Those who have familiarized
themselves with the preceding chapters will remember that the French cut a
road from Presque Isle to Le Boeuf in 1753, the
first year of their occupation, and kept it up as long as they maintained
posts in Western Pennsylvania. This was the
first, and for more than forty years the only road in Erie County.
The French road began at the mouth of Mill Creek, ran south on a line parallel
with Parade street, in Erie, to the corners in Marvintown,
and then across Mill Creek Township, by the farms of George Rilling, Judge Vincent, Judge Souther,
and others, to the Waterford Plank Road near the George Woods pump factory.
From the plank road it extended across the hills to the Turnpike, and
continued partly on the same route as the latter to Le Boeuf
Creek in Waterford
borough. Although rough and hilly, it was perhaps the most practicable line
that could have been adopted at the time. Wherever necessity required, the
road was "corduroyed" -- that is, trunks of small trees were cut to
the proper length and laid crosswise, close together -- making a dry and
solid, but very uneven surface. When the first settlers came in, the traveled
road was pretty much in the same location as the old French route. The latter
was still easily traceable, but was much grown up with trees.
An act passed the Legislature of Pennsylvania in 1791 to open a road from
Presque Isle to French Creek, and another in 1795 for the survey of a route
from Le Boeuf to the Juniata
River in Mifflin County.
The Susquehanna & Waterford Turnpike was located by Andrew Ellicott in
1796, from Lake Le Boeuf to Curwensville, in Clearfield County,
by way of Meadville and Franklin. Its purpose was to give a
continuous road from Erie to Philadelphia.
The earliest road opened after the American occupation was by Judah Colt, as
agent of the Population Company, in 1797, from Freeport, on the lake near North East, to
Colt's Station, and from the latter place to the Forks of French Creek, or Wattsburg, late in the season of 1798. The Eastern road
through Greenfield, from North East to Wattsburg,
was laid out about 1800; the ones from Waterford to Cranesville
through Washington Township, and from Waterford to Edinboro,
about 1802, and the road from North East to Waterford, by way of Phillipsville, in 1804.
The State opened a road through the northern tier of counties, from the
head-waters of the Delaware River, in almost a direct line, to Ohio, in 1802 or 1803
which is still known as the State road.
So far as can be ascertained by the writer, these were the first roads in the
county, though others may have been opened at a date not much later. The
burning of the court house in 1823 destroyed all of the original surveys and
records. An act of Assembly was obtained, legalizing a re-survey of the roads
in the county. Three parties of surveyors were set to work, headed
respectively by William Miles, Thomas Forster and Elisha
Marvin. The first took charge of the eastern part of the county, the second
of the central, and the last of the western. Every one of the roads
originally provided for in the county now follows, in the main, the route
marked out by these gentlemen.
The route from Erie to the New York State
line, through East Mill Creek, Harbor Creek, and North East, became known
from the very start as the Buffalo
road. It begins at the intersection of Peach and Eighteenth streets in Erie, and extends, at an almost uniform distance of about
two miles from the lake, to the Niagara River at Buffalo. The road was surveyed by James
McMahon in 1805, and appears to have been ready for travel in the same year.
For some cause, the road was only opened westward in a direct line to Wesleyville, at which place travel diverged by a
cross-road to the Lake road, and reached Erie, which consisted of a small
collection of houses at the mouth of Mill Creek, by the latter thoroughfare.
On petition of the farmers between Wesleyville and
Erie, the court, in 1812, ordered the completion of the road to the latter
place, and it was thrown open to travel some time in that year. The Buffalo road generally
follows a nearly straight line, but there is an abrupt jog at the Saltsman place, on the east side of the city, the reason
for which has been a puzzle to many. It is said to be due to two causes,
first, there was an ugly swamp on the straight line, south of the present
road; and, second, it was considered desirable to enter the city on the line
of Eighteenth street.
John Ryan kept a public house in the old building which still stands on the
east side of the jog, and it is possible that his influence had something to
do with the location. The Buffalo
road forms the principal street of the borough of North East, and of the
villages of Wesleyville, Harbor Creek, Mooreheadville, and Northville. The distances from the
park in Erie by this route are as follows: Buffalo, 90 miles;
Northville, 19; North East, 15; Mooreheadville, 10
1/2; Harbor Creek, 7 1/2; Wesleyville, 4 1/2.
The Ridge Road
The Ridge road is practically a continuation of the Buffalo
road, and is connected with it by the southern part of Peach street in the city of Erie. It follows the
line of the First Ridge and traverses the western part of Mill Creek, and the
entire width of Fairview, Girard and Springfield Townships
to the Ohio
line. It was opened in 1805, the same year as the Buffalo road. The purpose of making the jog
at Peach street
is not exactly known, but it is supposed to have been done to avoid the
swamps, which approached the foot of the ridge more closely than in the
eastern part of the county. These have since been effectually drained, but in
those days of poverty they seemed an insurmountable obstacle to a good road.
Whatever the cause, the projectors of the route deserve the everlasting
gratitude of the people of the county, as the hard, gravelly bed over which
the road passes makes it the best in the county, seldom becoming muddy in
winter or dusty in summer. The Ridge road passes through and constitutes the
principal streets of Girard and Fairview Boroughs and the villages of Weigleville, Swanville, West
Girard, East Springfield, and West Springfield.
It is 100 miles by this route to Cleveland, 25
to West Springfield, 21 to East Springfield, 16 1/2 to West Girard, 16 to
Girard, 12 to Fairview, 9 to Swanville, and 2 1/4 to Weigleville,
measuring from the parks in Erie
The Lake Road
The Lake road crosses the entire county from east to west, at a distance from
Lake Erie varying from a few rods to half a
mile. It enters Erie
on the east by Sixth street,
and leaves on the west by Eighth
street. It becomes merged into the Ridge road at
or near Conneaut, Ohio. It was laid out in 1806, and opened
partly in that year and at intervals of several years after, as the county
became settled. The only place directly reached by the road is the village of Manchester,
at the mouth of Walnut Creek, ten miles west
Although passing through a good country, the Lake road is less traveled than
either the Buffalo
or Ridge roads.
The Erie & Waterford Turnpike was originated by Col. Thomas Forster who
seems to have been the foremost man in most of the early improvements.
Previous to its completion, the travel between Erie
was wholly over the old French road, which had been but slightly repaired and
was in a horrible condition. The turnpike company was formed in 1805, its
avowed object being the building of a link in the great contemplated
thoroughfare from Erie to Philadelphia by way of the French Creek, Juniata
and Susquehanna Valleys. The first election for officers was held at
Waterford, and resulted in the choice of the following: President, Col.
Thomas Forster; Treasurer, Judah Colt; Managers, Henry Baldwin, John Vincent,
Ralph Marlin, James E. Herron, John C. Wallace, William Miles, James Brotherton and Joseph Hackney. Work was commenced in
1806, and the road was completed in 1809. It was a herculean
undertaking for the time. In laying out the road, a circuitous course was
taken to accommodate the settlers, many of whom were stockholders in the
company. The turnpike was a paying property until 1845, when it ceased to be
remunerative to the stockholders. It was soon after abandoned by them and
accepted as a township road.
Judge Cochran opposed the building of the "pike" on the ground that
it was unconstitutional to make the public pay toll. The right of way was
taken through his farm against his protest, and when the road was finished
his hostility was aroused to such a degree that he felled trees across it.
The toll question was tested before the County Court, and Judge Moore gave an
opinion sustaining the constitutionality of the act of incorporation. None of
the other settlers opposed the right of way, and most of them looked upon the
enterprise as one that would open up the country and add to their worldly
The turnpike originally ended at Waterford, but twenty years later the
Waterford & Susquehanna Turnpike Company was organized, which extended
the route by Meadville and Franklin to Curwensville, Clearfield County, where
it connected with another turnpike running across the State, making a good
wagon road from Erie to Harrisburg and Philadelphia. In laying out the
"pike," fifty feet of land from the center were taken on each side
of the road. The first toll gate out of Erie was kept by Robert Brown, near Dinsmore's mill, and the second by Martin Strong, on the
summit of the Main Ridge.
The pike commences on the southern border of the city, at the Cochran farm,
and from there extends past the coffin factory and over Nicholson's hill to
Walnut Creek. A little south of the crossing of that stream it ascends the
Main Ridge, and from there to Strong's there is a
continual up grade. Leaving Strong's, there is a
regular descent to Waterford, in the Le Boeuf
Valley. The elevation of the road at Strong's is
upward of eight hundred feet above Lake Erie. The only village on the route
is Kearsarge. The distance from Erie to Waterford
by the turnpike is fourteen miles.
Edinboro Plank Road
The Erie & Edinboro Plank Road Company was
organized in 1850, with Hon. John Galbraith as President. The road was
completed in 1852. It followed the course of the Waterford Turnpike to a
point a little south of Walnut Creek, where it branched off and adopted a
route partly new and partly the old Edinboro road.
The road bed was covered, as the name indicates, with heavy planks, and the
grade being in general quite moderate, furnished an easy and pleasant
thoroughfare. The Edinboro & Meadville Plank
Road, completed simultaneously, with Hon. Gaylord church as President of the
company, formed a smooth, continuous route from the lake to the county seat
of Crawford County. Though the travel was large, neither road proved a
profitable investment, and both were abandoned as plank roads and became
township roads in 1868 or 1869. The Edinboro Plank
Road passes through Middleboro, Branchville and McLane.
The distances are eighteen miles to Edinboro,
fourteen to McLane, twelve to Branchville, ten to
Middleboro and four to Kearsarge.
The following amusing story in connection with this road was related in the
Erie Observer of October 20, 1880:
Mr. Reeder, the stage driver between this city and Edinboro,
tells a funny story about an Irishman who traveled with him last summer, and
who, never having gone over the road before, did not understand the 'lay of
the land.' A little south of Kearsarge, where the
plank road diverges from the pike, the sign board reads: '9 miles to
"Going a few miles farther, they came to the sign board in the valley of
Elk Creek, which also reads, '9 miles to Waterford.'
"This seemed to strike the son of Erin as something curious, but he gave
no audible utterance to his sentiments. Reaching Branchville, another sign
board was seen bearing the familiar legend: '9 miles to Waterford.'
"By this time the passenger's curiosity was strained to the highest
pitch. He jumped out of the stage while the mail was being changed, and
walking close to the inscription read over to himself several times, '9 miles
to Waterford,' as if to make sure that his eyes did not deceive him. The
conveyance started toward Edinboro and when McLean
was reached, once more rose up the strange words: '9 miles to Waterford.'
"The Irishman could contain himself no longer. He rose up in his seat in
a state of great excitement, and stretching his neck outside of the stage as
far as it would safely reach, yelled to the driver:
"'Be Gorra, what sort of a place is that
Waterford, anyhow? It seems to be nine miles from everywhere?'"
Waterford Plank Road
The Erie & Waterford Plank Road was commenced in 1850 and completed in
1851, one year in advance of the similar improvement to Edinboro.
Col. Irwin Camp was President of the company; John Marvin had the contract
for building the road; Wilson King was the chief engineer, and David Wilson
was the first assistant. In laying out the road an entirely new route was
adopted, following the valleys of Mill Creek, Walnut Creek and Le Boeuf Creek, and obviating the heavy grades of the old
turnpike. The road, for a good part of its length, is nearly or seemingly
level, and the only grades of consequence are at the summit hills between the
streams, which are overcome by comparatively easy approaches. So skillfully
was the engineering and grading performed, that a horse can trot most of the
length of the road. The stranger traveling over this easy route would
scarcely believe that at the Walnut Creek summit he was about 500 and at
Graham's summit between 650 and 700 feet above the level of Lake Erie. There
were three toll gates on the line -- one a short distance north of Waterford,
another at Capt. J. C. Graham's in Summit, and the third near Eliot's mill, a
mile or more outside of the then city limits. The road never paid a profit, and
was abandoned to the townships i 1868 or 1869. No
towns or villages are located along the line of the road, unless the little
settlement at the Erie County Mills might be classed as such. The distance
between Erie and Waterford is slightly more than by the turnpike.
About the same time that the above plank roads were built, another was pushed
through from Waterford to Drake's Mills, Crawford County, to prevent the
diversion of travel that was feared from the opening of the Erie & Edinboro and Edinboro &
Meadville roads. This enterprise was no more of a financial success than the
others, and, like them, was given up to the townships.
The state company owning the line between Erie and Waterford had a quarrel
over tolls with the turnpike company in the winter of 1827-28, which resulted
in the construction by the former, at considerable expense, through Summit,
Greene and Waterford Townships, of a new road, to which was given the
suggestive name of the Shunpike. The route adopted commenced at Waterford,
where the plank road and turnpike separate, followed the line of the former
to a run on the Jesse Lindsley place, up that
one-half or three-quarters of a mile to the Summit Township boundary, across
Summit to the L. A. Hull place, and from there by the old French road to
Erie. That portion of the road from Graham's Corners to near Waterford, being
the Shunpike proper, is still in use as a township road. Through Summit
Township the Shunpike is nearly midway between the turnpike and plank road.
Wattsburg Plank Road
A road was opened in 1809 from Erie to Wattsburg,
through Phillipsville. It was poorly located in
spots, and in 1828 a re-survey was made under the authority of the State,
which appropriated a small sum for the purpose. This resulted in some changes
in the location. In 1832, the road being in a bad condition, the citizens of
Erie, Wattsburg and along the line made a
subscription for its improvement. The road continued unsatisfactory until
1851, when the Erie & Wattsburg Plank Road
Company was formed, with J. H. Williams as President. The plank road was
completed in 1853, a year after the one to Edinboro,
and two years after the one to Waterford. In the adoption of a route the old
road was pretty closely pursued to the Diefenthaler
place in Greene Township, where a diversion was made to the Bailey farm.
There it struck the original line and afterward either followed or ran
parallel with the old road to the farm of C. Siegel. From Siegel's an
entirely new route was adopted through Lowville, leaving the balance of the
old road undisturbed. The course of the plank road is southeasterly, across
Mill Creek, Greene and Venango Townships. The
highest points are at the H. L. Pinney and Bailey
places, in Greene Township, the elevation being some five hundred feet at the
former and six hundred at the latter. Conrad Brown and George W. Barr were
the constructors of the road and owned most of the stock, which they sold in
a few years to John H. Walker.
There were three regular toll gates -- at Lowville, kept by William Black; at
Diefenthaler's, kept by Mr. Clute, and at Marvintown, kept by F. E. Gerlach.
The rates of toll charged were 31 cents for a double team from Erie to Wattsburg, and 25 cents for a single team. The farmers
having found a way of avoiding the toll gate at Lowville, by driving over the
Blore road; in the winter of 1852-53 a fourth toll
gate was put up at Oscar Sears', in Venango
Township, but the next spring it was abandoned. From the start the road was a
non-paying enterprise, and it was allowed to run down though toll was still
exacted. In the spring of 1865, public feeling became so much excited that a
party of farmers was formed who started at Erie and tore down every gate on
the road. Though they were severely threatened, none of the party were tried
or punished, and no toll has been charged on the road since. It is now kept
up by the townships through which it extends. Besides the village of
Lowville, the road passes through Belle Valley and St. Boniface. The
distances from Erie are: To Wattsburg, twenty
miles; to Lowville, eighteen miles; to St. Boniface, seven and a half miles;
and to Belle Valley four miles. It is said to be a mile further by this route
to Wattsburg than by the old road. Phillipsville, on the remaining portion of the latter,
after it branches off at Siegel's, is fourteen miles from Erie.
Lake Pleasant Road
The first road in the direction of Lake Pleasant was opened in 1821-22 from
Erie to a point near the Martin Hayes farm, in Greene Township, about a mile
beyond the line of Mill Creek Township. In 1826-27, at a heavy expense for
the period, the county continued the road past Lake Pleasant to French Creek,
where it meets the thoroughfare between Union and Wattsburg.
At the era last spoken of, the country south of the Hayes place was almost an
unbroken forest clear through to Lake Pleasant. The distance from Erie to
Lake Pleasant is twelve miles, and to French Creek two and a half miles
further. It is said to be two miles shorter from Erie and Wattsburg
by this road than by the plank road. The road branches off from the Wattsburg plank at the Davidson place, about two miles
outside of Erie, and running in a general southwestern course passes through
the corner of Mill Creek Township, enters Greene, which it cuts through the
center form northwest to southeast, traverses the southwestern corner of Venango and terminates in the northwestern corner of
The Colt's Station Road
The road from Wesleyville to Colt's Station,
through parts of Harbor Creek and Greenfield Townships, was once of more
consequence, comparatively, than now, but is still considerably traveled. It
was laid out about 1813, to give a route between Erie and Mayville, N. Y. At
Colt's Station, an intersection is made with the North East & Wattsburg road.
The first public house on the south shore of Lake Erie, west of Buffalo, and
the first building erected within the limits of Erie City, was the Presque
Isle Tavern, built by Col. Seth Reed in July, 1795. It stood near the mouth
of Mill Creek, and was a one-story log and stone structure. The next year,
Col. Reed built a two-story log building on the southwest corner of Second
and Parade streets, which he turned over to his son, Rufus S. Reed, who kept
a store and tavern in it for many years.
The third tavern was built in Erie by George Buehler in 1800. Needing larger
accommodations, he erected another at the northeast corner of Third and
French streets, which afterward became known as the McConkey
House. This building was occupied as Perry's headquarters in 1813. It was
standing till a few years ago. Mr. Buehler moved to Harrisburg in 1811, and
established the well-known Buehler House in that city, the name of which was
afterward changed to the Bolton House.
Outside of Erie, the earliest public house was opened in Waterford by Lieut.
Martin in 1795. Public houses were established by Richard Swan at Manchester
in 1805; by Henry Burgett at North East in 1806; by
Lemuel Brown on the site of the Haynes House, in
the same place, in 1808; by John Ryan on the Buffalo road, near East avenue,
Erie, in 1809; by George W. Reed in Waterford in 1810; and by John and David
Phillips at Phillipsville in the same year. After
Mr. Ryan's death, his widow kept the house till 1820, when she married
Wareham Taggart, who assumed charge of the property, and gave it the name of
the Taggart House. In 1835, Anthony Saltsman,
son-in-law of Mr. Taggart, became the landlord, and served in that capacity a
number of years. It was once a noted stand, being the site of the militia
trainings for Mill creek Township, and a sort of political center.
Before the introduction of railroads, the Buffalo and Ridge roads were among
the busiest thoroughfares in the country, being the great avenues for
emigration and trade between the Northeastern States and the West. Numerous
public houses sprung up and did a good business. The tavern keepers of those
days were usually men of much force of character, and wielded wide political
influence. It is said that at one time there was not a mile along the roads
named without a public house. Many of the buildings are standing, but have
been converted to other purposes. The completion of the Lake Shore Railway
caused a diminution of travel almost instantly, and it was not long before
the emigrant, cattle, and freight business fell of entirely. One by one the
public houses closed, and by 1860 there were none left in operation except in
the towns and villages. Among the most noted of the old lake shore taverns
were the Doty and Keith Houses at East Springfield; the Martin House at
Girard; the Fairview House at Fairview; Swan's Hotel at Swanville;
the Half-way House, a little west of the county almshouse; the Weigleville House; the Taggart House above referred to;
Fuller's Tavern at Wesleyville; and the Brawley
House at North East. A number of these are yet in operation, and will be
mentioned in connection with the places where they are located.
Back from the lake shore the best known of the older hotels were Martin Strong's, at the summit of the Waterford Turnpike; the
Eagle Hotel at Waterford; the Robinson House at Edinboro;
the Sherman House at Albion; the Wattsburg House at
Wattsburg; and the Lockport House at Lockport.
The Erie City hotels, and the more recent ones outside, will be described in
their proper connections.
Travel and Transportation
Up to 1800, a good share of the travel and transportation was by means of
small boats on the lake from Buffalo, and by way of French Creek from
Pittsburgh. Judah Colt's colony at Greenfield was supplied in this way for
several years. The goods that came by lake for the Greenfield colony were
landed at Freeport, and from there were transported on horseback or by ox
teams. The boats on French Creek generally went no farther up than Waterford,
but in times of good water they wee poled to Greenfield Village. They were
either canoes or flat-bottomed vessels, the latter being something like the
mud scows now seen on Presque Isle Bay, but small and shallow, drawing but a
trifling amount of water. Those on the lake were originally propelled by
oars, but it was not long till sails were introduced. The passengers
generally acted as a crew, and were glad of the privilege. In winter many
persons came into the country, either on foot or in sledges, by traveling on
the ice of the lake. There was more of a beach along the whole length of the
lake than now; and, until roads were opened, this was much used during the
By 1810, there were roads to all points south, east and west, and the
opportunities for travel and transportation became greatly improved. The
roads however, were still rough and muddy, and horseback riding was the
favorite mode of travel. Many instances are related where emigrants came in
with their few household goods loaded on horses' backs, the wife riding one,
the husband another, and the children, if any, a third animal. Sometimes they
were too poor to own more than one horse, in which case the wife and small
children rode, and the husband walked by their side with his gun or ax over
his shoulder. As the roads became better, the once familiar two-horse wagons
were introduced. these were covered with cotton cloth stretched over hickory
ribs, and furnished shelter for the whole family, besides carrying their
goods. There being few public houses up to 1820, each party brought their
provisions along, stopping at meal times by the springs, and doing their
cooking over open fires. From the direction of Pittsburgh the French Creek
route continued to be the one used till some time after the second war with
Great Britain. The supplies for Perry's fleet, including the cannon, were
largely transported in flat boats to Waterford, and from there by the
turnpike to Erie. Most of the roads in the county were in poor condition as
late as 1830.
The introduction of stage coaches was a great step ahead. After that came the
steamboats, which carried hundreds of passengers on each trip. For a number
of years succeeding the opening of the canal, thousands of emigrants, bound
for the West, reached Erie by steamboat, and from there went by canal-boats
down to the Ohio. The packet boats on the canal, the steamboats and the stage
coaches all did a good passenger business until the completion of the
railroads, which speedily put an end to their business.
The Salt Trade
One of the leading industries of the early days was the transportation of
salt for the Southern markets. This trade was commenced by Gen. James O'Hara,
of Allegheny County, about 1800, and continued until 1819, being at its
height probably about 1808 to 1812. The salt was purchased at Salina, N. Y.,
hauled from there to Buffalo in wagons, brought in vessels to Erie, unloaded
in warehouses at the mouth of Mill Creek, and from there carried by ox teams
to Waterford, where it was placed in flat-boats and floated down French Creek
and the Allegheny to Pittsburgh and the country beyond. The growth of the
trade, as shown by the custom house records, was from 714 barrels in 1800, to
12,000 in 1809, which amount was increased at a later period.
The hauling of the salt over the portage between Erie and Waterford and the
floating of it down French Creek gave employment to many citizens of the
county. To some farmers the trade was really a Godsend, as their land barely
furnished food for their families, and, no markets being near for the little
they had to sell, they were obliged by necessity to spend a part of their
time at some other employment to raise money for taxes, groceries and
clothing. This was especially the case just before and immediately after the
war, when the times were very hard. It is estimated that when the trade was
at its best, one hundred teams and as many persons were constantly on the
road between Erie and Waterford. The time for making each trip was calculated
at two days and the average load for a four ox team was fourteen barrels. The
price paid at first was $1.50, and then $1 per barrel, which was reduced by
the close of the business to 50 cents. As may be imagined, the road was
always bad, and it was not unusual for a wagon load of freight to get stuck
in the mud, and be four days in crossing the portage. On many occasions, a
part of the burden had to be abandoned on the way, and a second trip made to
get it to its destination. A number of warehouses were erected on the bank of
Le Boeuf Creek at Waterford for storing the salt
until the water was at a suitable stage for floating it down French Creek.
The salt was bought at Salina for 60 cents per bushel, and the price at Erie
and Waterford ranged from $5 to $12 a barrel. It required from two to three
months to convey it from the place of manufacture to market at Pittsburgh.
There was a period when salt was almost the only circulating medium in the
county. Oxen, horses, negro slaves and land were
sold to be paid for in so much salt. As a sample, Hamlin Russell, father of
N. W. Russell, of Belle Valley, exchanged a yoke of oxen for eight barrels,
and Rufus S. Reed purchased of Gen. Kelso a colored boy, who was to be held
to service under the State law until he was twenty-eight years old, for one
hundred barrels. The price that season was $5 per barrel, making the value of
the slave $500. The discovery of salt wells on the Kiskiminitas
and Kanawha, about 1813, cheapened the price of the article at Pittsburgh, so
that Salina could not compete, and the trade by way of Erie steadily
diminished until it ceased altogether in 1819.
Stage Lines and Mail Routes
In 1801, a route between Erie and Pittsburgh, via Waterford and Meadville,
was opened, to carry the mail once a week. By 1803, it had been reduced to
once in two weeks, but was soon changed back to the original plan. The mode
of transportation was on horseback for some years, and later by a horse and
common wagon. At what time a regular stage line commenced running is not
known to the writer, but it was probably about the date of the completion of
the turnpike. In 1826, stages began running each way three times a week,
carrying a mail every trip. This was increased to a daily mail, each
direction, which continued until the day of railroads.
A route was established between Erie and Buffalo in 1806 to carry the mail
once a week. Mr. Knox, Postmaster at Erie, stated to a friend that the mail
was often taken in the driver's breeches pockets. During a good share of the
time before coaches were introduced, the pouch was carried on the back of a
single horse; then it was increased in size so that two horses were required,
one carrying the driver and the other the mail.
The first line of stages between Erie and Buffalo was established by Messrs.
Bird & Deming, of Westfield, N. Y., and commenced making weekly trips in
December, 1820. At the beginning, a stage left Buffalo every Saturday at noon
and reached Erie the next Monday at 6 P. M.; returning, it started from Erie
at 6 A. M. every Tuesday and arrived at Buffalo on Thursday at noon. By
January 8, 1824, a stage with mail was making semi-weekly trips between Erie
and Cleveland. On the 10th of February, 1825, a mail coach commenced running
daily between Erie and Buffalo. The stage line to Cleveland consisted for a
time of a single horse and wagon.
It was considered a great stride forward when a line of four-horse coaches
was placed on the road between Buffalo and Cleveland by a company of which
Rufus S. Reed and Ira R. Bird were the chief men. This event, which took
place in 1827, was as much talked about, and, if anything more, as the
opening of a new railroad would be to-day. The new line carried a daily mail
each direction and was a source of large profit to its owners. Eighteen hours
were allowed as the time between Buffalo and Erie, but bad roads and
accidents often delayed the coaches much longer.
The mail route to Jamestown, N. Y., via Wattsburg,
was established in 1828. At the start a man or boy on foot carried the pouch
once a week. The route to Edinboro was established
in the winter of 1835-36, and the pouch was carried weekly on a horse's back.
A weekly mail was carried over the Station road more than forty years ago.
Stages still carry the mails to Wattsburg, Edinboro, Greenfield, Lake Pleasant, Franklin Corners and
intervening post offices.
The arrival of the stages in old times was a much more important event than
that of the railroad trains to-day. Crowds invariably gathered at the public
houses where the coaches stopped, to obtain the latest news, and the
passengers were persons of decided account for the time being. Money was so
scarce that few persons could afford to patronize the stages, and those who
did were looked upon as fortunate beings. The trip to Buffalo and Cleveland
was formidable an affair as one to Chicago or Washington is now by railroad.
The stage drivers were men of considerable consequence, especially in the
villages through which they passed. They were intrusted
with many delicate missives and valuable packages, and seldom betrayed the
confidence reposed in them. They had great skill in handling their horses,
and were the admiration and envy of the boys. Talk about the modern railroad
conductor -- he is nothing compared with the importance of the stage coach
driver of forty years ago.