1828, Part 3
New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
North Country Detour
At the end of August, 1828, when James Stuart's party reached Utica, New York, by the Erie Canal, the town had a population of between eight and nine thousand. A fair number of residents had turned out earlier in the month at the courthouse to weigh in on proposed efforts to enforce stricter observance of the Sabbath. They'd concluded that common sense should prevail and that every effort be made not to offend those who took their religion seriously, but that the government should keep out of it.
Today the boat party found they'd arrived at the canal coffee-house too late for lunch and decided not to cough up the extra money for an impromptu meal, but instead to spend the rest of the afternoon sightseeing. Stuart mentions wide streets, handsome houses and gardens, stores, soda-water establishments, as well as several hotels — Bagg's Hotel among them. The canal has helped make the place a transportation hub for the Mohawk Valley, with five four-horse coaches departing for Buffalo each day at a cost of six-an-a-half dollars for the 200 mile run. The sightseers returned to the coffee-house and tucked into supper. We've learned that travelers of the period did not believe in small meals, so while they're laying on the belly timber we'll wander farther afield for some sightseeing of our own.
Off to the west, construction on the branch canal up to Oswego would not be completed until December (it would open in April of next year) but the area up around the mouth of the St. Lawrence River was already beginning to grow in population, especially Jefferson County. There the shore communities of Cape Vincent and Clayton were still in the future, but the town of Black River was incorporated this past April, and Alexandria Bay had just been chosen as the site for a U. S. Customs office.
The biggest event in that region however, had taken place a short while earlier at the county seat at Watertown, after a landlord and two friends, all drunk, had broken into the rented residence of a Henry Evans and tried to toss him out, and the violent Evans had taken an ax to the trio, leaving two dead and one seriously injured. Jefferson County was going to see it's only official execution. Large crowds from a hundred mile radius had traveled to the northern city to watch the prisoner being taken a short distance from the jail to the gallows ground, on foot by his own choice, accompanied by representatives of the law and the military, as well as a small band, and then sent to meet his maker. It's quite possible one or two of the Stuart party's fellow supper companions had been among the spectators that day. One Watertown area eyewitness, eight-year-old Luther Dorwin, observing from on top of his father's shoulders, watched as the sentence was carried out, from arrival of the prisoner through the final death throes and then the cutting down of the corpse. Later in life, writing in the third person, he concluded, " . . .the history of that day is as vivid in his memory as if it had occurred within a year last past. It is well that much public executions have been abolished." It's interesting to note that two years earlier, when innkeeper William Merrill of nearby Fleiss, New York, was murdered, killer John Powell was only given a 14-year sentence. It would seem the Jefferson County justice system had now decided jail time wasn't enough of a deterrent to mayhem.
Ditch to Pond
Their wake-up call having miscarried on this first day of September - "the female servant having neglected to bring us a light in sufficient time" - the 1828 travelers at Utica failed to get the first seats in the stage coach, and once again James Stuart commented on the manners of U. S. travelers as far as the fair sex was concerned. A male passenger insisted that Mrs. Stuart take his own seat while he moved to another. Two other male passengers obviously of comfortable means, showed the same brand of curtesy to a laborer's widow and her small child. Kind of makes you wonder how their counterparts back in Britain must have behaved, that Stuart should find this remarkable.
Our tourists seem to have had enough of the state's larger towns and villages, since they now chose stage routes west that would avoid those, in favor of the smaller settlements in the Finger Lakes area. Their day's destination was Auburn, which they didn't reach until just before sundown. They checked into one of the hotels in this village of 4,000 (Stuart doesn't further identify the hotel) which they found "well regulated" and containing 200 rooms. The hotelier's wife invited Mrs. Stuart into her parlor where the visitor remarked on the great number of books; Sir Walter Scott apparently outselling even James Fenimore Cooper. That evening the travelers most likely got to bed early, as they had a full morning of sightseeing lined up the next day.
Stuart gives a brief description of the village, known before 1805 as Hardenburgh Corners, with "its numerous manufacturing establishments", printing offices and sundry newspapers of various bents - the Cayuga Republican, the Auburn Free Press and the Reverend Dr. Rudd's Gospel Messenger. But it was primarily the village's State Prison that drew Stuart's interest. They spent the entire morning being showed around by an assistant keeper, placed at their service for a modest fee of 25 cents a person. Stuart devotes an entire chapter of his journal to the morning's tour. Perhaps, having narrowly missed becoming an inmate in such an institution back in Scotland in 1822, he was interested in all the details of the prison, but we won't take the time for an in-depth look. He did conclude that it was an institution where, "the evils attending idle solitary confinement may be avoided and that criminals may be made, not only to support themselves well, so that their health may not suffer, while enduring the sentence of the law, but to defray all the necessary expenses of agent, keeper, and guard, physician and chaplain, and, at the same time, be constantly employed, and subjected to a rigid course of moral and reformatory discipline."
Once again we'll sneak away for a quick 1828 update on this vertical slice of the state. Off to the south, the Ithaca and Owego Rail Road was incorporated, the second in New York. It would begin operations six years later. Down near the Pennsylvania border, Elmira was incorporated as a village. The local Masonic lodge had recently fallen victim to the aftershocks of the William Morgan disappearance, but would be resuscitated in 1843. Central New York's other major city, Syracuse, being the southern terminus of the Oswego Canal was looking forward to increased water traffic next year when the canal was completed. In anticipation, a wooden weighlock building, for calculating cargo weights, replaced an uncovered system which measured displaced water, a system canawlers dubbed a 'guess pond'. The new and apparently flimsy wooden structure would need replacing in 1833.
From the 1825 opening celebrations for the Erie Canal (covered in scripts #262-269) to the completion of the New York State Barge Canal in 1918, you'll find an image-rich trove of material at the New York State Archives' Erie Canal Time Machine at http://www.archives.nysed.gov/projects/eriecanal/index.html . Divided into three sections — 1825 Celebration; 1830s Erie Canal at Work; 1918 The Barge Canal — the site contains historic photographs, charts, maps, letter excerpts, and resource lists, making the site especially useful to students, as well as to older readers. There are Questions, a Document Index, a Teachers' Guide, Links to websites and canal texts. The site's one drawback is an on-site search capability; but just get in there and poke around; you'll be well rewarded.
How Sweet It Is!
After James Stuart and his party completed their guided tour of the state prison at Auburn, it was back on the coach again for a circle tour of the largest two of the Finger Lakes. They traveled as far as the long wooden bridge across the outlet of Cayuga built by Charles Williamson and others back in 1797. Turning south instead of crossing it they rambled down the eastern shore of the lake, passing many farms as well as apple orchards by the side of the road, where the coachman would pull up close and stop so they could sample the wares.
Entering Aurora, an unincorporated village at the foot of a lake bluff, the coach passengers stepped down at a small inn and looked around at several picturesque lakeside houses (Stuart called them villas). The historic Aurora Inn was five years into the future; Henry Wells, of Wells-Fargo fame, would not found the women's liberal arts college named for himself here for an additional 35 years. The travelers stopped for the night, dined on a local specialty, corn-fed pork, and listened to strenuous debate about the November elections and were kept awake until all hours by local wedding celebrants nearby serenading the happy couple.
The next morning, September 5th, the coach received its passengers and continued south, passing through Ithaca and starting up the western side of the lake. They caught a glimpse of Taughannock Falls, had breakfast at a roadside hotel, topped off by local peaches, and continued on, climbing up out of the lake valley to the ridge overlooking Seneca Lake down the steep slope to their left, traveling along its spine through Ovid, and on to Geneva, a town that also owed its birth to Charles Williamson. They spent the night in a large hotel, perhaps the same built by Williamson in 1796, that still survives in our own time as apartments.
Stuart noted other peculiarities of American hotels. If you wish to have your shoes shined, instead of putting them outside your door at night you exchanged them in the bar-room for, "a pair of not very nice looking slippers," which you wore to your room then back down to the bar room in the morning, where you retrieved your own now-shined footwear. And instead of shaving in his room, a man joins others of his gender and shaves himself in front of the mirror back in that same bar-room. (Busy place!) The mealtime company was always of interest since townspeople of any wealth but no surviving family, no matter how many servants they might have, usually took their meals at the hotel (from its earliest days the Geneva Hotel was under London-trained management). Finally Stuart reminds any fellow Englishman or woman that might tend toward the imperious when dealing with hotel staff that, "Civility, as Lady Mary Montague truly observes, costs nothing, and buys every thing."
The following day it was off to Canandaigua. Transportation was flexible, as twenty stages left the hotel each day of the year; reservations were not really necessary. They stopped at Blossom's Hotel in Canandaigua, a town Stuart admired even more than Geneva, for its wide main street running uphill, lined with large garden lots containing fine white painted homes set back from the tree-lined street. Houses being built here might contain window glass manufactured up to the north at Clyde by the just-opened glassworks there. They paused for a fine midday meal, topped of with a "bottle of London brown stout from a cool cellar." After all the hot weather in Manhattan and at the eastern end of the state Stuart probably didn't mind this once that Americans chilled their beer.
Next, off again, to Avon.
Westward Ho! Stuarts and Jemisons
On September 9, 1828, James Stuart and his party depart from Avon, New York, after a one-day layover with a side trip to Geneseo, their stage carrying them northward to the cross-state road that will one day become Route 20, joining it at Caledonia and turning west. The Scotsman comments on the stumps of trees resulting from girdling, or cutting a ring around the trunk, as a way to kill the trees, allowing light to penetrate to the ground and the new crops, such as Indian corn and pumpkins. He notes that the work was all done by men as, "No white woman is ever allowed to work out of doors in the United States." Which would tend to indicate that the frontier has already moved on. Many a pioneer woman almost certainly did perform outdoor work, even if it was just the family washing in a lean-to.
Now it's on to the villages of Le Roy, Batavia, and Alden, stopping along the way only for a snack of ripe peaches with cream and sugar. Stuart mentions only that Le Roy and Batavia each had a population of about 3,000. We'll poke along a little more slowly. Between Avon and Caledonia they had crossed the Genesee River on a diagonal and headed west, thus bypassing Rochester and staying well south of the Erie Canal.
The canal continues to benefit western New York. Palmyra, back to the east of Rochester, held its first village election back in February. It contains a population of 2,000 now, more than triple that of just four years ago. Up toward Lake Ontario, Rochester, set along the Genesee on a 750-acre tract, held it's first village election under charter on May 13th, electing Francis Brown as mayor. Had the travelers passed through they could not fail to be impressed with the village at the river's upper falls, with its stone canal aqueduct crossing the river just to the south, the new brick Presbyterian church (Rochester's second), and its growing number of streets. Just three months from now street signs will be erected on the busier corners to help citizens and travelers find their way around.
But perhaps the most impressive sight to see is the new four-story commercial building nearing completion on Main Street, just to the east of the four corners that mark the village's center. Businessman and first postmaster Abelard Reynolds had built a home on the site back in 1812, which he also used as the first post office. With his home now moved to another location, the site is busy with the sharp rap of hammers and the abrupt buzz of hand saws. What is taking shape here will be Rochester's real first indoor shopping mall, as opposed to the touted and troubled first indoor mall of 1960s' urban renewal. The Reynolds Arcade with its glass skylight the length of the building has a first floor with shops on both sides of a wide central passage, a second-floor balcony ringing the periphery, lined with offices. More offices look toward the center from the top two floors. It's here Rochesterians will come to receive their U. S. mail from now on. The arcade will be a new business incubator, giving the world Bausch & Lomb as well as an infant telegraph company whose wire fingers will thrust out across the United States to become the Western Union Telegraph Company.
Upriver to the south, in the future Letchworth Park, another settlement fades into oblivion. Seneca Indian Buffalo Tom, grandson of Mary Jemison, White Woman of the Genesee, is the last of his people to leave Deyuitga'oh (Squawkie Hill to white newcomers) abandoning his cabin amid the apple trees and following Mary's trail off to the west.