The Cicero Stage makes a stop in North Syracuse
By Richard Palmer
Using the name 'Cicero Stage' is a misnomer as there was at last one or two other horse-drawn vehicles to which this title was applied over the years. The so-called 'winter stage' which was on rummers, is at the bottom of Oneida Lake.
Franklin B. Chase, in his book "Syracuse and its Environs," published in 1924, wrote:
"Several old stage lines were put out of business by the suburban trolleys. When, in 1907, the Cicero Stage was wrecked by a trolley car at North Salina and West Willow streets, it was a coach which had been in use close to 70 years. Four horses had given way to two, but the stage driver was still a friend of all those along the route, doing shopping for his patrons, and even banking. In 1905, D.D. Van Alstyne succeeded C.H. Bonsted on this route, and before him there were William Herrick and William Petrie."
Van Alstyne received three broken ribs in the collision and the streetcar company paid him for damages. The wrecked stage was stored away in a barn in Cicero and a newer vehicle substituted. A brief news item in the Syracuse Herald on Friday, Feb. 26, 1909, a day before the service ended, noted:
"The Cicero stage, which has made the trip to and from Syracuse every day except Sunday for many years, is to be discontinued after this week. Many of the village people are loath to have it stop, as it is the only public means of egress from the village. D.D. Van Alstyne, the owner of the stage, will move onto his farm in Bridgeport next week."
It is unknown why the stage suddenly stopped running at that point since it wasn't until 1912 that trolley service commenced through Cicero to Brewerton. Most likely it was because Van Alstyne decided to become a farmer and saw the trolley would inevitably put the stagecoach out of business.
The line to South Bay was opened in 1908, but did not pass through Cicero. It ran out what is now South Bay Road. The extension to Cicero and Brewerton left the South Bay line at a junction near Gillette Road.
Former Cicero Town Historian Lona Flynn alluded to two different stagecoaches in her book, "Cicero Through the Years." She said Van Alstyne took the "summer stage" with him to his farm in Bridgeport where it became a children's playhouse. It was sold at auction in 1923 to Valentine Smith. It was then stored away in a barn which was destroyed by fire on July 29, 1943.
The "winter stage" was sold to Mason Sweeting in 1919, who used it for ice fishing. When the lake thawed in March, 1920, it sank to the bottom of the lake off Damon's Point. Divers have since retrieved remnants of it.
The following article is from the Syracuse Herald of Nov. 1, 1908:
A Reminder of Old Stagecoach Days
Sole survivor in all of the United States or all the oldtime stagecoaches whose bugles used to ring out clearly on the highways is a coach which every weekday in the year still makes regular trips to and from Syracuse. Full half a century old, its sides worn and battered by time, but still some of the faded glories one sees depicted in the old colored coaching print, the Cicero stage still bowls along the old plank road. But only two horses draw it, instead of four as in days of yore, and the bugle with which the driver used to wake the echoes is now silent.
One of the oddest of contrasts is presented almost every day in the city streets when the old Cicero stagecoach halts beside the railroad tracks to let a train pass. From the upholstered seats of the Pullman cars the passengers can look out and see a vehicle like those few have seen outside outside of picture books - its rounded, weather-beaten body hung on high wheels, the top laden with merchandise, and in the rear its old fashioned "boot." And if the shades of passengers who used to bowl along in the Cicero stagecoach occasionally take a ride in it again - as one can imagine they may - they must stand amazed to see the modern stagecoaches, drawn by a monster locomotive and with passengers dining luxuriously from linen covered tables or taking their ease in leather seats. Even more striking is the contrast that the old stagecoach presents by the side of one of the big "limiteds" that speed along the third rail Oneida electric road.
A Stage Seventy Years Old
But in the face of all these modern ways of conveyance the driver of the Cicero stage clings to the old vehicle and does a good business. The present owner and driver is D.D. Van Alstyne, who has had the route only three years. A year ago, while driving a stage even older than the one now in use, his turnout was struck at North Salina and Willow streets by a Rapid Transit car and so badly damaged that it had to be retired from service. Van Alstyne got three broken ribs and damages from the company.
In a barn in Cicero now lies this old stagecoach, which is at least seventy years old. The one now in use had been used as a substitute, and when the old one was disabled it was put on as the regular stage. A relic that some historical society should have is the old stage which is reposing in the Cicero barn, covered with cobwebs and dust. For seventy years - not missing a weekday save in the winter, when its place was taken by a sleigh stage - it plodded along the plank road until one year ago. All that it needs now is a few repairs to put into condition for active service, and it may be brought out some day to complete at least a century on the highway.
Runs Errands for Patrons
A Sunday Herald man found Van Alstyne at a livery stable in Willow street, where the old stage is stored while in the city. Without much of the old-time flourish that used to attend the daily arrival of a stagecoach had drawn up after its morning trip from Cicero and North Syracuse. The stable itself looks old-fashioned enough to be a fitting storage place for the stage. It seems to be patronized by farmers who come town on business, and their democrat wagons were packed around in the little court yard.
"Yes, I have a lot of errands to attend to," said the driver, as he busted himself in removing packages from the top and the boot. "There's $300 given me to bank," he said. "I bank money and do all sorts of things for the folks along my route, but I've never been in a 'hold up' yet."
Indeed, the driver is known to every man, woman and child along the way and they trust him with all sorts of errands. He carries their packages and delivers them to all parts of the city. He even does shopping for his patrons. Cicero thinks him an adept in matching shades of ribbons. He brings milk to town and he carries groceries, machinery and merchandise.
The Old-Time Drivers
Asked for information about the history of the stage route, the driver proved that he knows something about it, even though he bought the route and the old stages only three years ago. His predecessor as driver and owner, he said, was C.H. Bonsted, who now runs a livery stable in this city. William Herrick, who after quitting the service, was an Assemblyman and a Supervisor and is now in charge of a toll house on the Cicero plank road, was Bonsted's predecessor. Before Herrick the owner was William Petrie. By dint of faithful service in rain and sunshine Petrie had saved about $1,000 earned with the old stagecoach. About 17 years ago the bank in which he kept it failed, and afterward the driver got only 27 cents on the dollar.
The succession of owners and drivers before these Driver Van Alstyne does not know. The man who started the line 70 years ago was a Mr. Hanchett, he believed.
In those days the Cicero stage arrived and departed from Central Square, running as far as Brewerton, and its coming and going was an event. Four horses drew it then - spanking horses that were admired all the way from Syracuse to Brewerton - and the progress of the coach was marked by bugle notes. Previous to the building of the canals and railroads stagecoaches furnished the only mode of conveyances, hereabouts. With their horns blowing and laden with passengers, they bowled along the Onondaga county turnpike, sometimes 50 or 60 of them traversing a single one of the main highways in a day. For years the mails were carried by the coaches between Albany and Buffalo. When there was a heavy load of passengers the coaches sometimes used six horses.
Driver a Man of Consequence.
Not the least of these coaches was the Cicero stage, now retired, and a driver was a man of consequence, as much looked up to by small boys and even grown-ups as the captain of an ocean liner is today. The four horses were urged with cracking whip to their best speed, and on most stages running through this county, they were changed at frequent intervals. Because of the comparatively short distance traversed by the Cicero coach it is probable that changes were not made on the road.
Since that time without interruption one or the other of the old coaches has made the daily trip. Until about a year ago it used to carry the United Staes mails, but this service has been discontinued. The stage recently retired used sometimes to carry 35 or 40 passengers, but the largest number the one new used has ever accommodated is 21.
"And a good many passengers travel with me still," said the driver. "Business is pretty good." Mr. Van Alstyne announced that he has long thought of taking the old stagecoach on a trip across the country. "If I go," he said, "I shall use three horses instead of two and take the whole family along. This is the only old-time stagecoach in active service now in America, so far as I know, and I believe that besides having a fine trip I would be able to sell enough pictures of the stage along the way to pay expenses."
Looks Like a Western Coach.
The coach now runs only from Cicero, leaving at 8 o'clock in the morning and reaching Syracuse at about 10 o'clock. Returning, it leaves the Onondaga hotel in North Salina street at 3 o'clock P.M. The vehicle The vehicle most resembles the old western stagecoaches that Buffalo Bill carries to be held up at each performance by yelling Indians. The drab, light yellow and black paint on the outside has almost disappeared with the wear of time.
Within the coach there are cross-seats for passengers and the sides covered with carpet. In front is a bell and with this, passengers by pulling a cord that runs along the roof, signal the driver when they wish to alight "Cicero and Syracuse - United States Mail" is lettered in black on the outside. The boot in the rear is covered with a faded canvas to protect the freight carried there from rain and snow.Stage lines still connect many of the nearby towns with Syracuse, but the Cicero stage is the only old-timer now in use. Modern covered wagons are employed on the other lines.