Most notable of the public houses in the Mohawk Valley was Spraker's Tavern near Canajoharie, built about 1792. It was located along the "King's Road," later known as the Mohawk Turnpike and catered to stagecoach passengers, drovers and sailors on the Mohawk River. The building survived into the 1960s, but is now gone. Painting by Rufus Grider. New York State Archives collection.
The Eagle Hotel was opened in Waterloo, N.Y. by Quartus Knight in January, 1819 as the "Waterloo Coffee House." It was the stopping place for the Pioneer Line of stages during the great "stagecoach war" of the mid 1820s. It was one of the most popular stopping places on the Seneca Turnpike. It burned down on January 24, 1869. Knight (March 2, 1783 - July 9, 1827, was the fourth of 13 children, hence the name "Quartus," which is Latin for "fourth." [Photo courtesy of Waterloo Library and Historical Society.]
(From: "Early American Taverns and Inns" by Elise Lathrop, New York, R. M. McBride & Company, 1926. This only covers Albany and west).
Inns of New York State
Along the old Indian trail following the shore of Lake Erie, later the stage road, and now almost the same route popular with automobilists, one will hardly find any surviving old inns. This was frontier country.
A hundred years ago, when a New Englander came west to look over some lands in this section in which he was interested, he traveled almost entirely by sleigh. Arrived at Niagara Falls, where he had friends, they insisted that his wife and child remain, although they had thus far borne the trip, whiles he pushed on into the wilderness.
Following the Niagara River, about half-way between Buffalo and Lewiston, at North Tonawanda there still stands an old log cabin which was probably used as a tavern. This road was originally an old Indian trail, and between Lewiston and Queenston there was an early ferry used by travelers going westward through Canada.
Lewiston had two old taverns, both of which disappeared many years ago; one kept by Thomas Hustler and his wife, Betsy, at which James Fenimore Cooper boarded, drawing his characters of Sergeant Hollister and Betsy Flannigan, in The Spy, from his landlord and landlady. At the other, the Kelsey, Lafayette stayed on his visit to Lewiston in 1825. The Frontier House claims him, but as this was not open until 1826, although begun a year earlier, the claim seems debatable. It has, however, entertained such celebrities as Jenny Lind, Henry Clay, and Washington Irving. The attractive centenarian is still open, with broad, deep veranda, and a signboard hanging near the street quite as it may have hung when the house was opened.
As early as 1794, the Genesee Road extended from old Fort Schuyler westward to the Genesee River, and in 1798 was extended to the State line. But before this there had been travelers over the old trail, although after the Erie Canal was built this was long the popular route for travel. Even after the railroad came, little stretches of it were owned by different companies, so train connections between these were poor, and for a time the canal still prospered.
The old Iroquois Trail ran from the Hudson to Niagara Falls, through Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Avon, Le Roy, near Batavia to Lewiston, and the first stretch of the Mohawk Trail, consisting of sixteen miles from Albany to Schenectady, was built in 1797 by two young engineers. So, in coming east from Buffalo, one follows, at least in part, these old roads.
Batavia, county seat of Genesee County, was not "set off" as a town from Northampton until 1802. Three years later, Timothy Bigelow, in his Tour to Niagara Falls, mentions here a "nearly finished building which is to contain a court house, a jail and a hotel under the same roof." He stayed at Russell's Tavern, whose proprietor insisted that his sheets were clean, for they had been slept in only a few times since they were washed. Luke's Tavern also stood here at the time.
The earliest tavern between Buffalo and Avon was about a mile east of the present town of Le Roy. Charles Wilbur came here in 1797, and opened a tavern in a log cabin. A year later, he sold this to Captain John Ganson, who was in the Revolutionary Army and fought at Bunker Hill. In the earliest days of this tavern, Indians frequented a spring near the house, and the nearest neighbors were "the desperate characters at Big Springs, " and a few at Avon, where Captain Ganson had first located. Early travelers frequently mention Ganson's. John Maude, in his Visit to the Falls of Niagara in 1800, says: "Proceeded on my journey 297 miles (from Albany) Ganson's Tavern. When my friend L. passed this place last year, Ganson's was a solitary house in the wilderness, but it is now in the midst of a flourishing town in which twenty-one families are already settled. A new tavern and a number of dwelling houses are building."
Five years later, Timothy Bigelow was not complimentary:
"July 22nd, 1805. Ganson's is a miserable log house. We made out to obtain an ordinary dinner. Our landlord was drunk, the house was crowded with a dozen workmen, reeking with rain and sweat... We hastened our departure before the rain had ceased."
When the new roads were opened, many immigrants flocked to this section, the Ganson log cabin was replaced by a larger frame house, and when the first landlord died in 1813 and was succeeded by his son, John, it became one of the best known houses between Albany and Buffalo.
On the site of what was long the eagle Hotel in Le Roy, - the village received this name in 1813, - was an early tavern known as Auntie Wemple's. A frame house followed this, kept by Richard Stoddard, and the brick building, part of which is now the Post Office, the rest a lodging-house, was built by James Ganson, another son of the first tavern-keeper, and continued as a hotel until 1920.
Before 1810, Richard Stoddard built a frame house on the site of the Wiss House. This was first used as a store, later as a tavern, kept by Rufus Robertson. Enlarged, it became the Globe and Eagle Hotel, with a brazen sign of the bird surmounting a globe. Many years ago it was given the name under which it is still open, after an early landlord, Wiss.
Half a mile west, on the main road to Buffalo, Captain John Lent opened a tavern in 1813 which later became a private residence, and is now an exclusive lodging-house. The first frame house in Le Roy was Captain John Austin's Tavern, and survives as the wing of a private residence. Still another tavern in the village was opened by Hinds Chamberlain, and continued at least until 1810, later becoming a dwelling.
In this period, Le Roy was an important place. The largest town between Buffalo and Canandaigua, ten stage-coaches passed through it daily, besides many emigrant wagons going west and south. Many of the houses along the road were regularly licensed taverns, while others kept travelers over night, or furnished them with meals, which were sometimes scanty, as the following anecdote told by Mr. Sampson in an account of old timer in Le Roy, published in a local paper, will show.
"A weary and hungry traveler on a jaded horse, rode up to the door of one [tavern] not a hundred miles hence, and asked for entertainment for the night. The landlady from within having assented, the following colloquy ensued:
"Traveler: 'Can you furnish provender for my horse?'
"Landlady: 'No, we have none.'
"Traveler: 'Can you furnish me with supper?'
"Landlady: 'We have no bread. My husband started for the mill this morning and will return to-morrow.'
"Traveler: 'Can you furnish me with a glass of whiskey?'
" Landlady: 'We have none. My husband took his gallon bottle, and will bring some when he returns.'
"Traveler: 'Madam, can yu tell me what you do keep for the entertainment of travelers?'
"Landlady: 'We keep a tavern, sir.'"
At Fort Hill, east of the town, a tavern stood at the top of the hill, as the grandson of its proprietor, the former now a man of eighty or thereabouts, recalls. A three-story brick building in Pavilion was a stage-coach hotel; and one of stone Caledonia, now the Post Office and Masonic Temple, was another. Almost every four corners then had its stage-coach inns, many of which are still standing as private residences.
Continuing eastward, a few years before the first tavern was opened in Le Roy, two Englishmen, Moffett and Kane, the "desperate characters" mentioned, had established one at Big Springs (Caledonia). Suspected of robbery and murder, they were driven away by Avon settlers, and were succeeded by Peterson and Fuller.
In Avon, Gilbert Berry built a log house in 1789, traded with the Indians, finally opening a ferry, entertaining in his cabin such travelers as passed along the old trail.
Hartford had Hosmer's; Bloomfield, Hall's Tavern, both mentioned by early travelers. For some years, the road west from Albany ended at Canandaigua, "a beautiful village," with Blossom's Tavern.
Geneva had Powell's; and at Cayuga was a tavern kept by Harris, who "boasted that he could keep beef fresh in summer for four or five days by hanging it as high as possible, after wrapping it in flannel." Halfway between Cayuga Bridge and Auburn was Colonel Godwin's place, and Auburn had an inn at least as early as 1819, while Bodine's was near by; at Skaneateles was Andrew's Tavern, and Tyler's at "Onondaga Hollow": Streethar kept a tavern at Sullivan, and Laird at Westmoreland, where "with six or seven charming daughters, sometimes called Mother Cary's chickens." They were very handsome and accomplished, and "helped to make the house attractive."
Syracuse in 1811 had but one house of any kind, Cossett's Tavern, where later stood the Syracuse House. South from here, on another road, at Cortland were two old taverns. In Cortland on the site of one, the Eagle, was built the Messenger Hotel, now open; on the other, the Cortland House, burned, but replaced by a new one now open under the same name.
Returning to the old road from Albany, at Manlius Square, beyond Syracuse, was a stage house kept by Manlius more than a hundred years ago; Vernon, at the same time had one kept by Stuart, and at Quality Hill was another, kept by Mr. Webb, "most polite of tavern keepers, who might have been a dancing master."
Utica was settled in 1789, and when Bigelow visited it, he met several persons - probably in Trowbridge's Tavern - who, in the course of conversation, declared that Adam could not have been the first man, or else "he lived much longer ago than 5,000 years as the Scriptures declared [?], for it took more than 5,000 years for the Mohawk River to have broken through the rocks."
East of Little Falls was Spraker's Tavern, and in the village itself, Carr's, "a very good house," remarks Bigelow. Johnstown, named for Sir William, was on the main line of travel, and had many taverns. The first was built before 1772, on the northeast corner of William and Clinton Streets, where a private residence now stands. This was Tice's, owned by the Tory Major, Gilbert Tice, associate of the Johnsons and Butlers, and who went with them to Canada. It was probably in this house that Governor and Lady Tryon stayed when they came to attend the dedication ceremonies of the new Tryon County Court House. Lafayette is also said to have stopped here in 1778, when he came for a friendly conference with representatives of the Six Nations. From Tice's the first shot west of the Hudson River in the Revolution was fired by the Tory sheriff of the county. The house was torn down early in the nineteenth century.
The Black Horse stands at the corner of Montgomery and William Streets, so it was most desirably located. Michael Rawlins, at that time proprietor of Tice's, bought the lot in 1778, and probably built and first conducted the tavern. In 1793, it was bought and became popular as "Jimmie Burke's Place," its house and barn often being filled to overflowing when court was in session, for it was on the main road from Montgomery (then Tryon) county to Johnstown. Probably Sir William Johnson often stopped here, and many a colonial ball was given within its walls. The Johnstown Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the old inn, and now use it as a Chapter House.
A third tavern near the Court House was opened about 1812 by Jacob Yost, who was carried off into Canada by a band of Indians and Tories, during the Revolution. This house was later known as the Sir William Tavern. At that time there were thirteen taverns in Johnstown, all of them prosperous until the Erie Canal was opened.
Another inn on Montgomery Street was kept by Fon Claire, a former captain in Louis Philippe's Martinique regiment. Later he built his Union Hall, on East State Street, and ran this until 1811. His old house became the Potter, and continued under that name until it burned in 1867.
The Yellow Tavern was a famous one, with two ballrooms, but this was not opened until 1849, with an inaugural ball in honor of James Polk. A business block has now replaced it.
When Henry Yanney came with his uncle from New Jersey, he opened another Black Horse, in 1796, one mile south of Johnstown, one of largest, finest inns of this section.
In Amsterdam, the house built by Sir William Johnson for his son-in-law later became Pride's Tavern. This is probably the Revolutionary inn at which Lafayette is said to have stopped, around which Conrad's Hotel was built, preserving a portion of the old house. Beale's was "a good house" in Schenectady, but it will not now be found. On State Street, however, a tablet affixed to a house marks the site of Robert Clench's Inn, where the civil and military authorities entertained Washington in 1782, an another tavern, or perhaps the same one at a later date, was kept by Mr. Givens, whose son went to West Point and became a major. Truax's, four miles Downs', nine, and Humphreys', eleven miles east, were taverns here.
As early as 1792, Benjamin, father of Stephen A. Douglas, built a log house at Ballston, for the accommodation of invalid visitors, near Old Spring. The place, later known as Ballston Spa, soon became popular, even fashionable, and in the early nineteenth century had "two taverns and a number of boarding houses, Bromeling's, Aldrich's, McMasters', etc." It remained fashionable until after the development of steamboat traffic, and later was superseded by Saratoga.
In Albany there were many taverns and hotels. From early Dutch days, there was a settlement here, first known as Fort Orange. In colonial and later times, eight turnpikes passed through. One, the Catskill Turnpike, ran from Otsego Lake to the Susquehanna River, where a boat crossed to Wattle's Ferry on the opposite side. This name has long since been abandoned. An old military road ran from Lake George south to the Hudson River; Albany was, as mentioned, one terminus of the old Boston and Albany turnpike, so there were many travelers passing through the town.
In 1819, Benjamin Silliman, in his travels, describes crossing the Hudson six miles above Albany to Troy, on a ferryboat propelled by two horses, harnessed facing in opposite directions. The horses stood on the flat surface of a large, horizontal, solid-looking wheel, working it like a treadmill. This wheel was attached to two vertical wheels like paddles, which moved the boat. The invention of a man named Langdon, this must have been thought a marvelous successor to the old had-propelled dugouts or rowboat.
In his paper, Stage Coach Traveling 46 Years Ago, Thurlow Weed (1870), tells how passengers in these stages frequently walked, or used rails to help extricate the coach from bad places along the road. Stage drivers of those days, he says, "were as peculiar, quaint and racy as those represented by the senior and junior Weller, in 'Pickwick Papers.'" Passengers also helped to pass the time by telling stories. The turnpike from Albany to Schenectady was opened in 1802, but a local line had then been in operation for nine years.
In 1809 there were two hundred and sixty-five taverns in Albany alone, but an early historian remarks that in 1803 there was only one tavern better than "such as no gentleman of the present day would put his foot in."
This was the Tontine Coffee House on State Street, built in 1750 near the first house, which had been built by Mr. Gregory in 1650. One of his family kept the Tontine, which had no bar, liquor being sold only with meals. "All travelers of consequence, all foreigners of distinction," put up at the Tontine. John Lambert, an English traveler in 1807, writes of it: " We had excellent accommodation at Gregory's, which is equal to many of our hotels in London.
At the better sort of American taverns or hotels, very excellent dinners are provided, between two and three o'clock. They breakfast at 8 o'clock upon rump steak, fish, eggs, and a variety of cakes, with tea or coffee. The last meal is at 7 in the evening, and consists of as substantial fare as the breakfast, with the addition of cold fowl, ham, etc."
He gives the rates as from $1.50 to $2 a day. "Brandy, Hollands and spirits" were free, other liquors extra. He declares that "Americans live in a much more luxurious manner than we do, but their meals, I think, are composed of too great a variety, and of too many things to be conducive to health. Formerly, pies, puddings and cider used to grace the breakfast table, but they are now discarded from the gentler houses, and are found only in the small taverns and farm houses in the country."
In 1806, Gregory built and ran the Eagle Tavern, so it is possible that it was at this, not the Tontine, where Lambert stayed. This later house, as shown in an old print, was a square, three-storied house, with a two-storied ell. It was burned in 1848.
The Staats House (1667) formed part of the Lewis Tavern, at which the English traveler, Maude, stayed in 1800. The building was removed when Pearl Street was widened.
Not one of the following hotels existing about a hundred years ago, and mentioned by John J. Hill in his reminiscences covering 1825 to 1855, is standing now, although a few are within the memory of old residents: on State Street, the American House, Bement's, Franklin, Western; on South Market Street - not the present Market Street - the Columbia, National, Fort Orange, Exchange; on North Market the City Hotel, Temperance, and Mansion - the latter formerly an Albany merchant's residence - and the Lafayette House. Nor do the "country taverns on the hill," the 5th Ward, Northern, and Congress Hall, remain. There is apparently not one old tavern surviving in the city of Albany.
The American Hotel, built by Nehemiah Houghton in Avon in 1827, was later renamed Congress Hall. It was located near the Upper Spring on South Spring Street. In 1859 it was purchased by Dr. Oren Hall Dodge Phelps. Later it became Congress Hall. It was razed in 1913.