Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister


Chapter XIII - Common Roads, Stage Lines, Mail Routes, Taverns, etc.

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.

Buffalo Road
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.

Waterford Turnpike
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 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 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 Shunpike
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 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.

Old Taverns

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 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 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.



Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part II, Chapter XIII, pp. 233-243.
 

 


This page was last updated on  Sunday, October 08, 2000.

Return to Erie County Genealogy Project

2014 Erie County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project