Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stagecoaching in Southern Tier

Owego Gazette
August 24, 1819

(From: “Our County And Its People –
A History of the Valley and County 
of Chemung – By Ausburn Towner –
(D. Mason & Co., Publishers, Syracuse,
N.Y. 1892)

(P.132)    These last three decades of the first half of this century made the stage-coach period of the history of the region. By an imaginative person they might readily, or perhaps accurately, be termed the romantic age of the valley, as the preceding years were certainly the heroic years following the realistic iron age.
  The business was of but little moment until somewhat after 1820. Before that year the carrying of the mails, which made the financial foundation of most of the stage lines, was done on horseback, and then when the roads permitted by means of one-horse wagons and sulkies. It was sufficient for the needs of the time, for communication by mail was but little cared for in those days and somewhat expensive.
  One would not have to be very (P. 133) old at the present time to remember when sixpences and shillings were required to pay the postage on a letter at its starting point or destination, and an eighteen-pence rate was common even for what would now be called short distances. John Davis, of the “Black Horse” Tavern, to whom frequent reference has to be made in any record of the city of Elmira, ran the first stage, and that was to “Catharine Landing” at the head of Seneca Lake, now Watkins.
  Soon after, however, the business fell into the hands of other men who expanded it greatly, making Elmira a center of the interest. Among these was John Magee, of Bath, whose fortune from such small beginnings grew before he died into one of the largest in the whole region. His son, Gen. George J. Magee, of  Watkins, worthily wears the mantle of business capacity and sagacity of his father before him.
  Among others of Elmira who at one time or another controlled the stage lines of the period were J. Davis Baldwin, Sly & McGrath, and Gen. Whitney Gates. The first named a son of Major Isaac Baldwin, the second firm being Matthew McR. Sly, a son of John Sly, and George McGrath, a brother of the wife of Robert Covell, Jr. They were the last stage proprietors of the valley, running their coaches until the whistle of the locomotive was
heard. Gen. Whitney gates was a noted character of his time. He came into the valley in 1825 and at first began driving stage for Cooley & Maxwell, and became at length a proprietor of a line. The latter years of his life were employed in transferring the mail between the Post Office and the railroad station.
  The firm that conducted the stage business in its widest extent was that of Cooley & Maxwell. Their names were on the panels of the doors of the numerous Concord coaches that made good time all through the valley, the firm’s initials were on the blinders of hundreds and hundreds of four-horse team harnesses. The Maxwell of the concern was Samuel H. Maxwell, son of Guy Maxwell. He was an enterprising businessman and an active citizen of his time. His wife was a daughter of Vincent Conkling, of Horseheads, an early settler of that place of credit and renown. Mr. Maxwell represented the town of Horseheads in the Board of Supervisors of the county in 1853, ’54 and ’55. He died in Elmira in May, 1865.
  Levi J. Cooley, the senior member of the firm, was a very conspicuous (P. 134) citizen of Elmira in his time. He was born in Sugar Loaf, Orange County, N.Y., in 1801, and came with his father to the Chemung Valley in 1805, the elder Cooley dying that same year. The lad grew up and received his education in his adopted home. In October, 1824, he married Susan, the only daughter of Guy Maxwell. About the same time he was engaged in the
iron business in Blossburg, Pa., where he erected a furnace, but the expense of marketing such products without canals or railroads was not profitable and he returned to Elmira.
   He was a public man in all respects, serving several times on the Board of Supervisors of the county. The stage lines with which he was connected ran north to Jefferson or Watkins, west to Corning and Bath, south to Williamsport, and east to Owego, Ithaca and Wilkes Barre. He died in Elmira, May 31, 1874, in the seventy-fourth year of his age.
  The offices of the stage lines of Cooley & Maxwell were in the “Eagle Tavern,” a public house that was the immediate predecessor of the Rathbun House. The hotel was built  in 1833 by Abram Riker for a company. It was quite a pretentious structure for that period, although it was very plain and bare, being of brick, three stories in height, and surmounted by a dome or cupola.  On the Water street side were some tall columns of wood that
were quite imposing.

(From: Corning Evening Leader, March 12, 1947)
Stagecoach Days In The Corning Area
By the Old Chronicler
   There is something romantic a stagecoach. I don't suppose that riding the stage in the stagecoach era was really any more than riding a bus today. Yet Dickens has made of the stagecoach something almost as Christmassy as a holly-wreath. And those of us who have been brought up on Tom Mix and Gene Autry consider the Deadwood coach and the covered wagon equally indispensable properties of every "Western" movie.
   Stagecoaches used to come through the Corning area in the early days of its civilized existence. That was a foregone conclusion. Canal travel and rail travel did not eliminate the necessity of stages, because canal and rail facilities were not available in every section of the country.
  Somebody could make a nice hobby out of the subject. Stagecoaching Around Corning. The Chronicler has only a little information about it. However, he will present herewith, some of the items of which he has taken note. They will be of general interest, certainly. And maybe they will prompt some member of the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society or some other local resident to investigate the matter more deeply. - Or some short-story or novel writer, for that matter. There is at least one story recorded below which has some real dramatic value.
                                   Bath Coaching Center
   I can't say just when the stagecoach routes through Painted Post were first established. Certainly they were in operation by 1835, and probably had been functioning for some time 35 years before that. One segment of the old lines was still in operation in 1889. Bath was the coaching center in our locality. There two routes met; one from Central New York which swung through Ithaca; and another which came west through Newburgh on the Hudson, Cohecton (Sullivan County), Belmont, Pennsylvania (the name has must have been changed since), Binghamton and Painted Post. From Bath west, there was one route, which passed west through Hornellsville, Angelica, Olean, and on to Lake Erie. The whole of this Hudson-to-Lake Erie roue was called the New York and Lake Erie Turnpike. So states a writer in the Corning Daily Democrat for December 22, 1889.
                                    Swiftsure Line Big
    Other coach lines covered routes which tied in with this New York to Lake Erie route. The same article quotes an advertisement which announced just such a service from Wilkes Barre to Painted Post in 1815. It is a jolly notice "Swiftsure new line of stages from Wilkes Barre to Painted Post in New York" runs the headline. The routing of the stages is described as being from Wilkes Barre through Tioga Point (Athens, Pa.) and Newtown (Elmira) to Painted Post. Coaches leave Wilkes Barre Saturday at 11 a.m. and reach Tioga Point Monday noon, Newtown Monday evening, and Painted Post Tuesday morning. The return stage leaves Tuesday P.M.  and is back in Wilkes Barre by Friday. At Wilkes Barre patrons could change over to coaches for Philadelphia or Harrisburg. Actually "Swiftsure" seems to have only one stagecoach on this circuit. But it was new, and held 12 passengers, and four good horses pulled it. Besides, the passengers were assured they would be perfectly safe, for as the wrier of the notice concluded: "I drive it myself, and am always sober, yet a merry fellow on the road."
                                        Recall Old Hostelry
   The stage from New York to Buffalo was, however, the most important. It passed west daily, coming along through Gibson, then along the original road through our valley, which passed the Narrows where the Lackwanna tracks now lie, crossed Post Creek, and turned west through Centerville (now Riverside), where, says George Pratt, editor of the Corning Journal (in a reminiscent article published therein on June 13, 1899), the district Post Office and Stage House then stood. Charles H. Erwin in his "Early History of Painted Post and the Town of Erwin" (reprinted, Painted Post, 1917) adds that about 1835 Philo Hubble kept this Stage House or hotel at Centerville, and states, incidentally, that part of his inn was still owned in the 1870's by Mrs. Jesse Fuller (p. 39).
    Old-timers who lived in the locality in the 1830s and 1840s remembered the coming of the stage from New York as the chief thrill of the day. One who wrote in the Journal of July 2, 1857, fondly recalled "the old fashioned Stage Coach and the Post boy all out of breath and his steed reeking with sweat, with the latest news only six days from New York."
    Dr. I.P. Hoyt remembered the coach-days too. In one of his several columns of reminiscences, the one published in the Democrat of September 1, 1888, he observed: The stage coach was the great attraction in that day and the horn of the driver was more eagerly listened for than the now (sic) snort of the iron horse upon the Blossburg or great trunk line railroad from New York to Lake Erie."
                                                   Friday in February
    The stagecoach was gradually edged out of the picture as the decades brought new methodist of transportation. Yet according to the article in the Democrat of December 22, 1889, already referred to, there was still a stage between Bath and Hornell, at that date, although this was apparently the last segment of the New York and Lake Erie Turnpike still under operation.
    The most dramatic record of our stagecoach era, however, is that of the "memorable Friday in February," 1836 the stagecoach, upon sleigh runners, after a drive of five miles, halted at Erwin's Hotel, with five muffled up passengers on the inside, the driver upon the boot, lines and whip in  hand, erect in his seat, frozen to death. You could hear the snow creak under a man's feet that morning when he was a mile away, for it was the memorable Friday in February."
    (Publication No. 10, Corning-Painted Post Historical Society, March 12, 1947.


Binghamton Press
December 5, 1947

Stagecoach Era Recalled by Post War Era Road Rehabilitation


(From:  History of the Old Tioga Point and Early Athens by Louise W. Murray - Athens, 1908)
P. 530)
                          Post Routes and Stage Coaches.
   The method of transportation that should next engage attention is the old-fashioned stage, carrying both mail and passengers. Mrs. Perkins, in "Early Times," gives a pretty full account of these, so we will only supplement it.
   During the first session of the Sixth Congress, April 23, 1800, the first session of the Sixth Congress,  April 23, 1800, the first post road in this region was established, viz: "From Wilkes-Barre by Wyalusing to Athens," also from Athens by Newtown, Painted Post and Bath to Canandaigua. On this route two post offices were established in this county, (Bradford) Wyalusing and Athens; Mowbrey and Peck were the mail carriers; they traveled on foot once in two weeks. Evidently next came Bart Seely on horseback.
   In 1810 Conrad Teeter (1) contracted with the Government to carry mail once a week from Sunbury to Painted Post via Athens. The Sixth Congress also established a mail route from the Hudson "by way of Kaatskill (cq) to Owego and Tioga Point." This was certainly a great advance for the whole region. Conrad Teeter was as enterprising  as he was jovial. Beginning with a small one-horse wagon, he soon had a team, and by 1816 a four-horse conveyance, though from the start he always spoke of his "coach and four."  He also reined up with a crack of the whip and a cheery salutation to the waiting crowd, eager for news. It is but a few months since we were told of this stage driver, which had been transmitted by word of mouth through five generations -for a hundred years!
   The first stage at Owego was a three-horse lumber wagon with hickory poles bent to form a top, covered with canvas. In 1816 the stage route from Owego to Bath was opened, which ran twice a week by Athens, where it was advertised passengers wold breakfast both ways, presumably at "Saltmarsh's public (still standing at the corner of Main and Tioga); as the advertisement says: "Apply for seats at Saltmarsh's. Persons traveling from New York or any of the Eastern states to the S.W. states will find this the shortest, cheapest, and most expeditious route. Good teams, careful drivers, good stage houses promised."
   In the later days of stage coaching passengers often got out and walked across "the loop" at Factoryville, while the stage ran to Tioga Point. In our personal recollection the stages ran from the Erie road at Waverly to Towanda for some years,  just previous to 1860. We well remember the great lumbering vehicle, painted red, with its windows, trunk rack behind, and, in pleasant weather, highly coveted seats with the driver. John Beaman was the last stage driver, a man as jovial  and well to be remembered as the first driver, Conrad Teeter. The last stopping place of the stage at Athens was at the Exchange Hotel, and its arrival semi-daily was an event of great interest to the inquisitive landlord, and to the children across the way. 
   Many of the best known (P. 531) inhabitants came in connection with the post routes, (2) viz: the Saltmarshes, Justin Forbes and Ebenezer Backus. The Saltmarsh brothers ran the first stage to Ithaca, whither the route was extended from Wilkes-Barre in 1820. The lake regions were most anxious to be connected with the "post towns." "On could travel by stage to New York via Newburgh, a three days' painful journey"; and lines of coaches of excellent type were established by parties in Elmira and Owego, Concord coaches and gaily caparisoned horses replacing the rude Jersey wagon of earlier days.

(1) Conrad Teeter was a large, fat man of jovial disposition, and desirous of making a favorable impression on strangers. He drove his own stage. He took pleasure in point out his farms to the passengers, frequently claiming the finest ones along the way. If asked why he drove stage, he would reply that he loved to rein four horses and drive, but had no taste for farming. There was certainly an exhilaration in seeing those great four-horse coaches rolling into town; the driver, proud of his steeds and proud of his skill, cracking his long whip, and sometimes blowing his horn. In those days the driver was an important personage, famed for his knowledge of people and places, and his fund of good yarns. As a repository of local history he was and is unequaled.
(2) In 1814 Samuel Ovenshire and Nathaniel Flower were appointed to carry the mail from Athens to Newburgh, N.Y., via Ithaca, one round trip a week. The trip was made on horseback for three years, the men altering. The money thus earned is said to have been the foundation of their fortunes.

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