Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pelham Was a Principal Station on the Stage Coach Route of Dorance, Recide & Co. Which Carried Mail Between New York and Boston

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It seems hard to grasp in this Internet age of instant communication, but mail between New York City and Boston once traveled by stage coach.  In the 1830s, stage coaches of Dorance, Recide & Co. ran the line which included a station stop in Pelham.  A long article about the stage coaches appeared in the May 9, 1880 issue of The New York Times.  The text of that article appears below.

The Mail Stage and Slow Freight on Old Boston Post Road
From Article Published in Scribner's in 1908.




The days when the old stage-coach was in fashion in the land are fast fading from the recollections of men.  Those who lived in that remote period are disappearing, and soon all we shall have left of those times will be the stirring reminiscences handed down to us by tradition.  Those were slow, but vigorous and hearty, times, when a journey required a brave heart, and was contemplated and prepared for weeks, and even months, before departure.  The man of business arranged his affairs, provided himself with different kinds of money to pay his expenses in the various States through which he was to pass, then bade his weeping family adieu and set off on his journey.  A man who had penetrated the country to Syracuse was regarded among his sober-minded townsmen as a traveled prodigy, and one who had returned in safety from Buffalo was looked upon with awe.  It was a journey to be made but once in a lifetime.  Then it took a New-York merchant 30 hours to reach Albany, and the commercial city of Boston was separated from the Metropolis by a journey of 56 hours.  One going to Philadelphia had to cross the North River at night to be ready to start the next morning in the early coach, which it took all that day and night and half the following day to reach.  The fare to Albany was $12, and it cost $15 to ride to Boston, Cleveland and Cincinnati were considered almost unattainable on account of fare and distance, and Chicago and St. Louis were just a few miles this side of 'the jumping-off place.'  The stages were always full, nine inside and two on the box, and were pulled by four strong horses.  The relays were usually about 15 miles apart, and, once started, the traveler rode night and day until he reached his destination.

A few New-Yorkers still remember the old stages of Dorance, Recide & Co., which used to carry the United States mails between this City and Boston.  Fifty years ago two stages started from the corner of Bayard-street and the Bowery every morning.  One of them was an especially fast stage.  It carried the mails and never booked more than six passengers, and when the mails were unusually heavy no passengers were allowed at all.  'Six passengers only allowed inside,' was the announcement contained in the words painted on the panels of this nimble vehicle, which legend many a time carried dismay to the hearts of impetuous business men who arrived at the stage office only to find the last seat taken.  The slow stage carried nine passengers inside and two upon the box.  These two stages always left the hotel in company and proceeded up Third-avenue.  They crossed Harlem bridge and stopped for dinner 28 miles out.  The mail stage usually arrived at Boston half a day in advance of its companion coach.  The principal stations on the route were East Chester, West Chester, Pelham, New-Rochelle, Port Chester, Horse Neck, Stamford, Norwalk, Hartford, Springfield, and Worcester.  The distance was somewhat over 200 miles, which is the only feature of the route that time has not changed.  Mr. Gideon T. Rynolds is said to have been the first man who drove a four-horse stage across the Harlem Bridge.  That was in 1828 or thereabout, according to the best stage chronologers.  Reynolds finally became a contractor, and carried the mails and passengers between New-York and Boston for many years.  His son, Gideon T. Reynolds, Jr., followed the same business for many years.  He died recently at Greenwich, Conn., at the age of 71 years, regretted by those who were familiar with the old stage road.  Some of his old drivers are now engaged on the various street car lines in this City.  But few of them survive, and these speak of the old stage days with a sigh.  Among these are M. L. Putnam, Peter Hill, and Samuel Whepley, veterinary surgeon at the Park-avenue stables.  The Reynolds line of stages ran through White Plains and North Castle, and crossed the Housatonic river at Lewisburg, as it is now called.  There Reynolds lived, and many of the old-timers still have lively recollections of him and his stages.  Abraham Davenport succeeded Dorance, Recide & Co. as United States mail contractors, and ran the Boston coaches for many years. 

The old hotel at the corner of Bayard-street and the Bowery, the point from which these stages took their departure, was the centre of life and activity.  The agents for the line, business men, passengers and employes [sic] congregated there.  The arrival of the coach in the evening, with its load of passengers, its packages of valuables, and its heavy mail-bags containing advices from other cities, always drew together an eager crowd.  Forty years ago, George Hall kept this hotel, and country merchanges visiting this City to buy goods, stock-dealers, travelers, and countrymen with farm produce for sale, were always domiciled there.  Every morning pigs, poultry, and vegetables were exposed for sale on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, and attracted crowds of buyers, the market adding a decidedly picturesque feature to the scene.  Mornings, each stage with its four prancing horses, swept around from the stables, and took its position before the hotel door, and the trunks and packages were strapped on the roof or stowed away in the boot.  The passengers mounted to their places, and the clumsy, swaying vehicle finally rolled heavily off, amid the clamor of geese and pigs, the farewells of friends, and the cries of the crowd about the hotel and the market.  The North American Hotel, as this hostelry was then called, was considered a place of unusual magnificence, and doubtless many a countryman returned to his home in the interior, after having spent a few days under its hospitable roof, with his imagination glowing with a recollection of its splendors.  A visit to the locality to-day shows us that those splendors have passed away.  The hotel itself is reduced to insignificant proportions when contrasted with the palatial buildings now devoted to the entertainment of the public.  The market, with its pigs and geese, and piles of 'garden sass,' and heavy stagees and noisy crowds, has also disappeared from the street, and the neighborhood has assumed the aspect of a more or less sober business locality, with ragged chimneys, battered walls, and dingy gables.  The citizens who now pass there are as unconscious of the former scenes as if those had never been.

Soon after the stages crossed Harlem bridge they came into a wild and woody country, and not infrequently were they robbed in this locality.  There were 'road agents' in those days as well as now, and the mail coaches were protected by a guard, who occupied a perch on the roof over the boot, and was armed with a blunderbuss.  This weapon was considered somewhat deadly in those days.  It had a funnel-shaped barrel, a flint-lock, and took about half a pint of buckshot for a charge.  It was capable of destroying a whole band of robbers at one discharge.  But it took an expert gunner about 15 minutes to load it, or for other reasons, it seems not to have been very successful in extermnating stage robbers, for they have continued to increase in numbers and boldness from that day to this, and the gun has gone out of fashion.

The inns aong a stage-route were usually cheerful places at which to stop.  They gave the traveler a more genial welcome than the most luxurious hotels do now.  After a long ride on a cold wet day, the wide fireplace with its blazing logs, the bar with its pure distilled liquors and genial companionship, and the table with its abundance of fresh products from the farm and the dairy, were a delightful recompense to a hungry and dispirited traveler.  Doubtless there are some still living who remember Aunt Hannah Fisher's 'Wayside Inn' at East Chester.  Daniel Webster has toasted his feet there and drank [sic] at the bar in his time.  Aunt Hannah was a stalwart maiden lady six feet high, who had the reputation of being able to whip any man on the route from New-York to Boston.  Sometimes, it is said, those who were not acquainted with Aunt Hannah's muscular prowess presumed on making too free in her establishment, after sundry indulgences at the bar.  When such parties became troublesome she quietly picked them up and threw them over the half-door of the bar-room into the street, where they were left to recover from their potations and their astonishment.

Forty years ago, Baker & Walker ran two stages a day each way between New-York and Albany, on the east side of the river.  These stages left New-York at 8 o'clock in the morning, from the Howard House, at the corner of Broadway and Maiden-lane, and arrived in Albany at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the next day.  The stations at which horses were changed and passengers got refreshment and stretched their legs going up the river were Yonkers, Sing Sing, Peekskill Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Clermont, Hudson, and Kinderhook.  The mail stage returning always left Albany in the night.  In Winter the snow was often very deep and the weather remarkably cold.  Sleighs were then used, and it was not an exceptional occurrence for passengers to have to pull the sleigh over the tops of the highest snow-banks, while the driver took the horses around over stone walls and through fences.  An old driver on this route, named M. L. Putnman, now driving a street car, recollects seeing the light of the great fire in New-York, in the Winter of 1835, at Poughkeepsie, 80 miles distant.  The Highlands were rough and dangerous.  During that time Winter Putnam tipped his stage over at Annsville, in the Highlands, in a mill-pond, nearly drowned his passengers through a hole made in the ice, broke some arms and legs and a collar-bone, at an expense to the stage company of several hundred dollars.  The Governor's Message was sent by express in those days to the New-York newspapers the day after it was read to the Legislature.  The messenger was authorized to take one horse from each relay station and push forward as rapidly as possible.  The President's Message was forwarded over the stage-route in the same manner.  The Message was received at the printing-offices, put in tye by the waiting printers, and published in an extra edition, no matter at what time of the day or night it was received.  'Old Put,' as the old stage-driver is called, recollects being the bearer of one or more of these Messages.  Thurlow Weed used to ride with him often, and is still regarded as a familiar acquaintance, and he recollects having Martin Van Buren for an 'inside, back seat, on one or more occasions.  The old man still follows driving, but the railroads have destroyed the business of staging, and he has changed his place on the box with four horses at his command to the humble platform of a street car.  The change is a sad one for the old man, who never ceases sighing for the freedom and freshness of those old times, but he is comforted in the time of his fallen fortunes by the reflection that even Apollo became the keeper of swine."

Source:  Before the Locomotive - The Ways over Which the Stage-Coach Rumbled, N.Y. Times, May 9, 1880, p. 10.

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