Saturday, October 22, 2011

Riding the Stage to Albany

Cazenovia Republican, May 24, 1906

       The Stage Coach Ride
Something Quite Unknown to 
     The Present Generation
An Albany Trip in the Pleasanter
Part of the Year was an Agreeable
Experience. - The Driver a Product
of the Times.
                  (From Cazenovia Republican, May 24, 1906)
   The old fashioned thorough-brace stagecoach, which used to rumble through Cazenovia and over the Nelson hills, was a familiar object in the earliest days of the village, but is quite unknown to the present generation.
  The route followed by this stage line was over the Great Western series of turnpikes, from Albany to Syracuse, with daily service each way, and was, with a similar line on the Genesee road, the only public means of conveyance between these places. The coaches wee quite comfortable, and afforded accommodations for twelve or fifteen passengers. They were drawn by four and sometimes six horses, with relays about every twenty miles; and covered the entire distance of the route, within twenty-four hours.
    This line commenced operations in 1817, shortly after the opening of the Cherry Valley end of the road, and was an extension of the Albany and Cobleskill stage line. The route followed one of the two principal thoroughfares leading westward across the state, and was crowded with general traffic through which the coaches made their way.
  A trip over this route occupied a night and parts of two days, passengers leaving Syracuse at ten in the morning reaching Albany before noon the following day. Not much sleep was obtained during the night ride and not much effort was made to obtain it. The passengers generally took this discomfort good naturedly, however, and made the best of the situation.
  Wayside inns were scattered all along the road at frequent intervals, and stops were made at stated points for meals and change of horses. At these inns the traveler was cordially welcomed, and in the colder months, greeted by a cheering fire of blazing logs, crackling in the old-fashioned Franklin fire place, and generously dispensing its glow and warmth. Here also was found an old style, but genuine, country hospitality, accompanied by such physical comforts as hunger or thirst might require.
  The hot flip-irons were in the glowing coals ready to impart just the right temperature and flavor to the foaming mug of ale or cider. On the counter of he small, but well stocked bar was a steaming bowl of hot Tom and Jerry (a popular old time drink not often found now-a-days,) ready and available for immediate use. These timely and agreeable night refreshments, made the occasional stops not at all uninteresting, and generally provoked the inquiry of the driver, as to the distance to the next stopping place. So the night wore on, and the morning sun found the stage well on its way towards Albany.
  In the summer time this trip was most enjoyable. The route lay through a hilly and picturesque section of the State, and many pleasant village and pleasing rural scene. At many points on the road, the passing stage was the event of the day and the driver's horn announcing its approach, never failed to bring to open door and swinging gate, the farmer's wife and children to greet the coming coach.
The stage driver of that period was a product o the times and of his environment. He was often an interesting character, and may be said to have been in a  class by himself, his counterpart not being easily found in any other occupation. 
  Driving over his allotted route, by day and by night, in the summer and winter, in all sorts of weather, though mud and snow in the colder months, inured to hardship, skilled in the handling of the reins, careful of his team, and ambitious to deliver his passengers safely at the end of journey, were  his distinguishing qualities, and tended to the development of individual traits peculiar to himself.
  In recalling the names of these old-time drivers it is quite possible that some of the earlier residents of Cazenovia and Nelson, have not yet quite forgotten Jerry White and Phorn Church, is fairly representative of the class to which reference is here made. Both of these men were experienced and careful drivers, and in their day, were well known along the line, and in many ways were unique characters. They were long in the service, and could be counted on in darkest night or wildest storm to bring their coaches through on scheduled time. They knew every inch of the rod over which they drove, and never failed to deliver their passengers safely at end of journey.
  An Albany trip on one of these coaches was in the pleasanter part of the year, was an agreeable experience. There a seat on the box of the stage was generally preferred to the more limited room inside and the passenger deemed himself quite fortunate , who secured one by the side of the driver, especially if the driver was our old friend, Jerry White. On such occasions Jerry's confidence was easily secured; his fund of anecdote and story was large, and easily drawn upon. He knew something interesting about every mile of road, and needed little encouragement to tell it. His stories were sure to be properly sent up and embellished, and he could tell of more things that never happened than any other driver between Albany and Syracuse. At any rate he was always entertaining and the traveler who sat on the box with Jerry was not likely to soon forget his quaint and humorous personality.
  The last stop of the coach on its way to Albany was at McGowan's tavern some eight miles from the city. Here the final change of horses was made and passengers given a brief opportunity to get acquainted with Dutch hospitality as dispensed at this famous Inn. Whoever has stopped once at McGowan's will easily remember the mammoth fireplace, the odd furniture and surroundings of the inn and the genial old Dutchman who ran it. A further short ride of an hour and Albany was in view.
  The stage business on this route, as well as on most others in this State, was at its best from 1820 to 1845. Its rapid decline thereafter was owing to the packet lines on the newly finished Erie Canal, and later, to the competition of the New York Central Railroad system, which soon controlled the bulk of the passenger business. This monopoly administered a finishing blow to the stages, and soon after, to the packets as well.
  The old-fashioned, easy-going stagecoach belongs to another age, or to a newer country, and is no longer seen on its once familiar routes. But the turnpike over which it ran still exists, and wends its way among the same pleasant country. The extensive business, however, which formerly crowded that thoroughfare, has founded other avenues, and is not likely to return, and the wayside inns,for the post part, are also things of the past.  he music of the stage horn and the crack of the driver's whip, no longer awaken the sleeping villages, and country life along the road, seems to have lost something of its old-time charm, for which, the more rapid methods of modern life, does not fully recompense. 
   New York, May 1.                                                       C.S.T.

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