(Continued from Saturday)
Of interest in connection, with travel on the pike is the trip of
the late Alexander Reed, of Washington, who walked the entire distance
from Washington to Baltimore in eight days. He left Washington July 28,
1885, and kept a record of distances. The first night he stopped at Brownsville,
24 miles, and the next day tramped across the mountains to Petersburg,
Maryland, 38 miles. The next jump was 26 miles of mountain travel in
Frostburg, and the following day he made 27 miles to McElfish's Inn. On
August 1, he reached Milestone Point, 30 1/2 miles beyond McElfish,
and the next day he arrived at Hagerstown, 19 1/2 miles. He made the 26
miles from there to Frederick the next day. His best record was on August
4, when he made the 45 miles from Frederick to Baltimore. The total
distance was 236 miles. He traveled on Sunday, as the people with whom
he stopped for the night went to church, and did not care to leave a
tramp in charge of the house. He noted that with his old white hat, canvas
shoes, worn out gloves and dust covered clothing he did not blame anyone
for this opinion.
At the summit of Laurel Hill, above Uniontown, he met a Mr. Umble, who
lived near Somerfield, and they walked together for the next 22 miles. Mr.
Umble was 61 and Mr. Reed found him the best pedestrian he had ever met.
The mountain people, did a lot of walking in those days, and Mr. Reed was
told at McElfish's Inn that they frequently walked to Cumberland, 18
miles, and return in a day, just to do a little shopping. The tavern
keeper at Somerfield refused to let him stop, probably because of his
tramp-like appearance, and on Saturday night he had to walk seven and
one-half miles through dense darkness and a pouring rain to Milestone
Point before he could find anyone who would take him in.
He enjoyed the trip, and after the third day, when he got into his
stride, he found the walking easy. From Baltimore, he went to Philadelphia
and New York by rail, and witnessed General Grant's funeral in the latter
Stage Coach Lines
The question often comes up as to the rates charged in stage coaches
on the National Pike. Some of the early fares are mentioned in newspaper
advertisements in the early 1820's. However, Searight throws some light
on this subject by giving a table of rates from various points. These
probably applied during the 1830's and 1840's when competition was very
keen in order to make a comparison with bus fares today, the local
Greyhound office furnished us with fares between the same points given by
Searight. These are shown in the following table. The bus fare does not
include the tax:
Baltimore to Frederick $ 2.00 $ 1.40
Frederick to Hagerstown $ 2.00 .85
Hagerstown to Cumberland $ 5.00 $ 2.05
Cumberland to Uniontown $ 4.00 $ 2.15
Uniontown to Washington $ 2.25 $ 1.20
Washington to Wheeling $ 2.00 $ 1.00
Through fare… $17.25 $ 8.65
The reduction in fare is really much greater that these figures
indicate. In stage coach days money was not as plentiful, and a dollar was
worth 100 cents in gold. Today the value of the dollar is much less. The
stage companies probably had as great an investment or even grater that
the bus lines today. A bus is expensive, but so was a stage coach and
each company especially the big ones, had hundreds of coaches and it was
no exaggeration to say that a big line had more that a thousand horses;
probably nearly two thousand would be more correct. Staging was a horse
killing business, and each company had to constantly buy more.
Relay stations were from 10 to 12 miles apart. Each station had a large
number of horses and employees, and another heavy item of expense
was the enormous amount of horse feed necessary. Blacksmith shops for
the repair of coaches were maintained at each relay station another
big item. Tolls paid at each gate amounted to considerable. In Pennsylvania
the rate for a stage with two horses, 12 cents, with four horses, 18
cents, and six horses 24 cents. A train of from 10 to 20 coaches of one line
passing a gate at one time was a large item.
I have been unable to find the cost of a Concord stagecoach of the type
used on the National Pike. The coaches used on the western plains and
mountains cost from $1,000 to $1,500; but that was at a later period, and
the cost of the average pike coach was probably around $2,000 to a possible
$2, 500. They were more highly ornamented and the upholstery was of a better
grade. The weight of the average coach was from 2,000 to 2,500 pounds. The
mail coaches were smaller, but probably cost as much.
The stagecoach was the best vehicle ever designed for road travel until
brick, concrete and blacktop came into use. An automobile or modern bus
could not hold up with a stage for travel on the roads of 125 years ago,
not even on the macadam surface of the National Pike, for it was rough
traveling at best. The tires were iron, but the roll of the coach body
on the heavy leather thorough braces instead of springs was easier on
the passengers than automobile or bus on rough roads. If you do not believe
this just try it someday when on a western trip, where you may still find
a stage coach going over mountain roads.
STAGE DRIVERS AND WAGONERS
During the golden era of the National Pike hundreds of men from Washington,
Fayette and Somerset counties were engaged in driving stages and Conestoga
wagons. Like all men who spend much of their lives in the open they were
hardy and rough, very clannish and warm hearted. They liked their liquor
and tobacco, and every tavern and wagon stand along the pike kept a bar
as part of its necessary equipment where liquor and tobacco were cheap.
The Pike Boys reveled in feats of strength. Wrestling and fighting
were their chief amusements. Strange as it may seem today to those who
do not know the temper of the outdoor man, those wagoners could engage in
a desperate fist fight for no better reason than to prove which was the
best man. They could better each other up until they were bruised and
bleeding, with perhaps a broken bone or two thrown in for good measure and
eyes almost closed and then shake hands and remain just as good friends as
ever. It was all part of the game of life on the old pike.
The stage coach drivers considered themselves as the aristocracy
of the road. They were dandies, and they dressed in the best clothing
money could buy, and were generally neat, although some were a little
careless. Their suits were of good broadcloth, their hats were high beavers
or broad brimmed of the sombrero type, and all wore heavy boots of the best
leather, generally well polished. In winter, they were heavy buffalo robe
or bear skin overcoats, for up on the high seat, they were exposed to
the most bitter weather.
The whip was the badge and pride of their profession. It had a short
stock about three feet long, decorated with silver and ivory, with a long
lash of the softest leather braided round with a silk, or buckskin
cracker at the end. The lash was long enough to reach the leaders of
a six horse team, but every good driver was proud of his ability to drive
without using the whip. The sharp pistol-like crack over the animal’s
heads was enough. Every expert driver was proud of his ability to fleck a
fly from the ear of a lead horse without touching the animal.
The stage drivers were the most romantic, and picturesque men upon
the road. The heroes of every small boy in Washington and elsewhere
along the pike. Even “Old Hickory,” Daniel Boone and Lewis Wetzel faded
in comparison, for the stage driver was of his own line and he could see
him right here at home; and every lad declared that as soon as he was old
enough he was going to drive a stage coach—and many of them did.
The stage driver was just as proud of his profession for it was a real
art to handle four or six horses hitched to a big, lumbering Concord
coach as it careened down the mountains and hills, and around sharp curves
at full speed without upsetting. In fact it required much greater
skill than driving an automobile over the same kind of a road. If you do
not believe this just try it someday with a single team and a much lighter vehicle.
These stage drivers and wagoners of the long ago are gone with the
winds of long vanished years, and with them went a way of life we will
never know again, a way that was hard, tough and adventurous. When the
old pike became just another road after the coming of the railroad,
some of these men settled down to the prosaic life of a farm where they
spent the remainder of their days. Others of the more adventurous
type drifted on, like the Indians, into the land of the setting sun, following
their occupations as stage drivers and wagoners across the plains and
Rocky Mountains with the Gold Rush to California.
Of the many men who drove stages over the pike through the county, some
lived in Washington and other towns in this section, and after the coming
of the railroad some settled here where their descendants still live. It is
impossible to mention them all, but some of the more noted drivers will
be mentioned among the legends of the old pike.
John Burr, who drove the run between Washington and Wheeling,
was a powerful, quiet man, who minded his own business, but he was not to
be fooled with. An example of his fighting ability will be given in the
proper place in connection with his encounter with the “Cincinnati
Buffer,” at Claysville. He drove for the Good Intent Line.
David Gordon, another noted driver, was brought from the East by
James Reeside, and drove between here and Wheeling. Later he went to the
Good Intent Line. Searight describes him as a powerful man, six feet tall,
a good fighter, but not quarrelsome. On one occasion when three toughs at
Triadelphia jumped him he knocked them out in short order.
Tobias Banner and his pal, Jerry McMullin, drove mail coaches in
and out of Washington.
Paris Eaches was well remembered by all of the old timers in Washington
as one of the most popular drivers on the road. He engaged the excitement of
staging, and was an expert. Searight says that he was always a favorite at
social parties of young people, and entertained them with songs.
One of his best known was “I Have Left Alabama,” a song forgotten
with the years along with Paris Eashes. He died in Pittsburgh on September
Jim Hutchison was one of the very few who dared to drive down the
western slope of Wheeling Hill at top speed and successfully make the
hairpin curve at the bottom. Like many others he vanished when the railroad
came. Rebecca Harding Davis, who was born June 24, 1831, in the old Bradford
House on South Main street, remembered him as one of the pike heroes of
her young girlhood in Washington. Years later she became famous as an author,
and while touring California in search of material for magazine stories she
had an interesting meeting that revived old memories. During a journey, by
stage coach through the mountains of that state she recognized her driver
as Jim Hutchison, the hero of her youth. She recorded later that he was a
noted driver on the Pacific Coast, where Bret Harte made him famous as
the “Yuba Bill” of his tales of the California gold fields.
George Fisher was noted as a driver who could handle any wild horse
on the road. Searight says that when the team ran off with James Walker and
wrecked the coach at Wicker’s Bridge, Fisher took charge of it, and soon
had it under complete control.
Searight related a rather amusing and almost tragic accident that
occurred during the Presidential campaign of 1844. Fisher greatly
admired Polk and thoroughly hated the Whigs, one day a large delegation
of Whigs from West Alexander had attended a big rally in Washington,
and on their return that evening Fisher’s coach dashed right through their
possession, scattering buggies, carriages, light wagons, and Whigs all
over the road; and in the confusion of runaways and mixed up horses the
Whigs several persons were injured. Calvin Wilson rather seriously.
Fisher afterwards claimed that his horses were so badly frightened
at the many Henry Clay banners and the music that he could not control them.
The fracticious disposition of his teams was well known, and his explanation
was excepted. This saved him from prosecution; but the Whigs of West Alexander
always believed that he did it on purpose—and perhaps he did.
Daniel Legget was the driver of the horses that ran away down South
Main street in 1838 with Chief Black Hawk and other Indians in the coach.
This incident will be told later.
Jack Bailess, of Washington, was a reckless driver who took keen delight
in scaring his passengers half out of their wits by showing that he was
experienced in handling horses and knew just how far to go, and never had
an accident. He drove the coach from Claysville to Washington with General
Zachary Taylor as a passenger. Taylor was on his way to Washington
City for his inauguration, and we may be certain that Jack did not pull off
any fancy stunts of driving.
John Brown, who drove between Washington and Wheeling died at the
latter place on April 26, 1880, aged 22 years after his stage driving days
he was night watchman in the Wheeling post office.
Jack Bringle, of Washington, was one of the last men to drive a
stage in this section. When he drove for Ed Sexton between Washington
and Pittsburgh. It was he who drove the last stage out of Washington
upon the completion of the Chartiers Valley Railroad on May 18, 1871. An
enlarged photograph of this coach hangs in the George Washington Hotel.
The history of this coach is interesting. It was built right here
in Washington and was the first round bodied coach of the Concord type
ever constructed west of the Allegheny Mountains. Prior to that all coaches
made in Washington and elsewhere west of the mountains were the square type
later called hacks in this section and mud wagons in the west.
The Civil War had closed, and young Richard R. Forrest was home from
the army. He was without a jog, but he had learned coach building in
the Hayes shop before he enlisted. All of the coach builders here had
declared that a round bodied coach could not be built outside of Concord,
New Hampshire. For some reason they seemed to feel that Abbot Downing and
Company, of Concord, was the only firm that knew the secret of round-bodied
Young Forrest decided to prove that they were wrong for he could see
no reason why round-bodied coaches could not be constructed anywhere,
and so he set to work. This coach was built on a vacant lot beside John
Morrow’s wagon shop on East Wheeling street. Just across the street J.
Dallas Jackson, an old friend who had learned his trade at the Hayes Shop,
had started in business for himself. Jackson was a blacksmith as well as a
wagonmaker, and he ironed the couch and running gear. After it was completed
Forrest sold it to Ed Sexton. It was used on local runs on the National Pike,
then on the Pittsburg Pike and between here and Nova lock, and then on the
Some time in the early 1870’s, Sexton sold it to one of the western
state lines. In those days all stage coaches were named, the name being
painted on the side with an appropriated picture being painted on the door.
This stage was called the “Queen of the Road.”
(To Be Continued)
For part 3 of The National Pike Story For part 5 of The National Pike Story