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
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 City.
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 of Erie. 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 and Waterford 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
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 wealth.
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 Waterford.'
"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
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 Amity.
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
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 summer.
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
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
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.