our visit. It was! We made arrangements to stay for three days in the cottage that Anna and Henry Comstock built on the shore of Lake Cayuga.

” During the fall of 1906, we were making habitable The Hermitage, our summer cottage on Cayuga Lake. We put a large window in the living room which gave us a wide view of the lake. This room was given a hardwood floor and was ceiled, to make it warm. Here we set up the wood stove that had been in my mother’s parlor when I was a child. It had a grate and in the evenings we opened up its front doors; this made it as cheerful as a fireplace.” Anna Botsford Comstock

It was just like I imagined it…set in the woods, right near the water’s edge. The birds, flowers, and trees were those that Anna wrote about in her books. It was warm and cozy and somehow familiar.

We sat on the porch and enjoyed the sounds of the woods. The lake glistened as the sunset on that first day. I climbed into bed and thought how it must have been there over a hundred years ago when the Comstocks first built the cottage.

Woods Near Ithaca New York

“Harry and I spent weekends there, and on each trip he would walk the mile and a half from Taughannock Station to The Hermitage, carrying on his back a basket filled with materials for fixing the house.The labor my husband performed in and about this place was remarkable.” Anna Botsford Comstock


The next morning I was up early for a walk in the woods. I ventured out alone for the first hike and as I stepped off the porch I heard birdsong and glimpsed a young deer sneaking across the road into a thicket of bushes. The woods woke up as I hiked up the trail and my eyes were trying hard to take in all the sights.

Woods Near Ithaca New York - Beautiful Tree

The green of the new spring leaves, the thin trunks of the trees, the rustlings of birds and the cry of the mourning doves. These were Anna’s woods. This was the place that helped inspire her to share her love of nature with teachers and children, bringing them into a relationship with common everyday things in their world.

There was teasel by the trail…new to me in person but familiar through the pages of the Handbook of Nature Study.  Advanced preparation does work…I recognized it right away and remember that she had called it ” a plant in armor”.

Canoeing on Lake Cayuga

“He added paths and built a fine wharf and a double-decked boat house, in the upper part of which we swung our hammocks, and from which we enjoyed the glory of many sunsets. The Hermitage was always a place where work was play; we dumped our cares at the Ithaca station when we left, but they were always waiting to jump at us on our return.” Anna Botsford Comstock

I made my way back to the cottage and by this time the boys were up and ready for the day. My husband and Mr. A took out the canoe onto the morning smooth water of the lake. Exploring a new place by water…leaving their cares behind as they paddled across the surface of the lake in the early morning sunrise.

Yellow Wildflower - Anna Botsford Comstock's Cottage

Mr. B and I decided to take another hike through the woods and this time we noticed the wildflowers. These were the wildflowers of Anna’s books…the ones we don’t have in California.

The whole weekend was filled with the opening of eyes and hearts to a magical place, gently teaching us the way of the New York woods in which we found ourselves. One day it rained and we watched the drops fall from our dry spot on the porch. The fragrance of the wet woods was delightful…different than our Northern California woods. The rain stopped and we grilled dinner on the stone fire pit down by the water. We skipped rocks, sat and watched the fisherman go by on their little boats, and we shed our cares, refreshed.

Nature Journal - Beech Tree

At the end of the weekend, we had made many entries into our nature journals, took lots of photos, and made some memories of our own at this lakeside cottage.

We will always remember our weekend spent on Lake Cayuga at the Comstock’s beloved Hermitage Cottage. Special thanks to Christiana and Alison who graciously opened up their family cottage to our family, making this trip to New York even more special.

I hope my readers enjoyed glimpsing our weekend….we all need to remember to build in our families a rich heritage of outdoor experiences. Who knows who it will touch in the future?
Next time I will share our day at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and Sapsucker Woods! More connections were made to the Handbook of Nature Study.

14 thoughts on “Recollections from a Visit to Anna Botsford Comstock’s Lake Cottage

  1. Our hearts were there with you. A tiny little tear in my eye. Who need’s Walden’s Pond when you have Anna’s Cottage? I too have felt like she is a personal friend, out of time. Thank you for the visit!

  2. That is so cool! What an unforgettable trip that must have been for you and your family. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. I read this post and found myself longing to be there with you. How amazing it must have been for you to stay at Anna’s cottage and soak up the same natural surroundings that she loved and wrote about. I’m glad you were able to experience some of the differences (like teasel) that we have her in the East.

  4. I just found this book the other day on Amazon and it arrived today! What a great wealth of information!

  5. I am so thrilled for you – what a wonderful experience to have been able to share with your family. It looks like an inspirational place indeed.

  6. What an absolute gift to get to stay in the very spot surrounded by all Anna wrote about and loved. Your description and photos are a treasure as well. I love how you describe the different smells and sights. This was like a virtual trip along with you, the modern-day Anna Comstock.

  7. How wonderful! It sounds like a fantastic vacation.

    This is silly, I know, but when I saw the picture of the Comstock’s it finally hit me that she would not have been wearing jeans or shorts on her walks. I don’t know why that hadn’t occured to me before. I can’t imagine having to wear those long skirts out in the fields and woods.


  8. How fabulous! Thanks for sharing you cottage visit with us! Did this visit just happen? (My brain was saying to my computer, “What month did this visit happen in?” Do the cottage owners permit its use often? I mean, could DC urban FlyMama possibly go there with my family too? Maybe you can email me contact information, if this is doable.

    I’ve had a rough spring, by my son is chomping to get back into our nature walks. He wants one today, so I need to get going.


  9. Oh those were Anna’s woods indeed! I will not covet, I will not covet 🙂 I could just hear the birds and smell the woods, What a treasure trove of glorious family memories you are filling up for your loved ones. p.s. I just love long skirts, it just looks so feminine, so lovely, so Anne of Green Gables don’t you think? I like to think perhaps they took leisurely strolls as the weather permitted not long treks trying to get somewhere, but enjoying the journey of all that surrounded her. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Nature study envy!!!

    I’m living vicariously {is that how you spell that?:) through you barb!!!

    What a fun opportunity!

  11. What fun. That would be terrific. Thanks for sharing!

  12. What a wonderful experience Barb! It is quite special to visit the homes of people we admire and who have such a profound influence in our lives today.

  13. I loved this post, Barb. Your photos and descriptions brought this special place to life for me.

  14. Very Neat Trip. We have been to Ithaca but did not know at the time about Anna. Side note: isn’t that Poison ivy you journaled at the bottom???

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