Friday, October 7, 2011

Stagecoach Driver on the 'Genesee Pike'

Syracuse Herald, Sept. 1, 1886

   Reminiscences of One of the Three Surviving First Stage Drivers.
                   A Racy Story of Early Travel
Recollections of Marcy, General Scott, Fanny Kemble, Humphrey and Other Famous Passengers.

Norman Maxon, who was a driver on the “Old Sherwood Stage Line” which began operations in this county in 1809, is still living at his home in Elbridge. His fund or anecdote and humorous stories makes him a much sought-for companion in that village. To a Herald reporter he gave the following account of his experience on the road:
“I began driving in 1828 and the only old drivers known to be living beside myself are, Consider Carter, who lives in Chicago, and George Brown of Danforth.  Col. John M. Sherwood controlled that part of the line from Manlius and Fayetteville to Geneva.  It was divided into three sections. Eastward from Auburn one line ran through Skaneateles, Marcellus and Onondaga Hill to Manlius. Another went over the Seneca Turnpike through the villages of Elbridge, Geddes and Syracuse to Fayetteville.
“That part of the road between Auburn and Geneva comprised the third section. It would be impossible now for me to tell you the exact number of teams that were employed on the line, but I think 80 would be near the figures.  At that time the stages ran through from Albany, the horses only being changed. The teams and and their drivers were in the rounds, that is, ‘first in, first out.’ For instance, a coach came into Fayetteville. My team had been in the stable longest, I would hitch on and drive it to Syracuse, where another team would take it and go on to Camillus.
“When it came my turn I would follow to Camillus and then in order to Elbridge and lastly to Auburn, where I would turn. On the down trip stops were made at the same changing places until I got to Fayetteville, where Parker and Faxton’s teams met ours. The same method was pursued on the Genesee Turnpike and between Auburn and Geneva. The advantage of such a course was it gave the horses shorter drives and saved passengers the delay which would result in stopping to feed.
“The ‘way-bill,’ which every driver carried, was another feature of the road. If a person in Auburn was going to Albany he would go to the stage office in that village and the agent would register on it by the agent of the station where the passenger took passage. By such a system the driver was saved the trouble of handling the fares. We carried the mail, too, and the distribution was done at each post office along the route except the through mails. Very few newspapers were carried, as people had not got to reading them. I think we would bring about five into Elbridge, one of them going to the hotel and the other four supplying the town with its weekly reading matter.
“To give you an idea of the circulation of the secular press, i will speak of the number that supplied the country from Syracuse to Christian Hollow, three miles below Cardiff. On publication day I have been in Lewis H. Redfield’s office and seen him put up the papers for the above-mentioned territory. I could put my two hands around the entire list. Colonel Sherwood had the contracts for carrying the mails over a large section of Central New York, but he relet them all except over the main stage lines.
 Assistant Postmaster General Porter rode with me once. He gave Colonel Sherwood the credit of being the best stage proprietor in the United States so far as prompt deliver of mails was concerned. And doubtless the compliment was merited by the old gentleman, for he took great pride in having his stages run on time and always kept good horses for that purpose.
“The first stage on the Seneca Turnpike was nothing but a two-horse wagon, and Consider Carter ran it for Isaac Sherwood, (the colonel’s father who started the business) in 1820. Carter is yet living, being more than 90 years old, and has been seen by Charles Briggs of Auburn within a short time.
“Sherwood ran lateral lines of stages to Weedsport, Lyons and Montezuma. But there was no money in these side lines and they were continually changing hands. I spent two summers and one winter on the Genesee Turnpike, and that would bring me into Skaneateles. Colonel Sherwood lived there and a noble old fellow he was. He weighed 410 pounds and on account of his fleshiness was a careful eater. He had a fondness for crackers, and  several times a day he would eat one or two and then wash them down with a swallow of rum. And his rum was no common stuff, but would come in cases which he kept in the cellar. Myself and another driver would go down and get a case,  drink the rum and fill the bottles with water and return the case to the cellar. We congratulated ourselves on our shrewdness in evading detection, but the old Colonel was onto us from the start and enjoyed the joke as well as we did.

 Famed Stagecoach Proprietor Col. John M. Sherwood. Courtesy, Cayuga County Historical Society.

“I  went to the funeral of the first white child born in this county. It was Colonel Phillips’ wife, the daughter of Aaa Danforth. The Phillips family lived on the corner where the Vanderbilt House now stands. The house, I think, was used afterwards as a coffee house and kept by the Cooks. Mrs. Phillips was buried in a little graveyard that stood off the canal not far from the present site of Greenway’s brewery. After the death of his wife the old Colonel would not enter his house for more than three months unless I was with him. I was well acquainted with him because he was the Syracuse agent for the stage company.
“While I was in Syracuse, William H. Marcy would come to our office and hired a team and driver to take him to General Mann’s. I took  him the first time he went. h would always asked me for me after that.  I had a fine gray team and it became a great favorite of his.

                                General Winfield rode stage to Fort Erie.

 General Winfield Scott went  up the line with me once. He was on his way to Fort Erie, and wore  a  military cloak and cap. When he got out at Elbridge he made me think of a pair of tongs he was so tall and thin, but afterward he fleshed up.

          English actress Fanny Kemble once rode the stagecoach.
“Another time I had Fanny Kemble, the English actress, as a passenger. She was a vivacious woman and full of fun. There was a young Southerner coming up at the same time, and he as fuming because he could not stop over at Syracuse and get breakfast at the Syracuse House. I was fun for the English woman to hear the young snob take on. She took breakfast at Elbridge, and years afterwards someone brought me a paper containing an article which she had written and in it was an account of that meal at Elbridge. She spoke in very complimentary terms of my wife, who had prepared the meal for her.

                               Enos T. Throop rode the stage to Weedsport

“Enos T. Throop would occasionally take passage with me, but I was never anxious to have him in my stage. he was a very selfish person and had no regard for the comforts of others. One morning I was called  up to take him to Weedsport to  catch the packet. It was late in the fall and the day was cold and stormy.  It was the last packet east that season and he was anxious to get it. 
“That is what he said at the stage office when he ordered the turnout the night before. His home was near the foot of the lake, but he stayed in Auburn that night with his brother George.  I was at the house at the time agreed upon, but Throop was not ready.  He sent out word that he was eating his breakfast. It was a full hour before he got outside. We began quarreling before we got outside of the village, and kept it up until we reached Weedsport. We got there just as the packet drew up to the dock.

Postmaster General Francis Granger of Canandaigua rode frequently on Maxon's stage.

“Frank Granger was a constant traveler  and was very popular with the boys. The spring succeeding the fall he ran for Governor on the anti-Mason ticket I had him as a passenger. My trip to me to Camillus,  and from there into Syracuse. Jess Williams drove the stage. It was a raw day, and Frank got chilled before reaching there. When he got out of the stage he lectured Jess about the poor run from Camillus. Williams replied: ‘Say, Mass Granger, I guess I’ve made as good a run as you did last fall when you run for anti-Mason governor.’ Granger was so pleased with the report that he gave Williams a new buffalo robe which he had with him. Williams told the story on his return, and when Granger got back he told it to a party of friends.
“One other person deserves some notice - that of Humphrey, the bank runner. At that time the system of banking by checks and drafts was not in vogue. Merchants would go to New York to buy goods, taking the money with them for payment. They would take bank bills in preference to coin because of the convenience of carrying them. After the merchants from the interior had got through trading and returned home the New York banks would  collect all the Western bank bills and start out Humphrey to have them redeemed. 
“He was always accompanied by a guard, and both men were armed. On the up trip Humphrey would call at each bank and present such bills as had been issued by that particular bank. If the bank had Eastern bank mills he would accept them in exchange, but if not, specie would be paid. The money would then be deposited for safe keeping until the return trip from the West, when the deposits would be collected. Very few, if any, of the banks would have sufficient paper money to redeem their bills, and the consequence would be that Humphrey would accumulate a large quantity of gold and silver. I recollect once of going out of Syracuse with a four-horse team, purposely to carry Humphrey and his money. I think he said he had $60,000 with him.
` “The money usually was put into trunks and the trunks thrown into the boot under the driver’s feet. Crosby, the guide, always rode on the seat while Humphrey rode inside. I gave Humphrey a good scare once just east of Syracuse.  It was on a trip out and the trunks were in the boot as usual. Crosby and myself were on the seat and Humphrey inside asleep.
“It was a pleasant day in winter time and the thaw had made the roads slippery. I was driving at a brisk trot and a sudden turn in the road sent the sleigh over on its side, throwing out the trunks. Humphrey was dozing at the time, but the way he crawled out of the stage was amusing. The sudden awakening and the idea of robbery, which probably always haunted him, doubtless was the incentive to his quick movement.
“About the time the agitation concerning the old United States Bank was at its height, Nicholas Biddle, the president of the concern, came down over the line from Niagara Falls, then the great summer resort of the country.  He was in great haste to get east and Colonel Sherwood called on me to take him from Auburn to Elbridge. His instructions were to make the trip in forty minutes, the usual time being one hour and fifteen minutes. I did it and it was considered a very creditable feat. It would not be thought much of a drive now with  a light wagon, but you must recollect our stages weighed 2,400 pounds.
“Towards the east the Seneca turnpike got to be the favorite thoroughfare, because it ran through a leveler country than did the Genesee. Another thing that contributed to make it popular was that it led through Syracuse.
“The old line stage barns stood on the ground afterward occupied by he old New York Central depot on  Vanderbilt Square. The Presbyterian Church on the green south of the barns, and Jake Hosenpratt’s farm house still further  out, were the only buildings on that  side of the road until you got outside what is now the corporate limits of Syracuse.
“To give you an idea of the value of land in the village then I will refer to a land purchase by Landlord  Comstock  of the Syracuse House. he bought 10 acres about forty rods east of the hotel and paid $1,000 for it. The price was the town talk for a long time, and Comstock was classed as a fool for paying such a price for the land. People said it would never be good for anything except as a cow pasture. The deal made him the laughing stock of the town for a long time.
` “But Salina!  It  was worth  a man’s life to get out of there. Saltpointers had an especial dislike for the residents of Syracuse. Why they did I never knew. I speak from personal knowledge when I say it was not healthful for a Syracusan to be caught in Salina. Dean Richmond was king of the bullies, and he always had a big gang at is beck and call. Fighting in the community was an essential element of their religion. A man was not in good standing in his church unless he would fight. The bigger the bruiser he was the better Christian he was the better Christian he was considered.
“They were delighted when some outside bully would come in and the poor devil had the pluck to do it would be sure not to repeat the visit. On one occasion they got beat at their own game. A great stalwart Englishman named Rand, who owned a farm near Onondaga Hill, was waylaid one day by the boilers. But he knocked them right and left with his bare fists and ever afterwards he was never molested. Rand was a very powerful man, somewhere about six feet four inches and broad in proportion, with a bony muscular frame.
“One peculiar thing about the politics of the county was the large Democratic majority. And yet every prominent lawyer in the county was a Whig.  I attributed it to the lack of education and intelligence, for  all you had to do to make anything popular with the masses was to label it Democracy and it was accepted unquestioned. 
“There was no party that ever existed that compared in ability with the old Whig party. I was at Syracuse when Seward was nominated for Governor, and that night 11 stages and a long string of wagons loaded with members of the convention went to Auburn to call on him.”


1 comment:

  1. I read this article once years ago. Norman was my great great grandfather on my mother's side and reading his stories reminds me very much of the way my grandfather told a story. I'm fortunate to be in possession of a photo of both Norman and his wife taken late in their lives.