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Cairo Historian Tells of Entries at 1846 Tavern

By Grace Story Webber, Cairo Township Historian
Published in the Catskill Daily Mail July 28, 1953

Newspaper article courtesy of Linda Larsen. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

This is the 20th in a series of articles published by the Daily Mail about the history of the Town of Cairo.

The following facts were brought to my attention recently and they are in such contrast to the prices of today that many may be interested to know what their grandfathers and great-grandfathers paid their pleasures.

The Old Book

Guarded as carefully as any of the guests’ jewels that lies beside it in the big safe of a great and glittering Broadway hotel in New York City and treasured by the proprietor more than its weight in gold is an old cashbook, The entries run from March to December, 1846. They record in quaint, descriptive phrases the comings and goings of the travelers who stopped at a wayside inn on a turnpike road less than 10 miles from New York. This tavern was kept by the Broadway hotel proprietor’s forefathers. The building of the railroad, the passing of the stagecoach and the changes of time have obliterated this one famous old inn at South Durham, and now all that remains of it is this ancient book, which served not only as a record of cash received, but took, the place of the modern hotel register.

Dinner 19 Cents

The prices charged by this inn-keeper of long ago are as far removed from those exacted today as this ancient hosterly is from the gorgeous summer hotels of the countryside where it once stood. The regular price for a dinner was 19 cents, but even this appears to have been "cut" to frequent travelers. For instance, there is an entry of "candy peddler from Albany, two meals, and lodging, 31 cents." Almost every entry is a brief description of the individual traveler and what he got—for example, "Freckle faced, eagle nosed boy, hay, supper, lodging and grease, 81 cents." This boy was probably driving a horse and wagon, which would account for the hay and grease. Another man who was described as a "fellow with tired colt" got hay, lodging and breakfast for 44 cents.

A Real Spendthrift

Every few days there came along according to this ancient register, a "Connecticut man." he invariably spent just six cents for food and that was for pie. On two occasions, there is an additional charge of "greasing wagon six cents." There were not theatrical companies touring the turnpike road in 1846, but a phrenologist appears and vanishes, it being recorded that for "hay, six quarts of oats, lodging and breakfast" he gave up 56 cents. Once in a while, a real spendthrift would come along, like the "gent with three ladies and two children." They had six dinners. For these, the hay for the horses, the "meals for the dog" and the "segar" for the man, $1.28 was charged. There was a wedding breakfast at this quaint tavern too. It is set down as "wedding Radcliff’s sister, six dinners, 12 quarts of oats, $1.69.

Going West

People "went west" by wagon in those days from the thickly settled east to seek their fortunes. Some did not find what they expected and came back again. One such group, and "emigrant family returning east—seven of them"—spent $2 at the inn. "Three cents’ worth of candy" is a frequent entry. Probably the "candy peddler from Albany" paid for his food and lodging in sweets. There are but two entries of any thing stronger than lemonade, and those are for beer—four quarts of nine cents. Oysters were cheap, too, for six plates of them increased the contents of the tavern keeper’s money box just 15 cents.


Among the journeyers along this turnpike road whose passage is recorded in this aged yellowed volume is "Old Particular." Doubtless, he was some cranky old codger who kicked about everything and whose goings the inn-keeper sped as much as possible. Then there was the "Whistling Man," "The Stiff Arm Man," "the Despeptic Man" (he had four quarts of tea) and the "Hen Man," who ate a piece of pie and traded roosters with the hotel keeper. Other travelers along the highway are thus described: "Abolition Man" "Mean Fellow," "Gent with Noble Horse," "Lady With Crying Baby?" "Hand Day’s Likeness" and "Carvat Peddler" (fool).

Occasionally an old acquaintance would pass by or some more dignitary, for it is set down that a "friend from Lexington" had hay and lodging one day at the inn. The "Grand Juror and His Wife" tarried for a meal at the inn the same day as the Domine’s Wife and Child" On Nov. 3, so the careful chronicle says, the proprietor "went to York," where he remained six days. He must have had a roaring, roistering time of it while in the metropolis, for the next entry in his handwriting is somewhat shaky and says, "Sundries while at York, 50 cents."

What will our children’s children think of the prices of today 107 years from now in the year of 2060. Will they look upon us at being very thrifty or spend thrift?

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