Saturday, October 1, 2011

Stagecoach Days in Northern New York

Stagecoach Bill for 1827

Black River Herald, Boonville, N.Y.
December 10, 1868

A REMINISCENCE OF TRAVEL. - The Cleveland Herald furnishes the following reminiscence. The railroad is to be extended to the lake, we do not doubt. Them the rest of the reminiscence may be given.
We notice the Black River railroad in northern New York now connects Utica and Lowville, Lewis county. The "stagers" over the old route from Utica to Sacket's Harbor, should take take a trip on the cars of that road, to revive memories of the hardest work ever done by travelers.
We vividly recall the perils of Deerfield dike in high water times, safely passing that only to encounter the terrors of Trenton hill, the passage of which was enlivened by obedience to the driver, whose command, "right" and "left" was the signal for the passengers to lend the weight of their influence to the corresponding sides of the long square box wagon to keep it right side up. We believe it was the trick of the common carrier trade of those days always to pass that hill by night, thus shut out the terrors of that ten miles.
A very good breakfast in the cheerful village of Trenton braced the passengers up for the tedium of Remsen mud, where came in practice the implied part of the stage transportation contract, to wit: footing it three miles out of four with a fence rail on the shoulder. Along towards evening, when Boonville speckled trout darted in imagination through an empty stomach, the wayfarer struck the sand, an hour's drag over a road which stage drivers had declared was "up-hill both ways."
A crack of the whip and the first trot struck since leaving "Bagg's tavern," brought the famished nine, with two on the outside, up to the Boonville hotel, and the realization of a speckled trout dinner or supper. There were compensations even on the stage route, you see. Such trout! And in such quantities as would make a guest at a modern hotel "on the European plan," who orders for "one," stare at the heaped up platters, so crisp, so golden, so hot, and the trout just the size for two mouthfuls each and nothing to leave but a head and perhaps a very minute tail.
But we pass on towards Lowville, which could only be reached through the Leyden and Houseville bottomless clay. What dragging, what cramps in the legs, until Martinsburg, set upon a hill, welcomed the vision, and a short drive of three or four miles brought you into the beautiful village of Lowville, where now repose a score of real gentlemen of the old school, among whom boyish memory recall the gifted Stowe, the reverend, quaint, Parson Clinton, the hospitable Bostwick, the talented Collins.
As the railroad is only completed to Lowville we have not the courage to pursue the journey at this season of the year further towards "Sacket's."


Watertown Daily Times

August 14, 1923

The Old Stage Drivers

Who remembers Ben Hall, stage driver? He went his happy way over the roads of Southern St. Lawrence for many years. His native town was Fowler. he drove stage between Gouverneur and Fine. He was crippled in a battle of the Civil War. Possibly it was in the Wilderness. A shell burst near him . It tore his abdomen seriously. War Glazier, also of Fowler, found him. Glazier bound up a grew cut with a coat and carried him to a wound-dresser.

Ben Hall recovered from the injuries afar many months but the surgery employed in dressing the wound must have been crude for he was afterward pitifully bent over to one side. Yet he could ride a stage and he was a stage driver and mail carrier for many years.

Ward Glazier, the man who saved his life, was 45 years of age before he enlisted. He was the father of Willard Glazier of the Ira Harris cavalry, later well known author of "Capture. Prison Pen and Escape," "Ocean to Ocean on Horseback," and a score of other books. Ward Glazier himself was seriously crippled.

Ben Hall was something of a verse writer. He was accustomed to work out in his head the rhymes and jingles as he traveled over the rough roads of Fowler, Edwards and Fine. One that he delighted most in had to do with his own injuries:

Shot and Ball

Couldn't kill Ben Hall

But shot and shell,

Came near sending

Poor Ben to hell.

Over all Jefferson, S. Lawrence and Lewis counties these stage drives of a generation ago heroically made heir way, in winter and summer. Weather was a minor matter with them. Usually they were philosophers who knew life in many phases. Usually they were shrewd, many times thrifty. At least they knew men and the world.

They were heroes to the farm boys. How childhood of that day watched them as they went down the road, over the hills and far away. Home boundaries were restricted in those days. Childhood didn't wander much farther than the next farm or the cheese factory. The stage drivers were world travelers. To childhood and boyhood, they had seen life. Some day childhood and boyhood would take the very stage and go far and far out into the world beyond the sunset's golden rim.

What a contrast in appearance hose men of another day to our Coach drivers of the present. What if old Ben Hall could see one of the Colonial drivers of today dressed in the uniform of the organization, gray knickers with all the accoutrements. The stretch of time is the greatest wonder worker of all.


Stage Coach and Plank Road
Days In Northern New York
First Mail Route Came Through the Black River Valley
and Was Started in 1804 - One Round Trip a Week
From Utica to Brownville - Daniel Gould, the First
Carrier, Was Replaced by Reuben Chase.
(From: Watertown Daily Times, May 19, 1928)
The writer acknowledges with gratitude assistance in the preparation of this article from Mrs. Nora W. Cruikshank, Curator of the Jefferson County Historical Society; Miss Margaret Gillis, Librarian of Ogdensburg Public Library; the late Mr. Henry Miller and Mr. L.F. Hutchinson of Malone; Mrs. John Pierrpont Constable of Constableville; Mrs. Mrs. George Tuttillo of Plattsburgh; Mr. John K. Mills of Canton; Mr. Harold B. Johnson and Mr. Harry F. Landon of Watertown; Mr. S. Vigilante of the American History room in the New York Public Library, New York city, from officials of the New York State Library at Albany, and many others.
Four o'clock in the morning. Perhaps it is a bright and sunny morning in June, perhaps it is cold and dark, a morning in December. But whatever the month, whatever the season, the stagecoach is ready and waiting. Sleepy passenger emerge from the tavern, a sleepy driver climbs up to his place, cracks his long whip, and the stage is off.
Not always, to be sure, would the coach leave at this early hour. But it frequently did, frequently enough to stamp it as a characteristic of stage-coach days, in Northern New York, as well as elsewhere. Elise Lathrop, in her "Early American Inns and Taverns," says, speaking of the stage line between New York and Albany, "Three days were required for the trip in summer and four or more in winter, a day's journey lasting from five o'clock in the morning until ten at night." Traveling by stage-coach for eighteen or nineteen hours a day, journeying over roads only in name, closely confined within the compass of wagon-box, must have been inconvenient and uncomfortable, even though it was far in advance of traveling on horseback, which in turn marked a step forward in transportation from traveling on foot.
Having referred to the Boston stage and to the condition of the roads, it may not be amiss to quote a distinguished New Englander on both, Josiah Quincy, in 1784, described his trip from Boston to New York as follows: "I set out from Boston on the line of stage lately established by an enterprising Yankee, Pease by name, which at that day was considered a method of transportation of wonder expedition. The journey to New York took up a week. The carriages were old and shackling and much of the harness was made of rope.
One pair of horses carried the stage eighteen miles. We generally reached our resting placed for the night, if no accident intervened, at ten o'clock, and after a frugal supper, went to bed with the notion we should be called at three the next morning, which generally proved to be half past two. Then, whether it snowed or rained, the traveler must rise and make ready by a horn lantern, or a farthing candle, and proceed on his way over bad roads. Then we traveled eighteen miles a day, sometimes obliged to get out and help the coachman lift the coach out of a quagmire or rut, and arrive at New York after a week's hard traveling, wondering at the ease as well as the expedition of our journey."
Although stages age said to have been running as early as 1733 between New York and Philadelphia, it is not until 1756 that there is authentic record of such a line, and it is not until 1785 that stages were running regularly between New York and Boston. It was not until some time after 1800 that stage lines penetrated northern New York. The reason of course, is not far to seek. With the exception of a few Indians and a feeble settlement of whites at Ogdensburg, a thin line of pioneers along the Black River valley, and scattered clearing here and there, there was neither roads nor commerce in northern New York.
Mr. Ford, with the assistance of D.W. Church, had, indeed, at the cost of much money and more labor, put through his new Ogdensburg road, supplanting the old Oswegatchie road, and thee was a road from Plattsburgh through the Military Tract and across country to Ellenburgh and Malone, though Mr. Ford stoutly maintained that is road was better than the one through Chateaugay, as the old maps render the present-day Chateaugay. In 1814, writing from LeRaysville to George Parish, then in Philadelphia, Pa., V. LeRay de Chaumont says: "Mr. DeLaunay and myself went yesterday to Sacket's Harbor. We left here after an early morning breakfast in my little waggon, tandem, remaining five hours in the village, during which we saw the fleet, the fortifications, dined with the Commodore, and were back here for supper. We were 9 1/2 hours on the way (48 miles including stops, which proved that are roads are not yet impassable." This would work out to about five miles an hour, and indicated that while the roads had improved over those of 1800, there was yet some distance to go. Note that three horses were used.
But in 1800 Macomb's great purchase was in the process of dissolution and the country was rapidly filling. William Constable, Gouverneur Morris, LeRay de Chaumont, Daniel McCormick, the Pierreponts, the Harisons, the Clarksons, Gerritt Van Horne, all owners each of them, of thousands of acres of land in Northern New York, were selling off farms and locating settlers. Watertown had begun its existence. Sacket's Harbor was a naval post of growing importance, and destined, in a few years, to play a large part in the coming war with Britain.
Mills had begun to appear at the Long Falls, now Carthage, and at Ogdensburg, and the Parishes, also land owners, would soon be building their iron works at Rossie and their distillery at Parishville. Civilization, or, if you prefer settlement, advances in waves, and so it is to be expected that the first stage lines into Northern New York would start from the settled Mohawk valley and advance up the Black River valley. So it was. The first mail route into Northern New York was through the Black River valley from Utica, and was established in 1804. Daniel Gould was the first mail carrier, and the fore-runner of the postal service of today.
Gould was soon succeeded by Reuben Chase. Chase performed one round trip each week between Utica and Brownville, for Brownville was then a place of major importance, as the home of Jacob Brown and as a mill and trading point. Chase lasted for several years, and the phrased is used advisedly. It was a task calling for herculean effort, this journey each week over the Trenton hills to Boon's in the town of Trenton. (Boon's was not the Boonville of today, but the house at Holland Patent of Gerritt Boon, agent for the Holland Land Company, though Boon did later give his name to Boonville.)
Beyond Boon came Storm's, now the site of Boonville, then came the High Falls, known today as Lyons Falls, then the level stretches of Turin and then the long up-hill into Martinsburg. Here Postman Chase could see Walter Martin's new house in building for Walter Martin, later General Martin was that year beginning to the erection of the stone house which still stands on top of the hill at Martinsburg, a witness to the sturdy qualities both of our forefathers and of their buildings.
This house, it is interesting to know, was modeled on the stone house of Sir William Johnson at Amsterdam, called Fort Johnson, which house had appealed to Martin, who had once spent a night there. Indeed, so anxious was he to reproduce the Johnson house in all its details that he sent his builder, David Waters, all the way to Amsterdam to make measurements and to copy the plan.
The mail rider no longer passes the General Martin house on his weekly trips and the many thousands who now travel the high grade in front of it, few know its historic association with Sir William Johnson.
But we are forgetting Reuben Chase. Leaving Martinsburg, soon to become the county seat of Lewis county (which indeed in 1805). At what is now Lowville, Nicholas Low, on one of his visits to his lands, was waiting for the post. In any event he must have heard the first rumblings of the county seat war, whereby Lowville, in 1805, tried to win the distinction from Martinsburg. The attempt was unsuccessful, and Lowville had to wait for the coming of the railroad, when the change was made almost overnight.
After Lowville, came Denmark, then Champion, then the Rutland hills and finally Watertown. Amos Lay's map of Watertown, New York published in 1812, a copy of which, once owned by William Constable, is still preserved at Constable Hall in Lewis county, bearing Mr. Constable's autograph signature on the cover, and the date, 1812, shows plainly the road these tireless postmen followed - and suggests, as well, the sparse population and primitive conditions through which they traveled.
Barnabas Dickinson, who succeeded Chase, was the progenitor of the stage line. He placed a two horse wagon in service, and carried both mail and passengers. About 1812, the roads having been improved, Parker and Company, for a year or two, ran a weekly stage over the route, but of them no more is now known. The Sackett's Gazette of October 8, 1818, says, "A new line of stages from Utica to Sackett's Harbor, through Adams and Rome is now advertised," but a copy of the paper containing this item contains no advertisement of the stage line.
It will be noted that the line was to follow the western route, rather than the eastern one through the Black River valley. In 1824 there appeared upon the scene two or three men destined to play a large part in the transportation of northern New York for many years to come. These were Ela Merriam, N.W. Kiniston, E.W. Backus and a little later S. Backus. Merriam was the son of Nathaniel Merriam of Leyden. In January, 1824, Mr. Merriam, in company with Mr. Backus, M. Kiniston and John McElwaine, whose connection with the business seems to have been of brief duration, began the carrying of the Utica-Watertown mail. In connection with the stage route, and Mr. Merriam, at least, continued in the business for over forty years.
In the Jeffersonian for October 12, 1826, it is announced that a new line of post-coaches from Sackett's Harbor via Adams and Rome to Utica, a distance of 91 miles, leaving Sackett's Harbor on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, arriving the same day in Utica, had been established. The line had been so arranged as to meet the steamboat Ontario and Kingston Packet at Sackett's Harbor, the Syracuse stage at Adams and the canal packet boats at Rome.
This was not the only way of reaching Utica from Sackett's Harbor. In the Jeffersonian for November 20, 1826, N.W. Kiniston and Company announced that the "Old Line" of stages from Sackett's Harbor to Utica, by way of Watertown and Lowville, run through every day, and that Kingston may be reached by a line of stages from Watertown to Cape Vincent. And in these advertisements come the first suggestion of a line to Syracuse. Kiniston and Company advertise Watertown and Syracuse stages leaving Watertown every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, returning Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, "through in one day, when the roads will permit."
Significant, that last clause, and reminiscent of Quincy's note on New England roads, already quoted. And in 1828, A. Russell, proprietor of the Eagle hotel and stage house, in Adams, announces that stages leave his house for Syracuse and Oswego every morning, and for Watertown and Ogdensburg every evening. Western business has evidently picked up in the two years since 1826, when the Syracuse stages run three times a week. Mr. Russell also announces that the Utica and Sackett's Harbor stages leave his house for Utica on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the morning and for Sackett's Harbor Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the evening.

New York Spectator, July 6, 1825

Boonville Herald

June 1, 1882

Ye Olden Time

A recent ride from Boonville to Turin, through the town of Leyden, via Talcottville, Leyden Hill and Collinsville, brought up a world of memories regarding the pioneer settlers of that town, and awakening reminiscences of the men and events of fifty years ago of that locality. I remember the road as it was over thirty years ago, when General Merriam ran a line of stages on the route, and when passengers had to get out of the over-loaded coaches in the spring of the year, and foot it part of the way.

In some places pry, with rails, the vehicles out of the ruts, because of the depth of the mud; and then again pleasanter memories came, as I remember the plank road which came later, and how the four-horse stages rattled over the route, stopping at the "Hulbert House" in Boonville for the passengers to take their meals, and then push their way, at a spanking rate of speed, over the hills, and across the picturesque country; l and now and again, comes another change.

We are in the dirt and mud once more, but the old-fashioned and crowded stages are gone - the pioneer settlers are gone - those who were conspicuous and leading actors in Lewis county half a century ago, they too are gone. The thrift and busy times in the little hamlets above named, especially at the taverns when the stages arrived, are also gone. In fact not much remains to remind one what the town and men of Leyden once were, except as chronicled in the history of the past, or impressed upon the memories of those yet living, whose recollections go back for more than half a century.

Watertown Daily Times, January 25, 1895

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