Friday, January 13, 2012

Jason C. Woodruff: From Rags to Riches

The second Syracuse House built in 1830,
on the east side of today's Clinton Square.

Jason Cooper Woodruff (Born March 11, 1800
in New Haven, Conn. Died July 16, 1878
in Syracuse, N.Y. Buried in Oakwood

By Richard Palmer
When Jason C. Woodruff made his first trip as a stagecoach driver between Utica and Syracuse he only had eight cents in his pocket. By the time railroads came into vogue, he was owner of part owner of a vast stagecoach network in central New York, with headquarters in Syracuse. Woodruff was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1800 in humble circumstances. He was left fatherless when he was only two years old. One of several children, his mother struggled to maintain a home the best she could.
At the age of nine, Jason found a job herding sheep which he did for four years. Then he was employed by the same firm, Prescott & Sherman of New Haven, unloading salt, which he did for two years. At the age of 15 he went to work in a tannery with the idea of learning that trade until one day he accidentally fell into a vat. Then he decided farming was less dangerous. The following winter he attended a district school. Being now nearly 17, he then decided to become a blacksmith - an occupation he followed for five years in Great Barrington, Mass.
At the end of his apprenticeship, his only assets were a thorough knowledge of the business, a limited wardrobe, and eight cents. But he had the urged to go west and seek his fortune, which he did, and eventually he found himself in Utica in the fall of 1822. Having a fund of knowledge of horses, in 1824 he became a stagecoach driver for an opposition line to the long established "Old Line Mail" proprietors. He spent the next four years driving stage to Canandaigua.
When, for the first time, he, with so much pride, wheeled up his coach-and-four in front of the Syracuse House door, he had little thought that the dismal swamp through which he had passed would be the heart of a city; that the road-bed of logs would give place to paved streets lined with spacious mansions, and, most all, that he would become mayor of Syracuse. In the parlor of the second Syracuse in 1852 he would introduce to the citizens of the city General Winfield Scott, the hero of many battles of the Mexican War.
Mr. Woodruff was the epitome the poor boy from humble circumstances could rising from poverty to the position of much authority and responsibility.
On his early travels he could see how central New York was rapidly developing and eventually made Syracuse his home. He purchased a livery business from Philo Rust in 1826 and developed his own stagecoach business, primarily on the north and south routes out of Syracuse, which he operated until superseded by railroads.
From 1831 to 1837 he was manager of the United States Banking system and in 1852 was elected mayor of Syracuse. He was twice president of the Onondaga County Agricultural Society and also served as vice president of the New York State Agricultural Society. He also was one of the oldest members of First Presbyterian Church.
In 1826 he married Amanda Johnson, a native of Lee, Mass. They had eight children. An example of his extensive stagecoach business is found in this advertisement in the Syracuse Gazette & General Advertiser of June 4, 1828:
Syracuse, Homer and Ithaca Line of Stages.
A Line of Stages for the above places will leave the general Stage Office in this village every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, which goes through to Ithaca in one day, and returns every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Jason C. Woodruff, Syracuse
Oliver W. Brewster, Onondaga Hollow.
A Line of Stages will will also leave the Stage office for Oswego and Watertown by the way of Central Square and Mexico, every day, Sundays excepted.
For the above line of Stages a share of public patronage is solicited, as good horses, carriages and drivers will be provided, and every exertion made to accommodate travelers.
J.C. Woodruff, Syracuse,
W. Green, Salina,
H. Curtis, Central Square,
A. Russel, Adams,
Hungerford & Co., Watertown
Mr. Woodruff went on to become a prominent local businessman and erected a flour mill at a cost of $30,000 which was a fortune in those time.
Woodruff, and John Butterfield of Utica, decided to give the fledgling Syracuse & Utica Railroad, opened 1839, some competition. Accordingly they established a line of daily except Sunday stages between the two cities. They intended to perform the distance in as good time as the trains, and occasionally beat them. They traveled by daylight only. The editor of the Oneida Whig on January 7, 1840 noted: "We hope the enterprising proprietors will not be left by the traveling public to pocket the loss."
But the stage proprietors soon realized that they could not compete with trains. Woodruff's stages continued to operate for several more years on routes where there were no railroads. We find this advertisement in the Syracuse Standard dated September 6, 1851:
Two Lines of Stages are now running on the Homer and Cortland Road, leaving the Stage Office at the Syracuse House, at 8 o'clock in the morning and 2 in the afternoon; leaving Cortland every morning for Binghamton. The proprietors have great confidence in presenting their Stages to the public; having withdrawn all the old stock on the road and replaced it with entirely new, and will run in as good time as any road in the State.
P.S. Stages leave every morning at 8 o'clock for the North, intersecting the Cars at Sandy Creek.
The last hold out was on the route south. This advertisement in the Syracuse Standard dated April 22, 1854 indicates Woodruff's desire to get out of the stagecoach business. By that time the Syracuse & Binghamton Railroad was under construction:

The subscriber having sold his Livery and disposed of his interest in the Northern Stages, is desirous of selling his Stock in the
HOMER AND CORTLAND Road, Consisting of Twenty First Class Road Horses and Harness, Five Post Coaches, Three Stage Wagons and Three Sleighs, now running as per the following schedule:
Going South
Mail leaves Syracuse at 8 o'clock A.M.
Accommodation leaves Syracuse at 2 o'clock P.M.
Express leaves Syracuse at 3 o'clock P.M.
Making three daily runs to Tully and two to Cortland.
The Mail and Express leave Cortland and Homer every morning, (Sunday excepted,) at from 6 to 7 o'clock. The accommodation will leave Tully at 6 in the morning, and will arrive early in the day, providing the President of the Plank Road Co. will discharge his duty to the public with that energy of character for which he has so favorably distinguished himself in subserving his own private interests.
Syracuse, April 14, 1854

Clayton, W.W., History of Onondaga County, N.Y., 1878
Hand, M.C., From a Forest to a City, Syracuse, N.Y., 1889
Obituary in the Syracuse Daily Journal, July 16, 1878

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