Monday, October 24, 2011

Stagecoach Days at Bridgewater, New York

(From: Historical Sketches of Bridgewater by Eleanor Louise Porter
Bridgewater, N.Y., 1914)
P.69.   In the days when the great stagecoach rattled along our highways Bridgewater was a very important center and it is indeed hard to imagine that was far more important commercial center than Utica. People came here from many miles around to trade. The Cherry Valley turnpike was a great transportation highway between Albany and Syracuse and most of the traffic between these points went through here. Also it was the direct stage route between Utica and New Berlin and the lines intersected here, making it a transfer point.
   Stories of the old stage days are numerous. There was the same bustle and excitement, and even more so, when the covered, four-horse coaches, containing sometimes as many as twenty passengers, arrived and left than there is now at our railroad stations. The tooting horn announced the stage's near approach and all was hurry and excitement. One or two incidents will reflect something of the manner of the drivers and the stagecoaches of those days.
    Usually when the great top-heavy coach was loaded and everybody was packed in, the driver came out with a great flourish, gave a leap to the seat and with a snap of his lashed whip and a yell the horses moved off with a jump. This was all a part of the procedure and the stage driver who lacked any of this enthusiasm was not considered fit for the job. On one occasion it is related, which was one of similar occasions, the driver gave a yell too soon, or at least had not got old of the reins and the horses, darting forward, made the turn to go north to Utica and turned too short and the stage toppled over. It was loaded inside and out to its (P. 70) full capacity and many were injured. They were mostly Quakers from the West, who had been in attendance at a great meeting of Quakers at Morris. On another occasion the stage started up so quickly as to precipitate a man was sitting in back of the driver. He fell over backward, striking the ground on his head and shoulders and sustained injuries from which he died.
   It is hard to convey to the people of this generation anything of the activity along the Cherry Valley Turnpike. Men who are now living relate that when boys they sat on the steps of their homes and saw droves of cattle, horses and sheep pass by for many hours. Until 1843 all stock for Eastern markets was driven over this turnpike to Albany. After that date stock was usually transported over the railroads that became the New York Central.
   Every tavern had its stock yard located where the stock was fed and cared for in every way. Eighteen stage horses were kept standing in Bridgewater barns  all the time for substitutes when other stage horses had traveled their limited stretch. Taverns were numerous about Bridgewater. The highway which is now a state road north to Utica and which extends south to New Berlin was known as the old Utica-Bridgewater Plank Road Company and for many years was planked. When the new state road was constructed north of the village several of these planks were unearthed.
    Most goods roads were private enterprises at that time and the toll gates, which still remain a memory to many of this time, were then an established institution. One was located at North Bridgewater where the railroad crosses the highway; another just south of the village, just below the farm of Giles Scott; one near West Winfield and another west of the town near the Bellfield district. These toll gates were stationed at all entrances of the town. The toll was about four cents per horse, six cents for one horse and carriage, a shilling a pair, two cents for sheep, two cents for horseback rider and some commutation to regular patrons who lived inn the vicinity. 
    It is related that back in the early days, as well as later days of the toll system, that now and then travelers delighted in beating the toll gate keepers. A frequent method used was to pass through and promise to pay when returning and the traveler took occasion to come back by some other way. (P. 71) Stories are also told where drivers have rushed at break neck speed through the gate, pulling on the reins with all their strength, seemingly attempting to pull the horse to a standstill. The harder the driver pulled the faster the horse ran for he had been trained to do so.
    Taverns were located all along the route and were important factors in the life of the day. The Harrison Briggs house which burned a few years ago was formerly a hotel and kept by Moses Ward. When the Center church was in existence the people came for all day services and before the church was heated, the people were accustomed to seek the warmth and glow of this tavern fireside and replenish their foot stoves for the further services of the day. The Tuckerman house was also a tavern. The Rising store was originally a tavern and the old original floor is still in the building underneath the upper floor.
   The house where Eugene True now resides was at one time a tavern but at a later date the structure was lowered and made into a private residents.  The old hotel which stands by Byron Murray's on Hackley street was at one time located on the road to West Winfield, west of Frank Murray's present farm.

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