The public houses erected and used as taverns along the Forbes and the State roads were very generally built of logs, and would not in our day be regarded as attractive hostelries. They are nearly all gone now, but were not much better than the private houses of that period of house building. But when the turnpike between Pittsburgh and Bedford was completed, a new era in House building began. The pike was so thoroughly constructed, carrying with it every evidence of permanency, that builders thought they might well expend enough on their new houses to have them in keeping with the new age. This perhaps applied no less to the public than to the private houses along the way. Many specimens of both are standing yet, having withstood the storms of nearly a century. They were built in advance of the style of their day.
When a village was laid out there was usually a public square in the center, and at least two comers of the square were set apart for taverns. These towns and public houses followed the stage-coach lines and the wagon lines upon which were transported nearly all of the passengers and goods between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The best men and women of our country traveled back and forth along the turnpike, and their entertainment called for and brought about a new and better style of hostelries. There was almost a continuous stream of four or six-horse wagons laden with merchandise going west, and returning with the product of the west to supply the eastern cities. They journeyed mostly between Philadelphia or Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Wagoners generally stopped at the wayside tavern, which was less expensive than to put up at the villages. They cared little for style, but demanded an abundance, while the stage-coach passengers wanted both. The wagoner invariably slept on a bunk which he carried with him, and which he laid on the floor of the big barroom and office of the country hotel. Stage drivers and their passenger's stopped at the best hotels and paid higher prices.
The public square, so common in many of the older Pennsylvania towns, was not intended to be an ornament as it is now, but was for a special purpose. There the wagons laden with freight stood over night, and as a general rule, in all kinds of weather. The horses were blanketed, fed and bedded in the square also. For this purpose the wagoner carried a long trough, which at night he fastened with special irons on the tongue of the wagon, the end of which was held up by a prop. There are few of our public squares, which have not thus been filled even to overflowing with wagons and horses. An old gentleman told the writer that he had once seen fifty-two wagons in an unbroken line going west on the Greensburg and Stovstown turnpike. These were Conestoga wagons, with great bowed beds covered with white canvas, and it must have taken a large stable-yard and square to stow them away for the night wherever they stopped. The square of a wagon or stage road town was usually from three to five hundred feet long, by perhaps two to three hundred feet wide. Some old villages had two squares separated a short distance from each other.
A requisite of the old-fashioned wagon or stage town hotel, or of the wayside tavern, was a large room used as an office, a bar-room, and a sleeping place for the wagoners. In it was a large open fire-place, which was abundantly supplied with wood in the early days, and later with coal. Around this, when their horses were cared for and the evening diversion over, the wagoners spread their bunks in a sort of semi-circle, with their feet to the fire. Colored men drove wagons, but never became stage drivers. They stopped at the same hotel with white wagoners, but never ate at the same table. Wagoners drove in all kinds of weather, and the descent of a mountain or large hill was often attended with great danger, when it was covered with ice, for instance. The day's journey for a regular wagoner when heavily laden was rather less than over fifteen miles, and one hundred miles in a week was more than the average. To urge his horses on, or compel a lazy one to pull its share, the wagoner used a large tapering wagon-whip made of black leather and about five feet long, with a silken cracker at the end. The best whips were called Loudon whips, made in a little town in Franklin county, named Loudon. The average load hauled was about six thousand pounds for a six-horse team. Sometimes four tons were put on, and even five tons, which the wagoner boastfully called "a hundred hundred," were hauled, but these were the exceptions.
The wagons were made with broad wheels, four inches or more, so that they would not "cut in" if a soft place was passed over. The standard wagon was the "Conestoga". The bed was low in the center, and higher at each end. The lower part of the bed was painted blue. Above this was a red board about a foot wide, which could be taken off when necessary, and these, with the white canvas covering, made the patriotic tri-color of the American flag, though this was unintentional. Bells were often used in all seasons of the year, though not strings of bells such as used now in sleighing. They were fastened to an iron bow above the hames, and were pear-shaped, and very sweet-toned. They perhaps relieved the monotony of a long journey over the lonely pike.
Wagoners always preferred to stop with a landlord who was a good fiddler, -not a violinist, but "just a plain old-fashioned fiddler". Then, when the evening work of the wagoner was over, an evening's dance in the dining-room or bar-room was not an infrequent occurrence. Gathered together at one place were the young maidens of two or three nearby taverns, or other neighbors, and then to the music of the landlord's fiddle came the Virginia hoe-down, the memory of which makes the old Wagoner's eyes sparkle with joy even to this day.
A young wagoner who saved his money did not always remain a wagoner. Very soon he could own a team of his own, then another and another, until he could purchase a farm with a "tavern stand" on it, or engage in other business. Some of them became men of prominence as merchants and manufacturers in Pittsburgh or elsewhere. One of the best known wagoners between Pittsburgh and the east was Jacob Painter, who afterward became a business man of high standing and great wealth in Pittsburgh. On one occasion he said that he had "driven over the road man times, and knew every man, woman and child on the way. I was welcome everywhere, and had plenty of enjoyment. Indeed," said he, "those were the happiest days of my life."
Gears, not harness, was the name used in that day, and they were so large that they almost covered the horse. The backhands were often over a foot wide, and the hipstraps as much as ten inches in width. The breaching of the wheelhorses were so large and ponderous that they almost covered the hind- quarters of the large horses. The housing was of heavy black leather, and came down almost to the bottom of the hames. It required the strength of a man to throw them on the back of a large horse. The Wagoner's saddle was made of black leather, with long wide flaps or skirts cut square at the bottom.
With the Conestoga wagoners originated our modern stogie cigars, which have become so common among smokers. They were made of pure home- grown tobacco, and. being used very largely, at first by the Conestoga wagoners, took the name "stogies." which clings to them vet. There was no revenue on them then, and, labor being cheap, they were retailed at three and four for a cent. They are made now by the million in western Pennsylvania and in Wheeling, West Virginia. The wagoner smoked a great deal, perhaps to relieve the monotony of his life, but he very rarely drank liquor to excess, though whisky was only worth three cents per drink and was free at most tavern stands to wagoners. Landlords kept liquor, not to make money out of it, but to accommodate the traveling public. There was on our old pike, it is said, an average of one tavern every two miles between Pittsburgh and Bedford, yet all put together outside of the city did not sell as much as one well-patronized house does now. In the comer of the bar-room of the county tavern was a small counter, and back of this were kept several bottles labeled with the name of the liquor they contained. The guest had his choice.
It may be somewhat surprising to the modern reader that the best of wagons in the early days of our pike were not supplied with brakes, or rubbers to enable the wagoner to move slowly going down a steep hill. They were not in use till later in the history of the pike, and are said to have been invented by a man named Jones, of Brownsville, on the old National pike. They were never patented, but came into general use soon after the inventor first put them on a wagon. In place of these the wagoner tied a hickory pole across his wagon, so that the one end bore heavily on the wheel. Sometimes he cut a small tree, which he tied to his rear axle and allowed it to drag behind, and thus descended the hill safely. In winter when the pike was covered with ice, he used a rough lock which was a heavy linked chain tied around the wheel, and then he tied the wheel when the chain touched the ground or ice.
Wagoning, as a business between the east and west, began about 1818, and reached its highest point about 1840 or perhaps a year or so earlier. The business of the pike declined very rapidly when the Pennsylvania railroad was built. so that in 1853 it was almost a feature of the past. The canal across the state finished about 1829, also injured the Wagoner's business, but it had little effect on the stage-coach traffic. Most of the elderly men of the past few years fix the highest point of travel and transportation on the pike as at about 1840. This was the year of the greatest political campaign in the nation's history, and this year is likely fixed by that event in the minds of the old-timer. There is no reason why more business should not have been done in 1842, though after that it began to decline. Our pike played a great part in the campaign of 1840 --the Log Cabin Campaign. William Henry Harrison, the hero of Tippecanoe, and grandfather of the late President Benjamin Harrison, was the candidate of the Whig party for the presidency, while his Democratic opponent was Martin Van Buren, of New York.
Harrison had been born and lived in a log cabin in Ohio, so the war cry on the part of the Whigs was "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too", and this rang for months throughout the Union. Business was actually almost suspended in many parts of the country; Pennsylvania was particularly the scene of great excitement. In Ligonier the Whigs met and constructed a log cabin about twenty feet long, ten feet wide, and eight feet high to the roof, and placed it firmly on a large Conestoga wagon, after removing the bed. It had a regular sloping roof, doors, windows, floor, etc., and the room within was bountiful supplied with hard cider, and whisky. With eight horses they took this to places on the pike where big meetings were to be held in the interests of the Whig party. Their longest and most noted trip was to Somerset, where the assembled Whigs, numbering thousands, were addressed by Charles (alias "Spoony") Ogle, whose eloquent tongue was a power in every part of the Union in winning victory for the Whig ticket. The leading spirit in constructing the cabin was Conrad George, who lived nearly fifty years afterwards, and was always delighted to tell of it.
After wagoning a few years at this rate, the times demanded a faster method of transportation between the east and west, and this brought about the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Transportation Company. They introduced a system of relays, that is, a change of horses about every ten or fifteen miles, by which they kept the wagon going day and night from the beginning to the end of the trip. When the tired team entered the relay station, a new team and another driver took the wagon and moved on at once. The tired horses rested, and in a few hours took a returning wagon of the same company back over the route. These wagons were never heavily loaded, four thousand pounds being about the heaviest they carried. The driver was expected to make on an average two miles per hour. For freight thus delivered in less than half the time consumed in the old way, merchants were willing to pay a much greater rate per pound. It was rarely ever that a team was fed at the middle of the day, the morning, and evening meal being all they got. The rates of freight varied with the times.
The tollgate keeper took the toll from all who passed over the road, excepting officers or others who were entitled to free travel. To approximate the extent of travel it is hardly fair to take the record kept by gatekeepers in a populous community or near a growing town. But the gatekeeper on Chestnut Ridge between Youngstown and Ligonier reported the following for the year ending May 31, 1818, which was the first year after the road was completed: Single horses, 7,112; one horse vehicles, 350; two-horse vehicles, 501, three horse vehicles, 105: four-horse vehicles; 281, five-horse vehicles, 2,412; six horse vehicles, 2,698: one-horse sleighs and sleds. 38: two-horse sleighs and sleds, 201: making a total of 38.599 horses for the first year of the pike. From March 1 to March 20, in 1827, 500 wagons passed through the gate east of Greensburg. On March 1, 1832, eighty-five wagons passed through the same gate. On March 12, 1837, ninety-two wagons passed through it and this was one of the best days.
Wagoners often drove in companies of six or eight, and sometimes more. In this wav they could assist each other in any misfortune that might befall them, and they were thus company for each other at night. It was not unusual for a wagoner with a heavy load to get two additional horses, making eight in all, to help him up Laurel Hill, or up any steep grade. These were furnished at regular rates by a farmer or tavern keeper who lived near by, and who sent a boy along to bring the team back.
Another feature of the old pike days was driving horses, cattle, sheep, and sometimes hogs, to the eastern market. Then, as now, the west raised more livestock than they needed, and they were made to walk east in droves. By the west in that day was meant Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Men in the livestock business were called drovers. They brought up livestock of all kinds in western Pennsylvania and in the states farther west, and drove them east on the pike for Philadelphia and New York markets. Horses were taken east by the score, and even by hundreds. They could be taken at almost any season of the year, for they could be stabled and fed on hay at night. They were always led, that is, a man rode on one and led five or six others with halters. They did not necessarily therefore go in large droves. Hogs moved slowly, and droves of them were not so common. A drove of hogs could only walk from eight to ten miles per day. Droves of cattle and sheep were more numerous, and during the summer months could be seen almost daily on any part of the pike, all going east. Sheep were taken in droves of from three to six or even ten hundred. They walked farther each day than hogs, but not so far as horses or cattle. An average drove of cattle was about one hundred and fifty, sometimes more or less. They paid toll by the score, and less than a score originally passed free. So occasionally a drover took east a herd of nine-teen to avoid the payment of toll. These small droves were the exception, however, for a larger number could be driven with about the same help. The cattle were generally full grown, that is, from two to four years old. One large steer having a rope around his horns was led by a boy, and the rest followed him. After a few days' driving they followed the leader as though they had been driven all their lives. In that day oxen were used more or less instead of horses, for heavy drawing and farm work. When a yoke of oxen became old they- were frequently fattened and sent east with other cattle, so that the drove often included a number of very large long-horned steers. Behind the drove followed a driver who kept the lazy cattle from lagging behind. The owner of the drove generally rode on horseback. In the afternoon lie rode on ahead to look out a good field of pasture where they could be kept all night. They paid the farmer a price, which varied, but it was generally about three cents per head for the night's pasture. A drove of cattle, particularly if they were heavy animals, could not make more than twelve or fifteen miles per day. They plodded along and at length reached the market, where, if they were fat enough, they were slaughtered at once. As a general rule they gained in weight rather than lost on the way east, particularly if the pasture was good and the drover a careful one. The drover was paid in cash for his cattle, and this he put in his saddlebags, and rode home to purchase another lot. The young men who drove for him generally walked home and tried to reach there by the time the drover had another lot of cattle collected and ready for the long journey.
But the most romantic feature of the pike to our generation, as we look back through the dim years to the forties, is the stage-coach. No one, it is said, who ever saw a genuine old stage-coach in use, can forget it. The outside of the coach was tastefully painted and beautified with bright colors, while the inside was lined with soft silk plush. There were three seats within splendidly cushioned, and three people could ride on each seat. There was also another seat by the side of the driver, which was very desirable in fine weather. Then on the top, others could ride in a way, if the management allowed it, and these in turn took the inside seats as they were vacated in the journey. Thus sometimes a stage bore as many as fifteen people, while its capacity was nine or ten and the driver. It was without springs, as springs are now, but the bed or top part was swung on large leather girders called thorough-braces, which were stretched between high bolsters or jacks on the front and rear axles. By this arrangement stiff springs were obviated, and, whether heavily laden or nearly empty, the passenger rode with equal ease, a feature of comfort, which could not be obtained, with our modern springs of steel. This gave it, moreover, a gentle swinging back and forth, or rocking motion, which was not by any means unpleasant to the passenger. At the extreme rear of the stage was the boot, a three-cornered leather-covered affair, in which baggage was carried. The driver sat high up in front, swinging his long whip and handling the lines of the four spirited horses with a grace and skill which has never been equaled since his day.
The horses were invariably showy animals; selected because of their lightness of foot, and yet they were strongly built. Most of them were of the "North Star", the "Murat,'' "Hickory" or "Windflower" breed-strains which are now extinct, but which for beauty of carriage, speed and endurance combined, have not been surpassed by the best of our modern thoroughbreds. They were driven very rapidly, generally making ten miles in an hour if conditions were at all favorable. The object of the stage line was to speed the passenger, and every possible arrangement was made to facilitate his journey. To this end a system of relays was established all along the pikes where stage-coach lines were operated. By this means fresh spans of horses were hitched to the stage-coach about every ten or twelve miles. With his long whip the driver could touch his horses gently, or at his will lash them into their highest speed. Under ordinary circumstances they made from six to eight miles an hour, and by relays kept that speed up all day The mail stage stopped at the post offices, at the relay stations, at taverns at meal times to accommodate passengers, and not otherwise. They often came into Greensburg, Youngstown or Ligonier at a dead run, and drew tip at the principal tavern for fresh horses. There awaiting its arrival was the relay of horses, each span held by a groom. The driver threw down the lines, the grooms unhitched the panting horses and "almost in the twinkling of an eye", says an old stager, the new spans took their places. The lines were handed to the driver, who, without leaving his seat, cracked his whip and away rolled the coach for the next station. If it was at meal times the stay was longer, but even then did not exceed twenty or twenty-five minutes. The mail coaches had to stop at the post offices long enough to leave the incoming and secure the outgoing mail. This was called "changing the mail" a correct term in that age to signify the changing done by the postmaster. But the word has come down to us so that we now often hear the word "changed" used in country offices in place of the word "distributed", a reminder of the days of long ago. This changing of the mail took perhaps not over five minutes, for letters were not so numerous then as now.
The main pike in Westmoreland County was, as we have said before, the one running from Pittsburgh through Greensburg, Bedford, Carlisle, Harrisburg, Reading, etc., to Philadelphia. On this highway in its popular days there were regularly two or more daily stages each way, that is, two going east and two going west each day. Leaving Pittsburgh in the early morning, the coach reached Greensburg about ten o'clock, having already, exhausted three relays, that is twelve horses. Greensburg, to most of the stage lines was a relay station, with another at Youngstown, another at Ligonier, etc. So by rapid driving the passengers who left Pittsburgh in the morning took dinner in Ligonier, having come fifty miles in about six and a half hours. The next fifty miles took them to Bedford, but the time occupied in the trip was much longer, for they had two ranges of mountains to climb. The regular time between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia was fifty-six hours, and a good line of stages invariably made it on time, or nearly so. Of course there were more than two lines of stages on the eastern part of the road where the more thickly populated districts gave rise to more travel, and part of the time there were more than two on the western end. Later in the day another stage line sent a coach out of Pittsburgh, which followed the first and kept up the same general rate of speed. This was kept up from day to day, from one year's end to another.
One of these lines was called the United States Mail Line. It was owned by a company, which changed some of its members from time to time, but its prominent and main owners were James Resides, Noah Mendell, Abraham Harbaugh, and Joseph Henderson. This line carried the mail, and while they lost more or less time in waiting for the "changing" of the mail, they made it up by a faster rate of speed at other times. Another line was called "The People's Line" or the "Good Intent Line". Colonel Samuel Elder, William 'McCall, and Samuel Ricker were its chief owners and proprietors. These rival lines, as may be supposed, prompted each to give the best possible service and a rapid passage from one end of the line to the other.
The fare from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia was twenty dollars. Passengers generally changed coaches about every fifty miles. The heavier coaches were used in the mountainous regions between Ligonier and Bedford, while the newer and handsomer ones were near the cities at the beginning and the end of the line. Teams were also arranged to suit the road, the heavier and stronger ones being used to draw the coaches over the mountains, and the most showy horses being near the cities. The relays of horses journeyed back and forth over the same road, and thus learned its easy and hard places thoroughly. The four horses, which hauled the morning stage to Youngstown then rested from ten to twelve hours, when they hauled a west bound stage-coach back to Greensburg.
The coaches did not stop at night. Passengers were required to travel in them night and day in a continuous passage, till they reached their destination. Each driver had a given length of time to make his run from one relay station to another, and he invariably made it on time. Going up the mountains in the eastern part of the county, or up the Alleghenies, not infrequently the passengers got out to walk for exercise and to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
A stage driver never attended to his teams, though doubtless he assured himself that they were well cared for. No position seemed so commanding in the eves of a boy as that of the stage driver. Many a youth looked forward with bright anticipations to the time in manhood when he could reach that acme of fame in his estimation. Viz., the seat of a professional stage driver. He was paid about fifteen dollars per month and board, and the best of them never received as much as twenty dollars per month, and that was considered good wages in that day. A good horse could be purchased in those days for fifty or sixty dollars, and a span of horses, with an occasional rest, was good for eight or ten years. While they were being driven they were made to strain every nerve. They went slowly up a hill or mountain where the pulling was heavy. As soon as the top was reached, or a little before it, they started off more rapidly, and on the level rarely ever went slower than a trot. While down grade or down the mountain side they sometimes went on a steady gallop. It was thus often that a stage driver coming east started his team on a fast trot at the top of Laurel Hill, and made each horse strain every nerve to keep out of the way of the stage, and thus kept up this speed for six miles until the first hill was reached, more than a mile east of Laughlinstown. The horses invariably came up to the relay stations panting and covered with foam, but they had then a rest of ten or eleven hours before another effort was, required of them. There was very little holding back done by the wheel horses of the average stage-coach when going down a hill or down the mountains. The wheel horses, if made to hold back, in time became "sprung in the knees." and this was an evidence of bad driving.
The regularity of their arrival at given point was remarkable. It was rarely ever that a coach was more than a few minutes either behind or ahead of time. Excitement, therefore, followed the whirl of the stage-coach all along the pike. The driver invariably carried a horn with a very highly keyed loud sounding tone, which he winded at the brow of the last hill before entering a village or town, to give notice of his approaching stage. New passengers, the relay horses, and the postmaster or the landlord, were all therefore ready and waiting for its arrival. To the country villages the arrival of the stage-coach was the leading event of the day, much more so than the arrival of an important train is to us. Loafers collected around the stations to learn the latest news, or become acquainted with the newest arrival, should there be any. Farmers and workmen along the pike stopped their work when the stage passed by. They could regulate their work in a measure without a timepiece for they knew the time that the stage was due to pass them.
Washington Irving took great interest in the stage driver and wrote of him as follows:
"The stage-driver had a dress, manner, language and air peculiar to himself and prevalent throughout the fraternity. He enjoyed great consequence and consideration along the road. The women looked up to him as a man of great trust and dependence and he had a good understanding with every bright-eyed country lass. His duty was to drive from one station to another, and on his arrival he threw down the lines to the hostler with a lordly air. His dress was always showy, and in winter his usually bulky form was further increased by a multiplicity of coats. At the villages he was surrounded by a crowd of loafers, errand boys, and nameless hangers-on, who looked up to him as an oracle and treasured up his cant phrases and opinions about horses and other topics. Above all, they endeavored to imitate his air and rolling gait, his talk and slang, and the youth tried to imagine himself an embryonic stage driver.
"The horn he sounded at the entrance of the village produced a general bustle, and his passage through the country put the world in motion. Some hastened to meet friends, some with bundles and bandboxes to secure seats, and in the hurry of the moment could hardly take leave of the group that accompanied them. As the stage rattled through the village everyone ran to the window, and the passenger had glances on every side of fresh country faces and blooming giggling girls. At the corners were assembled the village idlers and wise men, who took their station there to see the company pass."
The stage-driver carried a long whip composed of a stock, lash, and silk cracker. The stock was made of hickory, heavy at the hand end, but tapering till it was very slender and flexible at the lash end. It was about a yard long. The lash was made of platted rawhide, and was much thicker at the upper middle than at the ends This shape and the flexible stock made it possible for the driver to handle it by a series of curves and swings that were very accurate and made it very severe in its work when he chose to make it so. With years of practice they learned to handle the whip with great dexterity. An old friend has assured the writer that he has often seen an expert knock a fly from the back and shoulders and even from the necks of his leaders with his whip and do it so gently that it would not injure the horse nor urge him to greater speed. When the driver cracked this long whip over the horses, it was like the report of a small gun, and without anything else urged every horse to strain every muscle. It was seldom that a careful driver was compelled to use the whip severely.
Sometimes when one line stage tried to pass another, then the driver used his whip with all the skill he could command. Two stages abreast have more than once gone down the mountain into Ligonier valley, going west, every horse galloping and at his utmost speed, and the drivers lashing them to still greater exertions. In a race of this kind the rumbling of the stages could be heard for miles. The heavy bed with its tightly drawn sides and top, its glass doors and the heavy thorough-braces laden to their utmost strength, gave it at all times a rumbling noise, but when several of them were racing or ma king time coming down a mountain, the road bed of which was stone, the noise is said to have been terrific. If the driver knew his business well there was little danger in such a race. and it was to the passengers one of the most exciting events of their lives.
The old stage driver of a day gone by has been written of in song and story. We subjoin a fragment of verse found in a book entitled "Searight's National Road", written, we believe, by James Newton Matthews. These verses were read on a recent occasion by one whose reading is not of the best, to an old stage driver who was moved to tears by the memories they awakened:
"It stands all alone like a goblin in gray,
The old-fashioned inn of a pioneer day,
In a land so forlorn and forgotten, it seems
Like a wraith of the past rising into our dreams;
Its glories have vanished, and only the ghost
Of a sign-board now creaks on its desolate post,
Recalling the time when all hearts were akin
As they rested at night in that welcoming inn".
"Oh the songs they would sing and the tales they would spin,
As they lounged in the light of the old country inn.
But a day came at last when the stage brought no load
To the gate, as it rolled up the long, dusty road.
And Io! at the sunrise a shrill whistle blew
O'er the hills--and the old yielded place to the new--
And a merciless age with its discord and din
Made wreck, as it passed, of the pioneer inn."
Source Pages 253-264, History of Westmoreland County, Volume 1, Pennsylvania by John N. Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2000 by John E Decker for the Westmoreland County History Project.
Contributed by John E Decker for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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