Monday, October 17, 2011

Canandaigua - A Stagecoach Town

Blossom's Canandaigua Hotel was one of the most famous inns in the "Western Country" of New York State in its day.

Blossom's was replaced by the Canandaigua Hotel which was destroyed by fire in 1971. Canandaigua Police Department headquarters is now on the site.

Canandaigua - A Stagecoach Town
            By Richard F. Palmer       
    Though  I have mentioned the lake first, the little town of Canandaigua precedes it, in returning from the west. It is a pretty village as ever man contrived to build. Every house is surrounded by an ample garden, and at that flowery season, they were half buried in roses.
    It is true these houses are of wood, but they are so neatly painted, in such perfect repair, and show so well within their leafy setting, that it is impossible not to admire them.
                                           -- Frances Trollope - Domestic Manners of Americans. London, 1832
    Canandaigua, its main street lined with elegant homes surrounded by spacious gardens, was the stagecoach center of the "Western Country" during the early 19th century. As early as 1805 it was the western terminus of a weekly line of stages linking Albany with the western frontier settlements. Two years later, with the improvement of roads, John Metcalf was granted an exclusive right to operate states between here and Buffalo. This advertisement advertisement appeared in the local newspaper, the Western Repository, on May 10, 1808:
                                     WESTERN MAIL STAGE
   The subscriber informs the public that he intends carrying the Mail from this to Niagara in a STAGE COACH, to commence on the 1st Monday of May next, under the following regulations, viz:
   Will leave Canandaigua every Monday at 6 O'Clock, A.M. and arrive at Niagara, by way of Buffalo, every Thursday, at 9 A.M. Leave Niagara every Thursday, at 3 P.M. and arrive at Buffalo on Friday, at 5 P.M. Leave Buffalo the same evening and arrive in Canandaigua the Sunday following at 5 P.M.
   The subscriber informs the Ladies and Gentlemen that he has furnished himself with a convenient carriage and good horses, and that no attention on his part shall be wanting to render their seats pleasant and agreeable.
    Rates of fare will be six cents per mile, including 14 lbs. baggage. 
                                                        JOHN METCALF
Canandaigua, April 26, 1808

      Canandaigua had, in the early 19th century, developed as a noteworthy place with its overpowering atmosphere of seemingly great wealth, law and learning. The old families with their long New England pedigrees were regarded as aristocrats of fabulous wealth. There was something about this well-groomed community which placed it far above the normal cut of pioneer settlements. As  travelers passed down the street in a stage bound for Blossom's Hotel, they would take particular note of the fine Georgian architecture which stood back from the street on well-kept grounds with box-bordered walks. Here and there was a white or buff-colored law office, with a brass knocker on the front door.
   The corner of the court-house was a beehive of lawyers. On summer afternoons the young gentlemen would be found reading law or dozing over the Blackstones in office chairs grouped under the trees. Among the most notable residents of Canandaigua at the time were Gideon and Francis Granger, who served as Postmasters General under Presidents Madison in 1812 and Harrison in 1840. They would frequently be seen strolling down the street in cloak and broadcloth with gold-headed canes.
    What became Blossom's Hotel, on a bluff with a commanding view of the community (on site of today's police station), was a commodious brick structure built in 1815 by Belah D. Coe, one of the "Old Line" stage coach proprietors. William Blossom was its proprietor after 1824. Before the railroad came it was the center of  transient travel. It had a peaked roof with great chimneys coming up from the spits and ovens. Through the dark archway the stagecoach would emerge.
   Blossom's was the best hostelry in town, where the notables of the day gathered to take the stages in all the directions of the compass.  It reflected the era of ruffled shirts and gold-headed canes. When the nabobs gathered at Blossom's, the harness brasses and coach varnish got the sparkling treatment. The horses here were a bit fresher and the driver spiffier and prouder man for carrying important personages. Before the restless horses got away to the music of the stage-horn, there was a shaking of hands and doffing beaver hats. A bell atop the hotel regulated most of the affairs of the village. The proprietor was a man of fine appearance and his suavity of manners established his wide reputation as a landlord.
     Canandaigua's growth as a center of business and legal life is attributed to its being the seat of the affairs of the vast Phelps and Gorham's Purchase of some 2,250,000 acres. The holdings stretched west from Geneva to Geneseo; and south from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border. So Canandaigua's fortunes were built on land speculation. The daily prosperity of the town was measured on the number of land transactions recorded in the clerk's office.  It could be said that Canandaigua did a "land office business."
    There were 11 attorneys registered in Canandaigua as early as 1810. Preceding Blossom's in prominence as a "stage-house" was Taylor's Hotel, an old rookery built in 1796  as the Dudley Tavern. On July 26, 1810, DeWitt Clinton, later Governor of New York State, on a trip through, noted that Taylor's was "an indifferent house," alluding to poor accommodations. Bt even at this early date, Clinton said, "the main street strikes the outlet of the lake at right angles, and has a great many elegant houses." Upon passing a local coach-maker's shop, Clinton noticed a  "plain coachee with leather curtains" owned by Jemima Wilkinson, in for repairs. Clinton said thee was a curious inscription on the back, in large letters, "C*F." The prophetess, he noted, resided with 30 to 40 followers at Crooked Lake, some 25 miles to the southeast.  He said: "She is opposed to war, to oaths, and to marriage; and to her confidential friends she represents herself as Jesus Christ personified in the body of Jemima Wilkinson."
    Clinton spent a night in Canandaigua with old friend and confidant John C. Spencer, one of he most prominent political figures in the state in his time. During his illustrious career, he also served as Secretary of War and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  He also served as a Congressman and was very politically-connected and influential. 
    The establishment of the Ontario & Genesee Turnpike also did much to stimulate the growth of Canandaigua and the "western country" as well. Incorporated on April 2, 1805, the turnpike company was empowered to construct a toll road from Canandaigua to Black Rock, a distance of 90 miles. This is now a segment of Routes 5 and 20 to Avon, and Route 5 from there west through Caledonia , LeRoy and BataviaLike so man similar towns of its day the number of taverns that existed  seemed out of proportion to its size. There are "by far too many taverns and groceries (as there are every where in such places," wrote Horatio Gates Spafford in his Gazetteer of the State of New  York,  published in 1824.  Accommodations for travelers, even in such a place with the great profusion of taverns, with the exception of Blossom's, often left much to be desired; even in elegant Canandaigua. 
    Elkhanah Watson, noted advocate of "internal improvements," found signing his name to the hotel register bought him little more than space on the floor with a snoring group of transients. On his overnight stop in Canandaigua in 1819, he found that "The public hotel was bad, the house full, and myself, at the age of sixty, compelled to lie upon a buffalo robe in the third story, in place of a bed." He said the village contained many splendid residences, "and a wealthy and genteel population. Here resides Gideon Granger, the late Post-Master General, and eminent for his lofty and diversified intellectual endowments."
   Stagecoach service in Canandaigua developed rapidly after the War of 1812.  On July 5, 1813 William Powell, proprietor of the Geneva Hotel, established a daily line of stages between Utica and Canandaigua.  It left Canandaigua at 4 a.m., except Sunday, arriving in Utica at 4 p.m. the following day.   The stage drew up to Taylor's Hotel. After the passengers climbed aboard, the driver cracked his whip and the stage rumbled away. Once a steady gait was taken the passengers for hours gazed and commented on the passing landscape. Eventually some settled in for a nap, unconscious of the jars and jolts, time and distance.
    A tri-weekly mail stage left the village for the west starting in 1814. Through service to Utica commenced on July 20, 1815, via Geneva and Auburn. The trip took two days. E.B. Dewey was proprietor and seats were obtainable at Coe's Stage House, later known as Blossom's. Bi-weekly service to Rochester was inaugurated by Samuel Hildreth on January 4, 1816. By August, 1817, additional service had commenced to Rochester, via East Bloomfield, Mendon and Pittsford. Oliver Phelps of Ludlowville, near Ithaca, commenced running tri-weekly stages in May, 1818, between Newburgh and Canandaigua; the trip being accomplished in three days.
   William Faulkner, a hotel keeper in Geneva, and W.W. Fenlon of Montezuma, commenced operating a daily line of stages between Canandaigua and Montezuma in August, 1822. This coach met the steamboat Enterprise at the village of Cayuga, which sailed back and forth to Ithaca, and the Erie Canal packet boat "Echo" at Montezuma. The coach left Gooding's Tavern in Canandaigua at 9 a.m.
    The growth of the stagecoach business was quite noticeable in the 1820s - contrary to a theory voiced by many historians that packet-boats on the canal rendered this ancient mode of travel obsolete. In fact, by 1826, no less than 80 stagecoaches arrived and departed Canandaigua weekly. The editor of the Ontario Repository noted: "The number of these vehicles, for the conveyance of passengers, increases of late with astonishing rapidity." He also said the number of "exclusive extras," or stages hired by individuals, also was growing at a rapid pace.
    C.H. Coe &Co. commenced running stages on January 1, 1826. The firm consisted of brothers Chauncey and Belah D. Coe, and partner Samuel Greenleaf. This partnership lasted until the death of Chauncey Coe in 1835. Then the line was purchased by Asa Nowlen of Avon. Thereafter, the firm was S. Greenleaf & Co.
     An advertisement in the Ontario Repository of May 10, 1826, alludes to the Coe's link with the "Old Line" proprietors, including Jason Parker of Utica and John M. Sherwood of Auburn:
                                                         Three Daily Lines of Coaches,
                   Leave the regular Mail Coach office, Blossom's Hotel, Canandaigua for Utica
                                                            The Eagle Coach, at 4 A.M.
                                                               "   Mail      do          10  do
                                                               "   Pilot, in the afternoon
                  Also, Two Coaches a Day from the above Office, for Buffalo, and two for Rochester
                                                           Mail for Buffalo, 2 P.M.             
                                                           Pilot   "     do        Evening
                                                           Pilot for Rochester, 4 A.M.
                                                           Mail  "         do         2 P.M.
                       Extras furnished for any of the above routes at short notice.
     Stagecoach service continued to develop in western New York, in parallel with the letting of mail contracts. The year 1826 also saw the establishment of a weekly stage between Perry and Fredonia, intersecting a line between Canandaigua and Warsaw. Lawrence Lynch and others advertised three daily lines of coaches in July, 1826, called the "Union Line" between Albany, Utica, Rochester and Buffalo. Lynch had recently taken possession of a tavern in Canandaigua, "a little south of the new Court-House, and has fitted it up in genteel style. From his acquaintance with the traveling public in Auburn and Geneva, he hopes to receive a liberal share of the patronage."
     Tri-weekly service started in May, 1827 from Canandaigua to Cohocton, via Rushville and Naples, leaving Lynch's Tavern at 5 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Returning, a stage left Bath Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. At Cohocton, a connection was made for the stage for Dansville and Prattsburgh. Still another line evolved, running Monday and Thursday from Canandaigua to Penn-Yan. One newspaper editor noted: "thus are the public accommodated with stages running in almost every direction to and from this place."  In July, 1827 service was started from Canandaigua to Moscow, via Bristol, Richmond and Livonia.  This line extended on from Perry to Buffalo, three days a week, and was operated by Pierpont, Frost & Co.
     Such a bewildering array of stagecoaches seemingly all converging in Canandaigua at the same time confused an English traveler in the early 1830s who wrote: When we arrived at Canandaigua, there was a great confusion in consequence of four or five stages being at the door at the same time. As they were going in different directions, the passengers were hunting for the agent, and the agent for the passengers.After the bustle had ceased and I had seen my luggage properly stowed away, I observed to the agent, that it would save much trouble and prevent mistakes, if the names of the places were put upon the coaches, as is done in France and England. His reply was the same as I uniformly received on similar occasions: 'very likely, but we have different customs here,' as if I wanted to be informed of the very thing my suggestion implied."
   The stagecoach business continued to thrive, with Canandaigua the hub of a vast network of lines, until the development of railroads. Shortly before the demise of the stagecoach era, Samuel Greenleaf assisted in the establishment of a stage driver's library and reading room for his employees, The rather unque effort was salutatory, and was considered a God-send to the drivers. Mr. Greenleaf presented a handsome whip to the driver who had read the most Bible scripture during the past year.The group was known as the Canandaigua Stage Drivers and Reading Room Association. Evidence of this is found in Book D, Miscellaneous Records, Page 183-4, Ontario County Clerk,  Canandaigua, Recorded January 19th, 1839:
                                              Articles of Association
                   Stage Drivers Library and Reading Room Association
Article  1.  We the undersigned Stage Drivers of the Village of Canandaigua hereby form ourselves into a society to be known  and distinguished by the appellation of The Canandaigua Stage Drivers Library and Reading-Room Association and bind ourselves individually to pay the sum of 12 1/2 cents per month to the President of Said Association which  said monies are to be expended from time to time as said President shall se fit  for the purchase of Books, Periodicals, &c. for the benefit of the association.
Article 2. No  member of this Association or any other person shall have the privilege of removing any book, periodical or other property of this Association from the room in which said books &c are kept.
Article 3. The officers of this Association shall be a president, vice president  and librarian who shall be elected by ballot, on the first day of January in each year.
Article 4. The President shall perform all the duties usually  incumbent on that office and in  his absence those duties shall be performed by the Vice-President.
Article 5. Any Stage Driver  in Canandaigua may become a member of this Association by subscribing this constitution and complying with the requirements herein contained.
Article 6. This constitution may be amended by  vote of two-thirds of the members of the Association.
Canandaigua, January 1st, 1839.
President Stephen  B.  Austin
Vice  President George B. Hotchkiss
Librarian  Perry G. Wadhams  &c. *
    The palmy days when Blossom's was a famous stagecoach inn, where crowds gathered to watch the daily arrival and departure of the four-horse post coaches, disappeared with the opening of the Auburn & Rochester Railroad in 1841.  No longer did weary teams, aroused to a "second wind," wheel into position before the hotel door.  But the hotel continued to be busy, catering to railroad travelers, as it also was used as the train depot until it was destroyed by fire on December 23, 1851. In its place rose an even more commodious and imposing Canandaigua Hotel, which, it survived some 120 years, was also destroyed by fire on March 29, 1971.
   The heritage that Canandaigua retains from stagecoach days lives on in the many fine old residences and building so often remarked of in travelers' accounts. They stand in a fine state of preservation. Canandaigua today is reminiscent of the old man in silk stockings, ruffled shirt and broadcloth, leaning on his gold-headed cane, contemplating the past. He is eminently respectable, an aristocrat to his finger-tips. He is proud to think he has had a hand in the building of a nation.

*See also, Page 54, History of Ontario County, New York (Philadelphia) 1876


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