AUBURN — While most guests at the Seward House Museum’s garden tour focused their eyes on their guide, Jody Longeill’s attention often diverted to her shimmering emerald surroundings.

Longeill said she plans to come to the garden later to create water paintings, and was studying the shape of the bushes and the trees that Saturday. She likened seeing the grounds William Seward, secretary of state under President Abraham Lincoln and former New York governor, and his family had walked on to being able to “time travel.”

“To have this bit of nature in the city, I wanted to hear the history of it,” Longeill said,

Jeff Ludwig, the tour guide and the museum’s director of education, walked guests around the garden and the rest of the property outside the house itself. Ludwig said the Sewards owned animals such as goats, horses and chickens that were kept behind the house. A hedge maze had also been present at one point, Ludwig noted. Longeill said it didn’t seem possible everything Ludwig described could fit in the area they were standing on.

Ludwig said the garden was extremely important to the Seward family, to the point that Seward would get upset if letters from his wife, Frances Adeline Seward, didn’t include long descriptions of the garden and how it was doing.

“It was a big part of their identity for them and a big part of their identity in Auburn,” he said. “People would walk by the Seward house (back then) because it was an experience and it still is.”

Ludwig’s favorite part of the garden is the fairly small structure he said Seward described as his “summer house.” Ludwig likes the idea that Seward used the confined space to seclude himself from the bustle around him and write “some of the important speeches in 19th-century American history or American history in general, for that matter.” Though the original summer house burned down in 1963, another of roughly the same size was built in 1988.

“I like that that was the place where he could go to collect thoughts and reflect and ruminate while listening to the bird songs and the faint sounds of the city around him,” Ludwig said.

Guests Ben and Sue Ahner enjoy gardening and history, they said, so they decided to take the tour. While walking around, Sue was amused by the mental image of the Seward family, in their fine clothing, sitting at the garden while animals roamed around them. She said she feels it is important for people to learn about the past.

“To know where we’ve been is to know where we’re going,” Sue Ahner said.

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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