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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Modes Of Travel In Early Days Of Pioneers

Dallas Bogan on 13 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan


The Conestoga wagon replaced horse pack trains, and were the long distance freight carriers before the railroads were completed. The Conestoga was first built in the middle 1700's; it was named for the Pennsylvania valley in which it was first built. These wagons carried most of the freight and people that moved west over the Alleghenies from the time of the Revolutionary War until about 1850. They were sometimes called the "camel of the prairies."
Both ends of the wagons were built higher than the middle. The white canvas roof was high and rounded. Wheels with the broad rims prevented bogging down in the mud. The wheels could be removed and the wagon could be used as a boat. These Conestoga wagons were drawn by teams of from four to six horses.


Very heavy loads were transported on the early turnpikes. The freight wagons were very heavy, awkward vehicles. These wagons had tires, three or four inches wide. The wagon beds were not built on a straight line, but were curved and lowest in the middle. White covers were stretched over bows bent into semicircles. With the great length and weight of the wagon and a team of six horses, managing was not easy. The harness and other appliances of the horses were enough to burden the strongest drivers.
Tonnage hauled on these freight wagons was unlimited. As much as seven tons was distributed on these vehicles. Complaints were made concerning these extra heavy loads. The toll charge was established by the number of horses pulling the loads rather than by the tonnage. Thus, a team of six horses pulling an empty load was charged the same as a team of six horses pulling a heavy load.
The officers of the Great Miami turnpike thru Franklin in their report for 1843 said: "The directors would suggest the propriety of an increase of tolls upon heavy loaded wagons. It has been ascertained that about twenty wagons pass down and up the road in each week, generally having broad tires, four or five inches, drawn by five or six horses, carrying each from five to seven tons. Such wagons injure the road by crushing bridges, spreading the grade and pulverizing the metal to a far greater extent than all the tolls they are liable to pay can compensate."


The covered wagon was used mostly in transporting families to the great unexplored western states. However, it was also used in the Miami Valley but not in great excess. An early writer of this period describes one of these wagons outfits as follows:
"Imagine a boxlike cart nearly as long as an ordinary bedroom and so wide that I could stretch myself out full length across the body. The top and sides were covered with Osnaburg sheeting, which is cloth made of flax or tow...It makes excellent wagon covers for the rain cannot soak through the cloth, and it is so cheap that one can well afford to use its double thickness, which serves to keep out the wind as well as the rain. The front of the wagon and a small window-like space at the end are left open, but could be securely closed with curtains that buttoned at the side.
"Underneath the cart were hung buckets, the churn, lanterns, water kegs, and farming tools...Around the inside of the wagon were hung such things as we might need on the journey. There were pots and pans, towels, clothing, baskets, and two rifles...Our beds were laid in the bottom of the wagon and covered with bed-clothes to save them from being badly soiled, as would be likely if we slept upon them at night and cooked and ate and did the housework on them during the daytime. Our cook stove was set up at the rear end of the wagon where it could be pushed out on a small shelf fastened to the rear axle when we wanted to use it...We did not carry many dishes, and nearly everything of the kind was of metal such as tin or iron. We carried plates, cups, and basins of tinware."


"Carriage making did not reach its greatest development until the nineteenth century was far advanced. Various improvements in roads and in the construction of the vehicles made travel in carriages easy and pleasant. Elliptical springs were invented in England in 1804. Rubber tires did not come into use until near the close of the century.
"Fashion and taste brought about many changes in the forms of carriages in the United States to which different names were applied and all of which are now nearly obsolete. There were many forms of light carriages drawn by one or two horses, one of the most common being the one-horse buggy.
"The stage coach, the omnibus and the hack were the most common vehicles used by the general public. In England a carriage kept standing for hire was called a hackney-carriage, in the United States, a hack. As late as 1908 there were over 30,000 hackney-carriages with their drivers in London. Long lines of hacks with their drivers standing by could be seen in Cincinnati until the close of the 19th century.
"The keeping of livery stables for the hire of horses and vehicles and for the board and sale of horses was an important business in the United States during the greater part of the last century. The horses kept in livery stables were chiefly driving horses and it is a striking fact that none of the improvements in roads or travel of the 19th century affected the popularity or value of the horse. Even the steam railroads increased rather than lessen the value of the horse and did not injure the business of the livery stable.
"According to `Conteur' in the Sunday Enquirer, livery stables in Cincinnati increased rapidly in the latter half of the last century and declined more rapidly in the present century. He got his figures from the Cincinnati Directories. In 1820 there were only two or three; in 1850 there were 36 and thenceforward they increased much more rapidly than the population. In 1870 there were 70 and in 1880 there were 103.
"Wagon-making was an important business in Lebanon soon after the War of 1812 and in 1839 there were four wagon-making shops in that town employing 37 men.
"But carriages for carrying passengers came slowly into use. They were called pleasure carriages and in the rural districts were looked upon as marks of aristocracy. The legislature regarded them as luxuries which should be taxed and in 1825 they were the only wheeled vehicles in Ohio which assessors were required to return for taxation, but the rich man's carriage of the value of $100 or over could not escape.
"In 1825 when Ohio had grown to be the third state in the Union assessors were required for the first time to return carriages for taxation and they were found in only one-third of the 73 counties when in the state, and in several counties only one or two were found. In Warren County there were three of the total value of $715. The whole number of carriages in the state in 1825 returned for taxation was 113 and their average value was $185. More than one-half of the whole number were in the four counties which had the large towns of Cincinnati, Chillicothe, Columbus and Zanesville. In Hamilton County there were 35, more than one-half of all in the state.
"As wealth increased costly carriages became more and more common and by the middle of the 19th century the rearing and training of fast carriage teams had become an important industry."

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This page created 13 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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