1829, Part 1
New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
When we ended our 1828 New York travels with Scottish visitor James Stuart, he and his wife were headed into western Massachusetts, en route to Boston. Though the winter turned out to be quite severe - the ink froze in his pen on one occasion - Stuart made the most of his time in Boston, studying the local Revolutionary War history, observing the election of the mayor as well as the Jackson inauguration festivities - quieter in Boston than in Washington - and following Senator Daniel Webster's politically-involved trial for libel (the case ended in hung jury and was dropped).
At winter's end the Stuarts were in the stagecoaches again, visiting southern New England, with stops at Providence, Hartford, and New Haven. At this point their eventual destination was uncertain; they hadn't even decided if they were going to stay in the United States or not. The best plan seemed to be to return to New York City until they could come up with a better one. Their vessel steamed southwestward through Long Island Sound, arriving at the city after a ten-hour voyage. They decided to pitch their tent, as Stuart put it, in a rooming house at Mount Vernon, at that time an almost non-existent Westchester County village about four miles outside of the city. He remarks on the fact that city dwellers mount their horses or climb in their carriages shortly before sunset during the summer to escape the heat for a few hours. "They seldom or never think of driving out a few miles without stopping to smoke a cigar, and having a small tumbler of spirits and water, or some such mixture, for which the price is from three halfpence to sixpence Sterling, according to the rank of the house, and the quality of the liquor." It's quite unlikely that the term rolling up the sidewalks was in use at this point, but the effect was the same after the sun set each day. Local doors and windows remained unbarred and unshuttered at night.
By the time May rolled around they still hadn't determined where to head next, so Stuart decided to make a fast trip by steamboat and stage to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, just to have a quick look-see, in case he and his Mrs. should leave the country shortly. He doesn't say how long he was away but, upon his return he spent several months exploring lower New York State.
Early in June several new acquaintances invited him to pay a visit to Staten Island with them. Climbing aboard a eight-person carriage they headed for lower Manhattan, each laying out ninepence for the journey, where they boarded a steamboat for the voyage across the upper bay. It's quite possible the boat belonged to a young man from Staten Island, by the name of Vanderbilt, just turned 35 this past month. He'd been managing the seven-vessel Gibbons line for the past eleven years, saved the princely sum of $30,000 (he seemed to have a bit of a knack for making money), and determined to set out on his own, moving Sophia, his wife of 16 years, and their small crew of children over to a modest Manhattan home near the Battery. Somewhere along the way he'd picked up the nickname 'Commodore'.
The short voyage was pleasant and Stuart chatted up several of the other passengers. Soon, " . . .one of my fellow-travellers reminded us, that we must not leave the boat without visiting the bar-room, where we should find every thing very nice." I'm afraid you'll have to remain in suspense for a week before learning Stuart's response to that one. Cheers!
Rural Mount Vernon, New York, would remain much as James Stuart knew it until the 1840s, when the Harlem Railroad arrived out of New York City. For a brief glimpse of that period, and the "First Family of Mount Vernon", visit the city's web page at http://www.ci.mount-vernon.ny.us/History/johnstevens.html . Many of the history links on the site seem to have gone to FILE-NOT-FOUND land, but by clicking on the individual page numbers (1-5) you'll find the story of John Stevens and the village he helped create. For a few more details "The Story of the Stevens House" link on the left side of the page is active.
Last week we left Scottish traveler James Stuart aboard the ferry for Staten Island in 1829, faced with the momentous decision of whether or not he should pay a visit to the on-board bar. "The bar and gentlemen's cabin contained a great variety of eatables and drinkables, such as Bologna sausages, hung-beef, biscuits, and all sorts of confectionary; with wines, spirits, oranges, lemons, limes, lemonade, and ice, which is always to be had in this country. My companions partook of a sausage, and a little brandy and water, and sugar, mixed by the bar-keeper, in small tumblers." Stuart only has a lemonade, later explaining that in the U. S. men drink liquor in frequent, small portions throughout the day, and never get tipsy, unlike Europeans, who are more apt to only drink after the main meal, but then sit for hours, tossing them back one after the other.
One of his companions introduced him to a Mr. Symonson, who owned the main hostelry on the island. The innkeeper reminded the travelers that dinner (our lunch) would be promptly at one, which left them time for some sightseeing beforehand. They soon landed at the quarantine station. The city's first such station had been established on the island in 1716, but no-one wants to live too close to a "pest house", so it had been moved to Bedloes Island in 1758, to Governors' Island ten years later, and ended up back on Staten Island twenty-eight years before Stuart's arrival. There it would remain until a few year before the Civil War, when Staten Island and Sandy Hook - where the final Erie Canal celebrations took place in 1825 - would engage in a game of extreme NIMBY (Not In My Backyard).
He describes the setting here in Tompkinsville, named for former governor Daniel D. Tompkins, who had developed and designed the village while serving as James Monroe's vice-president. Small hotels, villas and government buildings - including the Richmond County Poor Farm, begun this year - most painted white and enclosed in small gardens, climb the hillside, as do Stuart and his companions. About 250 feet above the bay they reach a building, constructed by real estate developer Thomas E. Davis, referred to by Stuart as the Pavilion. He describes its "handsome saloons, with balconies, piazzas, &c. on all sides, and a look-out place from the summit, from which the prospect is most glorious." Three years later it would become the Pavilion Hotel, a favorite watering hole, especially with Stuart's fellow Europeans. He finds the view of the boat-strewn bay, with Manhattan lying on the horizon, utterly enchanting, and will make several more visits to the site during the rest of the summer.
With one o'clock nearly upon them they hurry down the hill to Symonson's for a little nourishment. " . . . roast meat, poultry, potatoes, peas, salad, lobsters, large and good, currant-pies and puddings." He goes on to say that soup is not usually served with dinner in this country and that fish is more apt to be served at breakfast. When they finish eating, their host takes them aboard a barouche and gives them an extensive tour of the island, dotted with small farms and orchards, including such an abundance of cherry trees that, "Objections are seldom made to the public taking all they can get, without intruding on fenced land." Symonson gets them back to the quarantine station in time for the six o'clock ferry. Later that night it's a happy, mellow little band of adventurers that step down from the Mount Vernon coach and head to their respective homes through the mild, firefly-speckled evening air to the vocal accompaniment of katydids.
Not knowing how long he and his wife would stay in the New York City area in the summer of 1829, traveler James Stuart was determined to make the most of his time. He learned through an advertisement of a four-day Methodist camp-meeting scheduled to be held on Long Island, and convinced the owner of his Mount Vernon boarding house and one of the companions from his Staten Island exploration, to make an overnight trip out to the island. They hired a barouche and took a steam ferry across to Flushing, arriving in time for breakfast, then drove out to the camp grounds, reaching Mosquito Cove just after the morning services had concluded. The village's name was actually taken from a Montauk Indian name meaning 'meadow', not the insect. Five years later the inhabitants would decide to change the name to Glencoe, after the Scottish town, just to avoid confusion. Confusion won in the end however; people misheard the name and began calling it Glen Cove, which remains its name today.
The 1820s and 1830s were a time of serious religious activity in the U. S., collectively known as the Second Great Awakening. The Mosquito Cove revival served as a testament to the power of this movement, drawing Methodists from hundreds of miles around. Stuart reports, "The shipping, all of which had been employed in bringing persons from a considerable distance to join the meeting, consisted of five steam-boats, about sixty sloops and schooners, besides open boats. The number of horses and carriages was proportionably great. It was calculated that there were about 12,000 persons on the ground,--certainly not less than 9000 or 10,000."
The afternoon session opened at a large, elevated and covered platform, surrounded by benches, segregated by gender, from which close to a dozen ministers exhorted the crowds, many of the celebrants forced to stand behind the benches for lack of seating. After several lengthy sermons, "The afternoon service was concluded as usual, with singing and prayer, and the most perfect decorum prevailed. The service continued for about two hours and a-half." Stuart goes on at great length to favorably dissect the service. Our time being shorter, we'll skip ahead to their subsequent departure.
They stopped overnight in Oyster Bay then arose and departed by 5 AM the next morning, returning by way of Babylon - where they had a breakfast of trout and clams - and Jamaica.
Apart from the revivals, other religious events were happening around the state in 1829. In Manhattan Roman Catholics purchased property on Fifth Avenue; in 1858 they would erect St. Patrick's Cathedral there. A local merchant in the city, bearing the resplendent name of David Washington Cincinnatus Olyphant, was inspired to finance missionaries David Abeel and Elijah Bridgman for a year-long mission to China, where Olyphant had made his fortune in the tea trade.
And far upstate, in the Genesee Valley village of Mendon, the family of farmer John Young suddenly increased in size when his Vermont carpenter son Brigham and his wife moved in. The carpenter had not yet met nearby neighbor Joseph Smith, who was busy trying to arrange financing for the printing of his new scriptures.
A short time after attending the 1829 revival meeting on Long Island, Stuart and a friend took off on the one-year-old double-boiler steamboat De Witt Clinton for a cruise up the southern half of the Hudson River. They found themselves in the midst of a party of festival-goers, "men of colour and their families", headed for a different revival meeting. Stuart doesn't specify their destination, but does report that they were, "singing hymns in the boat, and regaling themselves with peaches, of which they had tubsful."
The Clinton was on its regular run as a night boat to Albany, but the warm evening was so inviting that even those passengers traveling the full distance stayed up late listening to band music, some perhaps appearing on deck in their nightclothes, for Stuart mentions that the Americans seem to seldom wear nightcaps, unlike his fellow Brits. Finally, around two A. M. they disembarked at Catskill. At this late hour they're unlikely to have seen many signs of their eventual destination, perched at the edge of a cliff several thousand feet above them.
It was just seven years ago that lawyer-entrepreneur James Powers, a resident of the village of Catskill, decided that the nearby cliff top known as Pine Orchard would be an ideal spot for a rural getaway and began acquiring the land as well as a small, crude combination refreshment stand and bunkhouse owned by Joseph Bigelow and Hiram Comfort. A true promoter, Powers realized he'd need to lay some groundwork to nourish the idea of the Catskills region as a tourist destination. That year he built a sixty-foot-long addition to the shack and sent out invitations to a Rural Ball, to be held on September 18th. Wagons carried invited guests up from the Hudson through the glowing fall foliage, to the top, where they were lodged on the site in temporary quarters - women in a separate building - then gathered in the main hall, dancing to fiddlers in the flickering candlelight until the wee hours, as the scent of balsam boughs filled the atmosphere. The next day the area's first true tourists visited the Kaaterskill Falls and topped the weekend off with a dinner at the local tavern. The Catskills were launched.
Further publicity came from a rather unlikely source, that old nemesis of eastern New York fauna, Natty Bumppo, the Deerslayer. When James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers came out in 1823, his hero Natty stopped the novel's action dead in its tracks while he reached into nowhere to launch into an atypical, glowing description of the natural beauty of the eastern Catskills, even though he himself was many miles away on the Upper Susquehanna River, in a partly fictionalized Cooperstown. It couldn't have worked out better if Powers had planned it - which he apparently hadn't. Before he could expand accommodations the Pine Orchard site was inundated with readers of the novel. Most guests arriving at the cliff top over the next few years often found themselves sleeping out under the stars in their carriages for lack of space.
But by the time Stuart and his friend arrived at the village below in 1829, Powers was ready with a new hotel at the very edge of the precipice. Called the Pine Orchard House at the time, it would later be expanded and renamed the Catskill Mountain House. We'll visit next time.
Pine Orchard Hotel owner James Powers had opened the floodgates of Catskills tourism. By the time James Stuart and his companion got off the Hudson River steamboat near Catskill, New York - 2 AM one night during the summer of 1829 - agents from two rival coach companies clamored for their trade. The travelers made their choice, opting to stay for the rest of the night at one of the hotels in town. Considering the hour and the condition of the roads that climbed more than 2000 feet up the steep mountainside back then, it was probably a wise choice. There was no charge for the carriage, the driver always hoping he had a lock on the fare for the next day's longer journey.
The length of the journey was known, but for some time there had been controversy over the exact height reached. From the beginning Powers had claimed his hostelry was 3,000 feet above the Hudson's waters. By the end of the 1800s rival hotels would uncover the fact that West Point captain Alden Partridge and his cadets had measured the altitude of the outcropping earlier in the century, citing 2,200 feet. They're still arguing in the mountains over that 800 feet, down to our own day.
The next morning after breakfast Stuart and friend chose a four-person open barouche, at 50 cents a head, for the journey up into the mountains. Stuart reports, "The last five miles of the road was extremely steep--so much so, that a carriage is generally four hours in going the twelve miles to the house, and only two hours in returning. The horses get half a pint of rum mixed in a little water at a half-way house on the hill." And well deserved it was, to be sure. One twist in the road is named Dead Ox Curve, because an unlucky beast had died of exertion at the spot.
When the barouche pulled up to the 25-foot-wide veranda in front of the building at the edge of the cliff, and entered between the flanking three-story Corinthian columns, the primarily English staff of the present leaseholder, C. H. Webb, made them feel immediately at home. Stuart briefly describes the admirable public rooms and comfortable bedrooms, declaring the dinner excellent. The two dollar-a-day rate included bed and board, and a circulating library as well. But the real treasure came the next day. According to local custom everyone arose at five the next morning and assembled in the clear air on the veranda to greet the sunrise. Stuart's brief description obviously can't do the scene justice. Only the painters of the Hudson River School, such as contemporary Catskill resident Thomas Cole, could even approach that impossible task.
After a brief stay the two men got aboard a coach for the return trip back down into the village. The driver, a fellow Scot, "seemed to understand the whip well, which is very necessary on this road, for it is no easy matter to drive a coach and four on a narrow road, on a very rapid descent, with sharp turnings cut out of the side of the hill, and without any fence or protection on the exterior side." Arriving at the pier, they boarded another steamboat, the North America, comparable in size to the De Witt Clinton, for their journey downriver, the captain inviting Stuart to sit beside the pilot for a wheelhouse view of the passing scenery. Another river excursion next time.
© 2007, David Minor