National Pike, Road of History, Romance
Saturday, March 19, 1955 page 5 of
The Washington Reporter, Washington, Pennsylvania
by Earle R. Forrest
"Said Billy Willis to Pete Burdine,
You had better wait for the Oyster Line."
This stage was owned by Peters, Moore and Company, a small firm. Nothing
more has been found of its history.
This line was started by a member of tavern keepers or landlords
along the pike. Searight says that the men prominent in the company
were William Willis, an old stage driver and later tavern keeper;
Samuel Luman, a stage driver turned tavern keeper, and Joseph Dilly.
Nothing more has been found of its history.
This line was operated by James W. Weaver between Cumberland
and Wheeling. After he sold out in 1836 to James Reeside he transferred
his operations to the pike in Ohio.
Pilot Stage Company.
Not much has been found of the history of this company; but it was in
operation for several years in the 1830's with headquarters at the Mansion
House, and was owned by James Reeside.
A Fatal Accident on the Road.
Accidents occurred during stage coaching on the National Pike, just
as they happen to automobiles today, but not nearly as frequently.
In old newspaper files I found them listed in other sections, but only
one in Washington County, with exception of the coach carrying Black Hawk.
There were undoubtedly others, for the old road with its many hills and
sharp curves, was hazardous; but as there were few fatalities they were
not considered worthy of mention.
One accident with fatal results to a passenger was found in The Reporter of
October 10 and 17, 1846. On October 8 an east bound Good Intent stage upset
on the hill west of the "S" Bridge. Clark Moses, of Louisville, Kentucky,
was fatally injured, and James Walker, the driver, was seriously hurt. As
the stage was broken to pieces it must have gone over with considerable
force. The injured were taken to the public house of Mrs. Caldwell at
Searight gives the date of this accident as October, 1843, but he was
mistaken by three years. According to his account the driver lost control
when the horses started to run down the hill from a locust tree near Caldwell's
and the stage upset at Wicker's Bridge near the bottom. Moses and his
nephew were on the seat with the driver, but the nephew and other
passengers escaped injury.
Moses had both legs broken and died two days later of gangrene.
The body was brought to Washington the next day, Sunday, and buried in
the old grave, in West Spruce avenue. The Reporter account states
that "this whole community" met the funeral procession as it entered
town and accompanied it to the burial ground. The deceased was a merchant
on his way East to purchase goods.
Walker, who was from Franklin County, was seriously injured,
and, although he was reported in a critical state on October 17, Dr. John
Wishart, one of the attending physicians, said that hopes were entered
for his recovery. No blame for the accident was attached to him. Searight
says that he was nursed at the Caldwell House until he recovered the next
Wicker's Bridge, where this accident occurred, was the scene of a
noted murder in the early history of the pike. The account of this will
THE LAST STAGE COACH OVER THE PIKE
Fortunately we have the passing of the last stage coach over the
National Pike from Baltimore to Wheeling. The story which appeared
in The Baltimore Sun in December 1894, was published in The Reporter on
January 1, 1895, exactly 42 years after its arrival in Wheeling.
James E. Reeside, who had charge of the coach, was a resident of
Baltimore in 1894, and he gave the details. He was a son of James Reeside,
at one time the largest mail contractor in the United States, carried the
first mail from Baltimore to Wheeling as already related here. His son was
about 15 years old when he entered the business with his father and before
he quit he had extended stage lines westward to the Pacific Coast.
In this interview Mr. Reeside said: "The 272 miles from Baltimore
to Wheeling was first made in four days with nightly stops. The best stage
coach time was afterwards reduced to 50 hours by the old Eclipse line,
established by James Reeside."
He said he had charge of the last mail coach which left Baltimore
and arrived in Wheeling on January 1, 1853. Under the 50-hour schedule
which he mentioned, the coach must have left Baltimore about December 30,
In describing staging on the National Pike, Mr. Reeside said:
James Reeside's "June Bug" line.
The first through mail on the pike, was carried by James Reeside,
proprietor of the "June Bug" line. After the pike was completed to Wheeling
no company owned a through line from Baltimore to the Ohio River.
Reeside was awarded the contract for carrying the mail, and he immediately
made arrangements with proprietors of stage lines then running on the pike.
Under contract with Reeside, Stockton and Stokes carried the mail from
Baltimore to Hagerstown. From Hagerstown to Cumberland, it was carried by
James Boyd; from Cumberland to Little Crossings by Abraham Russell;
from Little Crossings to Somerfield by Jacob Sides; from Somerfield
to Brownsville by James Kinkead, and from Brownsville through Washington
County by Hill, Simms and Pemberton.
Later Reeside established a line of coaches, which Stockton scornfully
said, would not last until the June Bugs came. Thus it gained the name
of the "June Bug" line, by which it was known throughout its history.
But it lasted until long after the June bugs came, and became one of
Stockton's strongest competitors.
In 1836 Reeside purchased the People's Line that ran between
Cumberland and Wheeling, from John W. Weaver, and changed it from a
tri-weekly to a daily. Later he changed this to a thrice a day, and added
a tri-weekly line. He sold his National Road stage lines in 1839 to Shriver,
Steele and company, which were merged into the Good Intent Stage Company.
At one time Reeside was the largest mail contractor in the United States,
and in connection with his mail contractors owned and operated a number of
stage lines. He had more than 1,000 horses and 400 men in his employ,
and was called the "Land Admiral."
Good Intent Stage Company.
After Shriver, Steele and Company purchased Seeride's [Reeside's]
National Pike lines and merged them into the Good Intent, they became
Stockton's chief rival. The general equipment was equal to Stockton's,
and the rivalry between them was intense. Its stages ran on the pike until
the railroad arrived.
The local agents were S. B. and C. Hayes, proprietors of the American
House which stood on the site of Hotel Main of later years, with stage
stables in the rear, of East Beau street. When Messrs. Hayes moved to
the Greene House, on the east side of Main Street at the corner of Pine
avenue, the Good Intent followed them. Daniel Brown became the agent when
the Hayes left this stand. Some time later the head-quarters were changed
to the Mansion House.
It is interesting to note in this connection that Pete Burdine,
one of the best and fastest drivers on the road, was employed by the Good
Intent. Like all men of those days he was very loyal to his employers,
and composed the following lines which became popular among the Good Intent
"If you take a seat in Stockton's line,
You are sure to be passed by Pete Burdine."
This line got its unusual name because it was started primarily to carry
fresh oysters from Baltimore to as far west as Cincinnati. This is shown
by the following item in The Reporter of November 28, 1835:
"THE OYSTER LINE"
"The Oyster Line."
Oysters are now carried from Baltimore to Cincinnati in five days, by
the line recently established on the National Road for that purpose.
This we believe is traveling more rapidly, or full as fast, as the United
It probably did travel faster than the mail. It is doubtful if any
attempt was made to transport the bivalves during warm weather, for ice
would be a problem. It is a safe guess that either Lucius W. Stockton or
James Reeside had a hand in this operation.
On one occasion William Willis, an "Oyster" driver, passed the noted
Pete Burdine in a race along the pike. Someone composed two lines to
commemorate this event, which was big news in the pike days:
"The stage-coach head-quarters in Baltimore were at old Barnum's
Hotel and the Fountain Inn, which stood on the site of the Carrollton
Hotel. The coaches used were open at the front and sides, with seats for
11 passengers besides the driver. All seats faced the front of the vehicle.
Saddlebags, which were carried at that time for baggage were hung on
posts supporting the top of the stage. A small rack behind, for trunks, was
seldom used. A tin lantern, with a tallow dip, placed over the driver,
was used at night.
"Four strong horses drew these coaches, with relays every 10 or 12
miles at stages or stations, from which probably came the name of the
vehicle. The average rate of fare was six cents a mile. At first travel
was only in the day time, with stops every night at the numerous excellent
inns or taverns which lined the road.
"One of the great obstructions to travel along the road were
larger droves of cattle, sheep and hogs being driven from western
plantations to eastern markets. The cattle especially, with their long
horns pointed towards the oncoming coach, made a formidable obstruction."
Much interest would have been added to this trip of the last coach
if he had given the name of the driver from Washington to Wheeling.
The account states that Mr. Reeside was probably the only surviving
stage coach contractor of National prominence. He was a native of Cumberland.
THE PONY EXPRESS.
It is doubtful if many people know that the original Pony Express
ran on the National Pike 25 years before that institution was made
famous in the Far West, nor was the name original with the western
system. Searight gives the interesting information that about 1835 or
1836 Postmaster General Amos Kendall conceived the idea of a line of
couriers on the pike to be called "Pony Express," to carry light mail on
horseback with greater speed than by coaches.
Kendall's idea was pretty much the same as the western express
in later years. Each rider was to be a boy carrying a leather mail sack
fastened to his saddle, and each horse covered six miles at top speed.
The rider was equipped with a tin horn, which he blew lustily when nearing
the relay station as notice to the station keeper to have a fresh horse
ready, and the change was made in the quickest time possible.
There were several pony express contracts along the line, one of whom
was William Morris, proprietor of a tavern on the hill just west of Monroe,
the present Hopwood. Another contractor mentioned by Searight was Bryant
and Craven, of West Alexander.
In the list of riders, Searight gives the name of William Moore,
Thomas Wooley, William Meredith, Frank Holly and James Nease, who carried
the mail east of Cumberland. Moore and Wooley subsequently became
stage drivers. Sandy Conner, Pete Sides, Thomas A. Wiley and William Conn
rode west of Cumberland. The first three were later stage drivers.
Wiley rode between Uniontown, Washington and Wheeling. In 1852 he
entered the employ of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and was still with
the company at Camden Station, Baltimore, in 1894.
Calvin Morris, a son of William Morris, one of the contractors,
and William Downer, whose father lived at and maintained the big watering
trough, still a noted landmark on the western slope of Laural Hill, rode
through both Washington and Fayette counties. John Gilfillan rode between
West Alexander and Wheeling.
The life of the Pony Express on the National Pike was short. Like
the western express it probably did not pay or it would have been kept
up; but while it was in existence "it kicked up quite a dust,' to use an
expressive description by the old Pike Boys.
Searight is the only authority I have found for the Pony Express on
the National Pike, but coming from a man who lived on the road at that time
it is certainly correct. John Weiner inquired at the National Archives, but
found that the post office and legislative records in the Archives do
not contain any information on this subject. Unfortunately, the early post
office records have not been preserved.
(to be continued)
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