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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stagecoach Lines Proliferated in Pelham in the 1870s, Part of Pelham's Old Stage Coach Days

On August 7, 1874, a cryptic announcement appeared in the New-York Tribune regarding the opening of a new stagecoach line through City Island and Pelham Bridge in the Town of Pelham.  It read:

"CITY ISLAND. -- A stage line was recently established between Mount Vernon and Yonkers, connecting with trains on the New-Haven, Harlem, and Hudson River railroads.  The success of the line has induced the proprietor to establish another line between Mount Vernon, Eastchester, Pelham Bridge, and City Island, so that persons can now cross between Long Island Sound and the Hudson River, passing through the villages named."

Source:  CITY ISLAND, New-York Tribune, Aug. 7, 1874, p. 8, col. 5 (Note:  Access via this link requires paid subscription).  

Although the announcement did not identify the "proprietor" of the new line, it noted that it was the same proprietor who had recently established a stage line between Mount Vernon and Yonkers to connect with trains on the New Haven, Harlem, and Hudson River railroads.  Thus, it seems nearly certain, the unidentified "proprietor" likely was Theodore Valentine who was the man who ran "Valentine's Mount Vernon and Yonkers Stage Line."  For a time in the 1870s, that stage line ran three trips daily.  It ran from Mount Vernon to Yonkers at 7:53 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 4:15 p.m.  It ran from Yonkers back to Mount Vernon at 9:15 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 5:30 p.m.  The fare on Valentine's Mount Vernon and Yonkers Stage Line was twenty-five cents each way.  

1878 Advertisement for Valentine's Mount Vernon and
Yonkers Stage Line.  Source:  VALENTINE'S MOUNT
The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 5, 1878, Vol. IX,
No. 459, p. 4, cols. 5-6.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The move by Theodore Valentine to establish a stage line " between Mount Vernon, Eastchester, Pelham Bridge, and City Island, so that persons can now cross between Long Island Sound and the Hudson River, passing through the villages named" may have played some role in the decision by Robert J. Vickery of City Island to establish his stage line that shuttled between Bartow Station on the New Haven Branch Line and City Island.  I have written before of Robert J. Vickery and his stage.  See, e.g.:  

Thu., Sep. 24, 2009:  Brief Newspaper Account of the January 1, 1883 Annual Meeting of the Pelham Manor Protective Club (article includes account of an accident involving one of Vickery's stages). 

No definitive history of stagecoach transportation in the Pelham region has been written.  That history, however, can be pieced together from a variety of sources and sheds light on the growth of the region and the role Pelham has played over the last few centuries as a small town along Boston Post Road near the metropolis of New York City.  (Included at the end of today's article is a bibliography of links to other Historic Pelham articles that touch on stagecoach days in old Pelham.)

One of the earliest efforts to provide regular stagecoach from New York to Boston on the Boston Post Road that passed through Pelham at the time via today's Colonial Avenue occurred in 1772, shortly before the onset of the Revolutionary War.  A carriage-maker in Hartford, Connecticut named Nicholas Brown partnered with a driver named Jonathan Brown to offer stagecoach service along the Post Road between New York City and Boston.  According to one account:

"[T]he partners had trouble attracting patrons.  The Browns may not have made any trips at all until late July.  Even then they had only enough interest to go twice a month, and be fall they went no more."

Source:  Jaffe, Eric, The King's Best Highway -- The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route that Made America, p. 80 (NY, NY:  Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2010).  

It was not until Autumn 1784 that another attempt to establish stagecoach travel between New York and Boston on the old Boston Post Road through Pelham.  That year, a group of four local stagecoach proprietors in the northeast successfully joined their various stagecoach lines to make stagecoach travel from the old Morris mansion in New York City to Boston.  See id., pp. 81-83.  These local stage lines included those of Jacob Brown (New Haven to Hartford to Springfield), Levi Pease and Reuben Sikes (Hartford to Somers to Boston), and Talmadge Hall (New York City to Norwalk).  For the next few years, the stage lines that made up the service were able to survive by supplementing their income carrying newspapers and U.S. mail back and forth along the Post Road.  

During the latter part of the eighteenth century the stages run by Talmadge Hall routinely rumbled through Pelham on today's Colonial Avenue carrying passengers, mail, newspapers, and more.  At the same time, Levi Pease played an ever greater role in the expansion of stagecoach transportation from Boston to as far as Philadelphia and even Baltimore in the later years of the eighteenth century and the first two decades of the nineteenth century.  

In 1796, the First Massachusetts Turnpike opened along the Boston Post Road near Boston in an effort to charge travelers fees that could be used to improve the rough roadway.  Soon, "turnpike fever swept the country" including the New York City region.  Soon a turnpike was built and opened through Pelham to shorten the travel between the Bronx and New Rochelle via the Boston Post Road.  

Thus, in about 1804, stagecoach traffic shifted in Pelham from the old Boston Post Road (today's Colonial Avenue) to the new Westchester Turnpike (today's Boston Post Road).  The Westchester Turnpike included toll gates along the roadway not far from the Shrubbery that once stood near today's Split Rock Road in Pelham Manor.  

At about this time, stagecoach lines popped into and out of existence, sending stagecoaches back and forth between New York and Boston through Pelham on the Westchester Turnpike.  For example, In 1813, New York City newspapers published announcements of the opening of another new stage coach line:  the New-York & Boston New Line Diligence Stage running from New York City to Boston by way of New Haven, Hartford, and Providence.  See Tue., Dec. 27, 2016:  Stage Coach Days In Old Pelham.  

For the next few decades, stagecoach and wagon traffic along the Westchester Turnpike through Pelham continued to grow.  During this time, however, the population of Pelham was beginning to grow on City Island and on Pelham Neck and along Shore Road on the mainland.  Shortly before the widespread advent of trains on the east coast, stagecoaches along the Boston Post Road were being engineered for speed for the benefit of passengers and the U.S. Mail.  Indeed, Pelham became a regular station stop for the mail and passenger stagecoaches of Dorance, Recide & Co.  According to an article published in The New York Times on May 8, 1880:

"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."

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

By the early 1870s, the New Haven Main Line and the New Haven Branch Line had been built through Pelham.  Paradoxically, the advent of the railroads prompted local expansion of stagecoach lines that ferried passengers between the various railroads that traversed the region such as the stagecoach lines of Theodore Valentine described at the outset of today's article.  Similarly, local stagecoach lines such as that established by Robert J. Vickery between Bartow Station on the New Haven Branch Line and City Island sprang up to ferry passengers from railroad stations to specific nearby locations.  

By the 1880s, however, horse car railroads and, a little later, electric trolleys were beginning to overtake the region marking the decline of the stagecoach days in old Pelham.  Another chapter in the transportation history of Pelham was drawing to a close.

Post Card View of "Bartow and City Island Stage Line."
Post Card is Postmarked September 6,  1910.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is a bibliography of links to other Historic Pelham articles besides those already listed above that touch on stagecoach days in old Pelham.  

Tue., Dec. 27, 2016:  Stage Coach Days In Old Pelham.

Fri., Nov. 11, 2016:  John Robert Beecroft and the Beecroft Family of Pelham Manor (describes December 19, 1900 NYAC stagecoach accident that led to death of Beecroft).

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