The string of taverns which
you may see this day along the Cherry Valley turnpike, says Walter H. Main
in a Utica Saturday Globe of many years ago, these weather-beaten old frame
structures long since turned into farmhouses, these 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.
A tavern, you understand, springs up where there is a natural stopping place for teams - at the top of a 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 hilt 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 the long pull up the hill from Nelson. Always the teams were loaded going toward Albany.
It was after we had made our peace with Britain, after the peace was signed in 1783 that the great hegira 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 ox carts or into sleighs and set out, whistling a merry tune, with their axes over the shoulders.
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 whiskey, 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 sentinel today over the memories of the past, while the present whirls by an 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, the 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 have used it for a farmhouse.
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 stage coaches each way rolled over this turnpike each day, you may know something of what the trade must have been about meal time 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 unlimber 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. This 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 jail gallows many a criminal. They can point to you a swamp not far away where escaped prisoners hid themselves.
But as to the Exchange Hotel-this 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 at the opening days of court and tarry until their cases were 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 had 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 a year ago have read names of legal lights of past generations. Most of these names are forgotten now, but in their day they stood for all that was locally great in the legal profession.
Local legend has it that nights and Sundays the gentlemen of the bar 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?
Until the days of good roads and automobiles, for three-quarters of a century the Cherry Valley turnpike wound its placid way across the beautiful country in mid-New York. For not much more than a quarter century did its heyday 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 whiskey kept moving over this well beaten track for years and years.