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.