Sunday, September 28, 2014

'New" Howard House, Port Byron, 1908

This was later the site of Emerson's Food Mat. Photo is looking east. William Howard Taft once spoke here during a political campaign. Many famous politicians and lecturers also visited here and ate in the spacious dining room. 

Howard House at Port Byron, New York, 1870s

Photo taken in the 1870s looking east. Utica Street, or Route 31, is in the foreground. Building changed in later years and a third floor balcony was added. Building to the right was annexed and the three balconies extended to cover it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Remember the Tog Hill Tavern

Old stagecoach inn - This early 19th century house about two miles east of Nelson on Route 20, was originally called the Tog Hill Tavern. It was originally operated by Granley Case and catered to cattle drovers in the days when the road was known as the Third Great Western Turnpike. This was also the local social center in days long gone, and a ballroom was located upstairs. 

The Cherry Valley Turnpike
by Walter H. Main
(Contributed by Richard Palmer)
From the Utica Saturday Globe, July 19, 1919
One of the Notable Old Highways of Another Day, the Channel of Commerce for Western New York before the Erie Canal, a Road whose Romance of Trade is Partly Revealed in the Old Taverns that Linger by the Wayside
    No, these weather-beaten old taverns along the Cherry Valley Turnpike don't yield the sort of poetry we learned in the Tales of a Wayside Inn. These are wayside inns, but they tell of no Paul Revere, they have no “Sicilian's Tale,” no “Saga of King Olaf”. So far as legend reveals it, they had no Musician who used to sit dreamily beside the roaring fire, and draw sweet fancies from his violin.
    When you prowl through the damp, disused, deserted ballroom of one of these old taverns, and the wide boards creak beneath your tread, they stir up a different sort of story. The shades that you may disturb in the dark corners have a different sort of poetry about them, the rude poetry and romance with which time at length softens the harsh lines that fell to the pioneer.
   True, they tell you little that is fanciful but they tell you most cheerfully about the wonderful whiskey that used to flow, about the barrels and barrels of it, about the loads that used to require six, eight or ten horses to haul the corn juice to Albany.
A garrulous shade of the past will jeer out at you from the dim corner of the tap room in one of those old taverns, and with tears in his voice will drone out to you this tale:
The Days of Whiskey, Drovers and Teamsters
    "Why, say, mister, you orter seen them loads of whiskey! I hearn tell about a dry spell that's hit the country, when nobody da'st have whiskey, ner much of anything else. I'm glad I ain't alive to suffer."
    Drawing a thin, withered hand over his parched lips, the shade drones on.
"Why, mister, there uster be three stills up here at Cazenovy. Think of it! Three stills. And that uster be real whisky, too! No such stuff as they've been sellin’ sence I ceased travelin' this 'ere rud" — he meant "road."
"Up at Marcellus was another still. Oh, they was lots of stills out this way and they uster draw it all to Albany."
   "This was a great pike in them days," cackled the dry old shade from the dim corner of the tap room. "This was part of the Great Western Turnpike, straight road from Albany to Buffalo. The Cherry Valley part of it ran up through here to Syracuse. Albany to Syracuse that's it, straight's a ruler can draw the line, up through Schoharie county, through Sharon Springs - oh, it was a great old rud."
If only you find a bottle of spirits to set before the dry old shade there in the corner of the tap room he would cackle on forever about the good old days of the drovers and teamsters.
    A tavern, you understand, springs up where there is a natural stopping place for teams — at the top of the hill, at the forks of a road at a watering place, at the natural end of a day's journey. No landlord would set up a caravansary at his own sweet will. He chooses some natural stopping place.
    The Old Stage Tavern at the top of the hill near Morrisville, owes its position to the fact that it was the natural place to stop and rest the team, and to "bait" the horses after a long pull up the hill from Nelson. Always teams were loaded going toward Albany.
Trade From Transplanted Yankees
    This string of taverns which you may see this day along the Cherry Valley Turnpike, these weather-beaten old frame structures long since turned into farmhouses, those were the natural development from the overland trade which grew from the pioneering of the post-Revolutionary period. All western New York poured its traffic over this road.
    It was after we had made peace with Britain, after the peace was signed in 1783 that the great migration began out of Connecticut. Up through Albany came the great tide of migration. They followed the westward way. The hand that beckoned on the restless Yankees was always the prospect of bettering their condition.
    Already the Connecticut country was too thickly populated. The venturesome young fellows loaded their brides, their pots and kettles, their heritage of mahogany furniture and grandfathers' clocks into their ox-carts? or into sleighs and set out, whistling a merry tune, with their axes over their shoulder.
    What the Dutch thought of those restless Yankees you may read in Washington Irving's Knickerbocker History of New York. He describes them as a long, lank, lean, hungry lot, crowded if any other family lived nearer than three miles, perpetually surrounded by a large squad of children, always clearing a patch in the woods, putting up a log cabin, dwelling there a spell, and always moving on into a new wilderness, of such was the population composed which entered the    Promised Land of central New York at the dawning of the 19th century.
    You may see their marks in the names of the towns, like Hartford, Canaan and the rest. You see the reflection of the old classical learning of the east and such names as Syracuse, Scipio, Marcellus, Virgil, Cato, Pompey.
This was the sturdy population which took up the new land whose great market was Albany, where the sloops from New York drew up and were laden. This was the population that produced great harvests of grain, great droves of cattle, great hogsheads of whisky, hundreds and thousands of turkeys and hogs and it was the going of this produce to tidewater that made the Cherry Valley Turnpike. Out of this traffic sprang the taverns that stand today over the memories of the past, while the present whirls by on rubber tires, unmindful of the commerce which used to toil slowly in a steady stream over this great highway.
    Three ancient hostelries within a few miles on the Cherry Valley Turnpike are the old Stage Tavern, Tog Hill Tavern, and the Nelson Tavern. Tog Hill Tavern is a little way west from Morrisville. It was owned in its heyday by Granley Case, and great were the doings in its famous ballroom. The elite for miles around used to find their social pleasures there. It is said really to have been the abode of fashion in its day. Granley Case had two sons, John and Dwight, who sold the property in 1862 to Samuel L. Jones, who with his heirs has used it for a farmhouse.
Three Coaches a Day
    The old Stage Tavern at the top of the hill near Morrisville was one of the best known and most patronized in the days of the turnpike traffic. When you consider that in those days this was the great direct route east and west, and that three stagecoaches each way rolled over this turnpike each day, you may know something of what the trade must have been about at this great square frame building. While the four horses of each stage were being fed, or while they were being changed for other teams, the wayfarers would unlumber themselves from the ponderous leather-springed stages and regale themselves with mine host's dinner.
    Rather more pretentious than a tavern was the Exchange Hotel at Morrisville. The village was for well nigh a century the county seat of Madison County. The Court House is still standing in which the forensic leaders of the day used to try their oratorical powers on rustic juries. The jail is there yet where prisoners used to repine. They can still point out to you the iron weight which in its day jerked into eternity on the gallows many a criminal. They can point out to you a swamp not far away that escaped prisoners hid themselves.
Abode of the Legal Lights
    But as to the Exchange Hotel his was a palatial caravansary in its day. Here during court week the judicial and legal lights of the county, and sometimes from other sections, used to gather. Before the days of telephones litigants had to assemble in the open days of court and tarry until their case was called. Principals, attorneys and witnesses, all had to come to court, and wait and wait for days. While they waited they stayed at the Exchange Hotel. Within a year this structure has been razed but its picture has been preserved.
   It was a capacious, rambling old hotel, capped with a square cupola. On the walls of the cupola you might until a year have read names of legal lights of past generations. Most of these names are forgotten now, but in their day stood for all that was legally great in the legal profession.
    Local legend has it that nights and Sundays the gentlemen of the law were wont to assemble in the cupola to play poker. With the trap door shut, who could prove that they were not up there to view the scenery?
Road Unfrequented for Years
   Until the days of good roads and automobiles, for three-quarters of a century, the Cherry Valley Turnpike wound its way across the beautiful country in mid-New York. For not much more than a quarter century did its hey-day last as a channel of traffic. Then came the Erie canal, which from 1825 until the railroads pushed their way through, carried the produce of the great fertile hinterland to tidewater. From 1825 traffic began to dwindle over the pike, but it was a long time before it utterly ceased. The droves of turkeys, cattle and hogs, the great loads of produce and whisky kept moving over this well beaten track for years and years.
    Now comes the automobile and the highway comes into its own. Where once the commerce of a new century flowed to tidewater now go touring the grandchildren of those who made the old Cherry Valley Turnpike famous.
Now comes the day when men name roads after great Americans. Some would name the great western turnpike the Roosevelt Highway. Leading westward, ever westward toward the setting sun, toward the land of promise, where Roosevelt never turned for his inspiration, stretches the old road.

   Those who travel it may look on the landmarks of the early days, when the country was new, when the vigor of the early settlers made New York the leading State in the Union, the landmarks of the old commerce, the landmarks by the side of the road, the taverns of the Cherry Valley Turnpike.

Park House in Hamilton, N.Y. in 1851

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Walloomsac Inn - Remnant of Stagecoach Days

    Because of its prominent location and unkempt appearance, the Walloomsac Inn has always attracted much public attention as one of the obviously most historic buildings in the picturesque village of Old Bennington. The inn, located on the old post road from Troy to Bennington, Brattleboro and Boston, served the public as a bed-and-breakfast as recently as the 1990s. It is a private residence whose owners wish that status to be respected.
    Nonetheless, in view of the prominence and public nature of this building. The Bennington Museum has considerable information on this historic landmark.  Reports that it was built in 1764 by the first settled minister of Bennington's Old First Church, the Rev. Jedediah Dewey, for his 20-year-old son, Elijah, are erroneous. Rev. Dewey was the builder in 1763 of the oldest frame house in Bennington, diagonally across the green from the Walloomsac Inn.
    New research has found that the inn dates to 1771 and that it was indeed built by Elijah Dewey. The earliest documentation is found in a deed signed in the spring of 1771 from Moses Robinson, Bennington's biggest land owner (and future governor of Vermont as well as one of its first two U.S. Senators), to Elijah for a plot of a little more than an acre.
    A 1798 portrait of Elijah Dewey by the itinerant artist Ralph Earl includes a front view of Dewey's Tavern (Walloomsac Inn) as a two-story structure with a gambrel roof, later raised for a third story and changed to a pitched roof. Another Earl painting, a panorama of Old Bennington in 1798, shows the south and back sides of Dewey's Tavern, with a side porch and the gambrel roof. Both paintings are on permanent exhibit at the Bennington Museum.
    Dewey's Tavern, along with the Catamount Tavern (Fay's Tavern), located a few yards uphill, were among sites used by the legislature of the independent Republic of Vermont, which lasted from 1777 until statehood in 1791. The capitol of Vermont at Montpelier was not established until 1808.
    The most historically prominent guests of Dewey's Inn were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in June of 1791. Jefferson was U.S. secretary of state at the time and wished to visit the new state of Vermont. Madison accompanied him as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
    After Elijah  Dewey's death in 1818 his inn came into the hands of the Hicks family, and was known by that name during the best years of the stagecoach era – until trains came into this region in the early 1850s. Stagecoach travel from the Hicks Tavern to New York took four full days, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, through Pownal, Pittsfield, Danbury, and White Plains, for a $9 fare. Owner James Hicks enlarged the building in 1823, adding the third floor and installing a ballroom on the second floor.
    In 1848, as stagecoach travel was about to end, the inn was purchased by George Wadsworth Robinson, who changed its name from Hicks Tavern to Walloomsac House. In a vain effort to attract summer visitors, Robinson also built observatory towers on Mt. Anthony that had a habit of succumbing to high winds. For a few years the inn was owned by a relative, Mrs. Mary Sanford Robinson and her brother, Samuel Sanford.
In 1891 Sanford hired a proprietor named Walter Berry, who after five years was able to purchase the inn and it has been owned by the Berry family ever since. 

    Walter Berry added the large three-and-a-half-story addition on the rear of the original building. A few years ago an enterprising arts writer for the Bennington Banner, Hinda Mandell, ignored the “private property” sign at the front door and was welcomed by the Walloomsac Inn's current resident, Arlene Berry, Walter's granddaughter.
    Mandell observed: “Any discussion about the inn with locals is steeped in questions about its future, the current condition of the property, and various personality traits of Walter Berry's granddaughters, Arlene, Kathleen Kaiser, and Donna Berry Maroney.”

                                             Front view of Walloomsac Inn

This three-story addition was built in 1891.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Albany and Boston Mail Stage

                                                   Albany Argus, October 26, 1814

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mail Contracts Awarded

Onondaga Register
December 17, 1828

    Mail Contracts. - The Post Master General has renewed the contracts for carrying the mail from Albany to Buffalo, on several other important routes which intersect the great western thoroughfare between these places, with Messrs. Parker, Sherwood & Coe. Some of these men have been mail contractors ever since the route was established. Mr. Parker carried the first western mail from Albany to Utica on foot, and to his exertions and those who have been associated with him, are the public indebted for the unparalleled expedition with which the principal mails are now transported in this state.

Post Roads in 1825

Onondaga Register
June 22, 1825

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Fast Moving Stagecoaches

Onondaga Register
August 9, 1815

    The line of Stages from Albany to Manlius, via Cherry Valley, is again extended to Canandaigua, and performed the whole distance, 200 miles, in two days, arriving at Canandaigua three times a week.  The old mail line via Utica, will  perform the route from Albany to Geneva in two days. The distance from Albany to Geneva, via Utica, is about the same as from Albany to Canandaigua, by Cherry Valley.

Onondaga Gazette
Wed., Sept. 18, 1816

Friday, January 10, 2014

Aaron Kirk of Auburn, 83, Formerly Drove a Stagecoach

Syracuse Herald
Sunday, July 16, 1916

              His Routes Were From Auburn to Oswego and From
                            Auburn to Ithaca

    Auburn, July 15. - Aaron Kirk, who for many years drove a stage coach, will celebrate on Monday, surrounded by three generations, his 83rd birthday. In the best of health, vigorous, keen and with a great fund of stories of the days before the gasoline vehicle, which a retentive memory helps him to keep intact. M. Kirk is looking forward to a happy day.
    He enjoys the record of being one of the oldest stage drivers in the United States. From many parts of the country relatives will come this year, as they have in all recent years, to be with him on his birthday and listen to him spin thrilling yards of the days when the stage coach was the only means of conveyance from village to village in this section, and the mails were carried on the heaving and creaking vehicles. Mr. Kirk lives at No. 38 Park avenue. He had a remarkable career as a pioneer in opening up the roads of this region and he is known in many counties of the State.
   Mr. Kirk began staging it at the age of 12 years and once in a while now he will mount the box of a hack just to handle the reins again. For 70 years he has occupied the driver’s seat on scores of stages and other vehicles and has probably traveled over more miles by horse drawn conveyance than any other mean in the State.
                                        Born in Sterling.
   He was born in the town of Sterling 83 years ago, but when he was a mere lad of 12 he made Auburn his headquarters much of the time as he drive the stage owned by his brother into town. From that time until practically the present he has remained in the occupation for which he took a liking when but a stripling.
   For a number of years Mr. Kirk drove a stage from Auburn to Oswego and from Auburn to Ithaca, maintaining a regular route in the absence of steamer or trolley transportation. Through snow drifts, which compelled him to dig his teams out with shovels, and through summer heat, which made the dusty stage routes resemble the arid, blistering reaches of the Arizona desert, the grizzled driver piloted hundreds of pioneer travelers. In his memory are vivid pictures of night battles with storms, smashups in inky darkness, and encounters with mud up to the floor of the old hickory stage.
    As may be imagined, the veteran driver has met with more adventures than the average man. There have been experiences in his life which would make tales of the desperate incidents in the careers of Nick Carter and Wild Bill  pale into insignificance. In fact, the manifold stories of Mr. Kirk are something of a wonder to all who know him.
                                    Interesting Experiences.
    If it is true that an old-time stage driver has seen more of every phase of life, the joyous or the pathetic, the easy road and the hard, the good and evil of the world, than any other man. Mr. Kirk has the concentrated view of a dozen ordinary individuals, inside his conveyances have transpired little dramas of life which would eclipse the interest in most of the best sellers of the season.
    As a student of character the Auburn stage driver is hardly to be surpassed. At the time of the Civil War he was behind teams carrying injured soldiers back to their Northern homes and at the present he is able, and enjoys, driving everything from a spirited sulky horse to pompous hearse horses.
    It is a legend among Auburn liverymen that Aaron Kirk can negotiate sharper turns and steeper inclines with a hearse than probably any other driver in the city. To this day, 83 though he is, his services are in demand, for his skill as a driver is with him still.
    It is interesting to hear the veteran talk about the gasoline “wagons.” Though he loves horses, he is not fond of the motor car. Only he wishes drivers would not be too hoggish in demanding the highways and by-ways for themselves. He admits that the horse is looked upon as an ancient and honorable institution, but he does not think he will ever vanish entirely from the land  and the use of man.
                                     Hardships of the Old Days.
    “These people in their trim automobiles, that can leave a horse far behind in the road sniffling dust and gasoline fumes, do not stop to consider the hardships, and, yes, the pleasures, too, of travel in the old days over these highways that are now so smooth and hard, When I was driving a stage in the pioneer days an improved road was unknown. Mud holes and ‘thank-you mams’ were numerous, and every road had its rough spots. But there were thrills.”

    The craze for speed was unknown when he was in his prime so that travelers really enjoyed the stage journey when the weather was not too hot or too cold.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Traveling by Stagecoach

From America: Historical and Descriptive
by James S. Buckingham
London, 1841, Vol. 2 , pp. 476 - 480
On the morning of Wednesday, August 8 (1838), we left Utica, in an extra, as the regular stage had set out in the middle of the night, and proceeded on by the high turnpike road towards Syracuse, where we intended making our next halt. It is not unusal to travel in postchaises in this country, but in lieu of this, extra-coaches, with nine seats, will be furnished on any part of the road, if the persons engaging them will pay the regular stage-fare for eight passengers. We were fortunate in finding an agreeable party of three persons, which, added to our own, of the same number, enables us to take an extra between us, and divide the expense, and in this way the carriage is entirely under the direction of the party occupying it, as to the stoppages, hours of setting out, &c.
The coaches, whether stage or extra, are very heavily built, though airy and commodious when the passengers are once seated. The baggage is all carried in a large leather case projecting from behind, and the coaches are painted with very gaudy colours. The horses are large, strong, and good; but the harness is coarse, ill-fitted, and dirty. There is no guard, and no outside passengers, and the coachman, or driver, as he is here universally called, is generally very ill-dressed, though civil, and well qualified for his duty, notwithstanding that he receives no fees whatever from any of the passengers by the way, and it is certainly an agreeable thing for an English traveller to find himself on the road, with his fare paid once and for all, without the frequent opening of the coach-door for the shilling and half-crown, due, by usage, to the coachman and guard, with a certainty of insolent language if it be not readily paid.
The rate of stage-travelling varies between six and eight miles the hour, but is more frequently the former than the latter. The roads are in general wretched, full of deep ruts and elevations, that jolt and shake the traveller to a painful degree; while, in appearance, the American stage-coach, with it horses, harness, and fitting is as inferior to the light, smart, and trim coaches of Bath, Brighton and Dover, that start from Charing Cross and Piccadilly, as a heavily-laden merchant-ship is to a beautiful corvette or light frigate—or, to do the Americans justice in another department, in which they excel us—as the deeply-laden collier going up the Thames, is to one of their beautiful pilot schooners or packets.
While on this subject, I may mention that a great many, even of the coach-phrases in America are derived from a seafaring life: as, for instance, instead of the coachman coming to the door, as in England, and asking—“Are ye all in, gentlemen?” The American driver's question is—“Are ye all aboard?” And instead of the signal of the English guard, “All right,” which precedes the crack of the whip; the American bookkeeper, when he hands up the way-bill, exclaims, “Go ahead!”
Proceeding by the stage route from Utica, we first passed through a small village called New Hartford, seated on a stream named Sadaquada, here called a creek—another instance of the nautical origin of many of the American names and phrases. A creek is a familiar term to seamen, because every inlet from the sea up a narrow strait of land is so called; but here the term is applied to small inland rivers hundreds of miles from the sea. Ascending from hence over a rising hill, we had a fine view of Hamilton College, one of the public seminaries of education pointed out to us. The landscape, of which it formed a part, was pleasing, and the country around it well wooded, and in good order. A few miles farther on, we came to Manchester, very unlike its great dingy and smoky namesake in England. This was entirely an agricultural prospect, with well-cultivated farms all around it, and as far as I could learn, there was not a single manufactory nor even the germ of one, yet planted at this spot.
Vernon is the name of another pretty village, 7 or 8 miles beyond Manchester, at which we changed horses and drivers, the usual distance performed by each team being from 8 to 12 miles. This contains a glass factory, and some few mills worked by water-power.
Five miles beyond this, we passed through a spot called Oneida Castle, the lands around which formerly belonged to the Oneida Indians, under the title of the Oneida Reservation. In general, when treaties were made between the government of the United States and any of the Indian tribes, certain portions of land were set apart for their use, either as hunting-grounds, or for cultivation. These were called "Indian Reservations," and this was one of them. It appears that the Oneida Indians had acquired some knowledge of practical agriculture; but the cultivation was so unskillful and so unprofitable, compared with that of the whites by which they were surrounded, and the feeling between the two races was so far from being friendly, that the government adopted as a settled rule of policy, the determination to remove as many of the Indians as they could persuade to consent to that measure, to the territory west of the Mississippi, or in Western Michigan. The Oneidas chose the latter, and have some time since emigrated to that quarter; and their lands in this reservation, having been purchased of them, by whites, are now in the same state of improved cultivation as the surrounding estates of their neighbors.
From hence we passed, at distances of from 3 to 5 miles apart, the small villages of Lenox, Quality Hill, and Chittenango, where we halted, and walked a short distance to see some remarkable petrifactions of trees, at the foot of a hill, from whence issue various springs of water, that leave incrustations in their track, and probably occasioned the petrifactions seen. So many travellers have taken portions of this for their cabinets, that but little at present remains, without further excavations; we succeeded, however, in getting a fine specimen, with part of the unchanged wood of the interior attached to the petrifaction of the bark.
Nothing of peculiar interest occurred between this and Syracuse, which we reached about 4 in the afternoon, having left at 8 in the morning, and were thus 8 hours performing 50 miles, or at an average rate of 6¼ miles per hour.
We remained at Syracuse to sleep, but there also having made arrangements for my remaining a week on my return-journey, no examination was made of the town.
Note: The road mentioned here is today's Route 5. The village of "Manchester" is now Verona.