The Catskill Turnpike
in Stage Coach and Tavern Days
by Lyman H. Gallagher
contributed by Richard Palmer
from the Ithaca Journal-News, Saturday Jan. 24, 1925
see full article on the Crooked Lake Review from the fall of 2005 here:
Famous Highway Played Big Part in Developing Great Area of New York, Central and Southern Sections of Empire State Opened by Historic Road,
Laid Out on Old Indian Trails, Taverns Along Route Centers of Social and Commercial Life in Early Days
The “Catskill Turnpike” is a household word in this part of New York State; and about the development of this great public highway is woven much of the history of Central New York, which has transpired within the century last past. Built to supplant the meager trails which penetrated the then “New York Wilderness,” the Catskill Turnpike opened to settlement and internal improvement a vast belt of territory extending westerly from the Hudson river and Catskill Mountains to Steuben County, and eventually to the western limits of our state. Passing through the present counties of Tompkins and Schuyler at the heads of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, the Catskill Turnpike extended the influence of the civilization, which followed its foundation, to the adjacent country about these lakes and the northwestern part of the state. Other roads branched northerly at Ithaca and Watkins; and together with the establishment of boat routes on these lakes, formed important commercial tributaries. Following the discovery by Henry Hudson in 1609 of the river which bears his honored name, the country lying along the Hudson River and its tributary, the Mohawk River, was quite quickly invaded by settlers; and through the Catskill Mountains this advancement continued until it had reached the Susquehanna river on the western slopes of the Catskills. Here began what Halsey, the historian, calls “The New York Frontier.” The border towns were those lying along the section of the Susquehanna river reaching from Binghamton to Otsego Lake; and including our present Bainbridge, Unadilla, Otsego, Oneonta, Cooperstown and the like. Between the Hudson and Susquehanna rivers, one of the main public highways was the “Ulster and Delaware Turnpike;” and the bill which created the Catskill Turnpike provided that it should be a continuation of the former turnpike, commencing at the then named town of “Jerico,” later known by its present name of “Bainbridge.” West of the Susquehanna river only a few Indian trails traversed this forest vastness, and these were “carries,” as it were, which connected natural waterways. Probably, the nearest such Indian trail extended from a landing on the Susquehanna river at or near the present site of the village of Owego , to a crossing on the Six Mile Creek, just west of Brookton; and thence to the site of the city of Ithaca on Cayuga Lake. This trail is estimated to have been in use for some 250 years, and is known in Indian traditions as the “Cayuga Indian Trail.” Traces of the trail are still to be found near the Six Mile crossing. E. A. Cooper, of Slaterville Springs, recalls that his grandmother, who lived in a log cabin near the crossing, often took him when a child to see the Indians passing over this trail, and, today, he is able to definitely point out portions of the trail. His remembrance is that Senecas were the last to use the trail. Over this Indian trail, many of the first white settlers reached this section.
It is doubtful whether the surveyors and road-makers who undertook the building of the Catskill Turnpike had even an Indian trail to guide them in their work. Rather, did they find throughout the length of the proposed road heavy stands of primeval timber, much of which was pine and hemlock, and deciduous hardwood such as maple, elm and oak. These trees were often of immense size, and completely covered the intervening hills and valleys. To cut a pathway four rods wide through this wilderness for a distance of more than a hundred miles must have entailed a vast expenditure of labor and subjected the workmen to severe privation and hardship. Even today, with modern machinery, the task would be considered difficult, in the extreme. Then, again, all the valleys were wet and swampy because of the heavy shade; and not until years after the cutting-through of the road did the soil dry sufficiently to form a satisfactory foundation for the highway. For this reason, the course of the road followed over knolls and even hills in seeking drier locations; and where this was impossible the road was floored with logs, in many places for miles, these sections being designated as “corduroy roads.” Created by Legislature in 1804
The Catskill Turnpike became a public highway in 1804, by legislative enactment. George Clinton was then Governor. This bill, which was passed and signed by Governor Clinton, covers 26 pages of the volume containing the New York Session Laws of 1804, being the 27th session of our Legislature. The preamble recites the purpose of the bill in the following language: “AN ACT to establish a turnpike corporation for improving and making a road from the Susquehanna river in the town of Jerico, in Chenango County, to the town of Bath, in the County of Steuben, and to incorporate the Jerico bridge company.” By a special paragraph in the bill, it “is declared a public act,” thus fixing the highway’s status as a state road. The bill was passed in the Assembly March 29, 1804; passed in the Senate April 7, 1804; and, passed “in Council of Revision” April 7, 1804. Alexander Sheldon was Speaker of the Assembly; J. V. Rensselaer, President of the Senate. Governor Clinton, in approving the bill, signed the joint resolution which reads, “Resolved, That it does not appear improper to the council that this bill should become a law of this state.”
Following the preamble, the bill continues as follows: “Be it enacted by the people of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, that Benjamin S. Carpenter, Joseph Julliand, Elijha Smith, John Johnson, Esick L. Hartshomi, Frederick A. Deseng, Jonathan Parker, Platt Bush, Eleazer Dana and all such others as shall associate for the purpose of making a good and sufficient road, running from the Susquehanna River, opposite or near to where the Ulster and Delaware turnpike road shall terminate on the said river, by the most direct practicable route to the town of Bath, in the County of Steuben, along or near to the heads of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, their successors and assigns, be and are hereby created a body corporate and politic by the name of “the President and Directors of the Susquehanna and Bath Turnpike Road Company.”
The company was a stock corporation with $12,000 capital, the par value of each share being $25. The bill provided for the publishing of business notices in newspapers in Kingston in Ulster County, in the village of Owego in Tioga County, and in Cooperstown in the County of Otsego. No share of stock should at any time be held by any person not a citizen of this state or of the United States.
Mile Stones Told Distance from Hudson River
Milestones or posts were to be erected, one for each mile of said road, and on each said stone or post should be fairly and legibly inscribed or marked the distance of said stone or post from “Hudson’s River.” The act provided for condemnation proceedings and commissioners to obtain rights of way; and also directed the commissioners to file in each county clerk’s office along the line of the route followed by the highway a map of the section of the road in their respective counties. The road was divided into three divisions, each division being placed under a superintendent.
The bill required the road to be laid out four rods wide and 33 feet between ditches; and all bridges over the Chenango Rriver and on all streams were to be at least twenty feet wide. The bill further provided for the forming of a corporation of the same parties, or nearly so, for the purpose of constructing a bridge across the Susquehanna River, the same to be inspected and certified to by the judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Chenango County. This was a toll bridge, the toll-keeper being required to remain on duty night and day. At the expiration of the term of one hundred years from the passage of this act, the bridge should become the property of the state. The rates of toll for persons, Vehicles and animals were specifically given in the bill and were much the same in amount as the tolls to be collected at the toll-gates on the turnpike.
The tolls imposed for travel on the Catskill Turnpike a century and more ago seem trivial to us of today, but in the aggregate these sums represented a formidable revenue.
Divided into Sections by Toll-gates
The Catskill Turnpike was divided into 10-mile sections for the collection of tolls for travel on the highway, and at each of these terminal points were placed toll-gates made of logs, usually, which swung across the entire width of the road. The toll-gate keeper was fully empowered to prevent the passage of any person who failed to pay the legal fee; and considerable space is given in the Act to the procedure in case of disputes as to the amount of toll charges and the handling of the traffic at these points.
Certain exemptions were made in favor of the traveling public in the matter of toll charges; and the Act provides that there shall be, “No charge for a person passing to or from public worship, his farm, or a funeral, or to or from a grist-mill for grinding of grain for the family’s use, or to or from a blacksmith’s shop to which he usually resorts, or any person residing within four miles of said gate, or going for or returning with a physician, or attending election.” Also, exempted were troops of the United States on the march, stores of the state or the United States in transit, jurors or witnesses subpoenaed to attend court, and persons going to or returning from military training.
The law provided for toll charges as follows: For every score of sheep or hogs 8 cents, and for every score of cattle, horses or mules 20 cents; each chariot, coach, coachee or phaeton 25 cents; and for every cart drawn by two oxen 12-1/2 cents.
Governor Clinton Lived in Catskills
Governor Clinton must have taken especial pleasure in approving with his signature this bill of the Legislature authorizing the building of the Catskill Turnpike, for he was born in July, 1739, in the precinct of Highlands-on-the-Hudson, in the County of Ulster (now in the town of New Windsor, Orange County) in the Catskill Mountains; and there he passed most of the years of his life. The road through the Walkill Valley from Newburgh ran northerly past his home, and reached a branch of the Catskill Turnpike at Kingston, a distance of only 33 miles. In 1775, Governor Clinton was elected to the Continental Congress and voted for the Declaration of Independence. Two years thereafter, in 1777, he was appointed brigadier general of the United States, and in the same year, at the first election under the Constitution of New York State, was chosen both governor and lieutenant governor of the state. He accepted the governorship and remained in office as governor for 18 years. He took an active part in the American army, being in command with his brother, General James Clinton, at Fort Clinton, on the Hudson, when the fort was stormed by the British in 1777. After six years of retirement from the governorship, he was again induced to accept the office in 1801; and in 1804, near the end of his term as governor, the year in which he signed the Act creating the Catskill Turnpike Company, was elected Vice-President of the United States, in which office he continued until his death in the city of Washington, on April 20, 1812.
Governor Clinton’s Cousin a Caroline Resident
As fortune would have it, at the very time Governor Clinton was approving the bill to create the Catskill Turnpike, he had living on its proposed route in the Town of Caroline an own cousin, Nancy Deniston, who had emigrated some three years before with her husband, Benoni Mulks, and settled on the farm later owned by John Boice. Nancy Deniston was born in 1737 in Mombaccus, Ulster County, about thirty miles northerly from New Windsor, the birthplace of her cousin, Governor Clinton. On her marker in the Mulks Cemetery west Slaterville Springs, appears this inscription, “In Memory of Nancy Deniston, wife of Benoni Mulks, who died April 21, 1817, aged 80 years.” She was the first to rest in this cemetery, which was formerly the family burial place on the Mulks farm. Bowne Mulks and his son, Clinton W. Mulks, who reside on the Catskill Turnpike in West Slaterville, are direct descendants of Nancy Deniston.
Course Practically as Now Laid Out
The main section of the Catskill Turnpike follows the route originally established, except in a few cases where new locations have appeared to be desired to eliminate curves or secure better foundations. One such change was made just west of Slaterville, the road now extending directly west to West Slaterville (Boiceville). Originally, the road followed close to the north bank of the Six Mile Creek and between the John Boice-Middaugh farmhouse and the farmhouse formerly owned by the Matthew Bull family on the south bank of the creek. This was the route when these houses were built, and for that reason both houses fronted toward the creek and the then existing highway.
From Ithaca easterly, the Catskill Turnpike carried the traveler through Boiceville, Slaterville, Tobeytown, Padlock, Richford, Center Lisle, Lisle, Whitney Point, Greene, and Coventry to Bainbridge (then Jerico), a distance of some 60 miles. Westerly from Ithaca, the highway extended a somewhat similar distance to Bath. From Bainbridge, the Hudson river was reached in a distance of about a hundred miles and there the traveler took boat for New York City, usually at either Catskill or Kingston. The autoist of today knows this route perfectly; and those who have driven over this route as far as Whitney Point and turned south through the Catskill Mountains via Binghamton have been pleased to discover that the distance is shortened twelve miles in so doing.
With the completion of the proposed vehicle bridge at Poughkeepsie over the Hudson river, practically all motor vehicle traffic from central New England will leave the Albany and New York City routes, which are both a hundred miles, nearly, out of the way, and concentrate on the middle routes through the Catskill Mountains to Oneonta and thence directly west through New York State. Thus, the state improvements of the connecting links through this section of the Catskill Turnpike becomes a question of vast importance; and their early construction has developed from a local proposition into one of statewide interest. It is assumed that the state will soon build these connecting links as Federal Aid roads, and thus open up a new central route from Boston to Buffalo, carrying tourist traffic, in particular, through the Finger Lakes region and Ithaca, the home of Cornell University. The recent opening of the Bear Mountain Bridge across the Hudson to auto traffic is a movement in this direction. This is the only vehicular bridge across the Hudson south of Albany. The Poughkeepsie bridge will do even more for us.
Tavern and Stage-Coach Days
In its local aspect, the Catskill Turnpike holds for residents of Tompkins County a wealth of interesting history, and especially does this apply to those residing in the townships through which it was built. Much of this history is centered about the old taverns of long ago, for here came and departed the traveler, the merchant and the settler. The tavern was the center of activities, both social and business, in each hamlet; and without their shelter and hospitality the great public highways could have done little to aid the settler in reducing this forest wilderness to a state of cultivation and prosperity. Thus, each tavern is a mile-stone, as it were, in our country’s progress; the one beacon-light which can reveal to us the life of the pioneers of a century ago.
Along the route of the Catskill Turnpike in our section of the country, there flourished in stage-coach days several taverns, as hotels were then called, well appointed according to the standards of that primitive period, for the entertainment of the traveling public. These hostelries were placed on the public highway at intervals convenient for the exchange of the horses employed in the operation of the stage coach lines; and hereabouts, were located from a mile to about three miles apart. In construction, the buildings ranged from log houses to frame structures; the first tavern, known as “The Old Bush Stand,” having been built of hewn logs. Within the distance of slightly less than 20 miles, from Ithaca to Richford, there were eight public inns at different times. Some of their names are occasionally heard in conversation to this day. The “Old Green Tree” near Ithaca was one of the last to close its doors. The Lombardy poplars, always green, which are standing about the site of this old tavern today, gave it this appropriate name.
Fifty Years before the Railroad
For half a century, the Catskill Turnpike and similar highways provided the only means of travel in this vicinity; and not until the building of the railroads which intersected its course did its heavy traffic decrease. The three branches of the present Lehigh Valley system, which we naturally assume to have been in operation from a quite remote period of time, were, in fact, built after the Civil War. To be exact, the Southern Central Railroad was opened to public use in December, 1869, crossing the Catskill Turnpike at Richford, Tioga County; the Ithaca and Athens Railroad passed through Ithaca in 1871 (downtown); and the Ithaca and Elmira branch of the Lehigh did not cross the Turnpike’s path until 1874, when Besemer’s Station was opened to the public. The Erie Railroad was extended to Owego in 1850; and that year marks the discontinuance of the Catskill Stage line as a continuous line of connecting stages.
Stage Traffic Crowded
Without regard to the weather or season of the year, travel was maintained through the year; and at times traffic was so heavy that two four-horse coaches were operated together, and a baggage wagon added.
Droves of cattle passed almost daily over the Turnpike on their way to Dutchess County, where the city buyers held forth to make their purchases of beef cattle. Cattle were not shipped by rail until the completion of the Erie to Dunkirk, a Mr. Bates, a former resident of Danby then residing in Dunkirk, being the first to try the experiment.
Two of the stage driver’s names have been preserved to us; and to hundreds of residents “Walt” Paine and “Hank” Bellus were welcome personages, as they swung the “coach-and-four” at full speed up to the tavern door. Without their services so readily and promptly given, the whole stage system must have failed.
Edmund H. Watkins, after having operated the Catskill stage line from Harpersfield, Delaware County, for his brother Hezekiah, came to Ithaca on January 1, 1825, and assumed charge of the line here. The Catskill route was measured as 160 miles to Catskill village, and the distance was usually covered in four days, travelling night and day. Grant & Company of this stage line, which reached Catskill by Delhi; and John Bartlet and John McQueen the first drivers. The stage offices were at the Ithaca Hotel, the Clinton House and the Tompkins House.
The “Old Bush Stand,” Caroline’s First Tavern
The “Old Bush Stand,” the first tavern erected in Caroline, stood on the south side of the Catskill Turnpike, in West Slaterville, about in the center of the cultivated field between the Celotus Stevens farmhouse and barns on the Homer Wool farm. The site of this tavern can be quite readily located from the presence of the remaining brick and stone fragments of the inn’s fireplace and chimney. The builder of this first “public house,” as hotels were then frequently called, was Deacon Richard Bush, who, in company with Joseph Chambers, had emigrated from Marbletown, Ulster County, in about 1800, and settled on adjoining properties which they had purchased of General John Cantine, an extensive land owner of Caroline in those days.
The following year (1801) Deacon Bush built the large square log house, which he at once opened for the accommodation of the traveling public. The building was quite a pretentious affair; and was conducted by the Deacon for some fifteen years until his death. His widow continued the business for several years thereafter. The dining room appears to have been the main feature of the inn; and there were said to have been quite definite and formal rules as to the precedence of those desiring to partake at the “festive board.” The proprietor was want to stand at the dining room door, and after announcing the guests in a loud and commanding voice, direct the seating of the guests according to their relative social positions in the community. This attempt to cater to the town’s “upper-crust” elevated many a chin and created a coolness between certain families that lasted after the tavern had passed on. In the adjoining bar room the men seem to have met on a more common level; and the landed gentry mixed freely with the stage-driver and the cattle drover.
Across the road, on the farm now owned by Frank Bull, was kept a large bunch of horses used to relay the stage coach teams at the “Bush Stand.” Mrs. Mary Stephens, who now owns the farm where this hotel of “Ye Olden Times” held sway, is the proud possessor of an old fashioned copper cent plowed up by her late husband on the tavern’s site some years ago. This “copper” bears the date 1812, one of the prosperous years of the “Bush Stand,” when this form of money was the medium of exchange and truly “The Coin of the Realm.” In the lot across from the tavern were pastured for the night the numerous droves of cattle which passed over this public highway, which connected the western section of the state with the Hudson Rriver Valley. The Bush Stand was destroyed by fire years ago. Cattle on the drive were also pastured on the Daniel Higgins farm.
Town of Caroline Created in Bush Tavern
In this tavern gathered in April, 1811, the men residing within the boundaries of the territory designated by the Legislature for the township, and there established the government of Caroline by selecting its first officers. This was a memorable day for Caroline. Among those who gathered in the Bush Tavern on this occasion were William Rounsvell and Levi Slater, then chosen as the first supervisor and town clerk, respectively; Ephriam Chambers, Nathaniel Tobey and Laban Jenks, selected as the first assessors; John Robinson, Nathaniel Tobey and Moses Reed, selected as the first commissioners of highways, and several others whose family names are found today in Caroline. Justices of the Peace were not elected until 1827 in this state, so none were selected in the tavern at this gathering. The Council of Appointment commissioned Ephriam Chambers and John Robison as the town’s first justices.
Caroline Militia Marched Over the Turnpike
Two years after the town’s organization in the bush Tavern a company of Caroline militia were ordered out for service against the British, then making an attack on the United States military post, situated on the present site of Buffalo. In command of Captain Levi Slater, the local company marched over the Catskill Turnpike to Bath, and thence to Canandaigua in a day and a half.
The Case, or Bull Tavern
About the time of the closing of “The Old Bush Stand,” a tavern was built in 1815 by Josiah Cass, opposite the “Bush Stand” on the north side of the Catskill Turnpike; and this mansion remains today as one of the show-places of Caroline. Occupied for years by the late Maj. Henry S. Krum as a residence, it is now owned and occupied as a summer home by his daughter, Mrs. Homer Wool of Ithaca. Josiah Cass’ brother, Moses, was a storekeeper; and their father, Aaron Cass, a pioneer settler on the tract of land now known as the Franklin Smith farm, the home for years of the Hasbrouck family. Aaron Cass lost his life in the attack on Queenstown in the War of 1812 while serving in Captain Ellis’ company. He also served in the American army in the Revolutionary War, while a resident of Connecticut.
Josiah Cass conducted the “Cass Tavern” for three years; and it was then transferred to Aaron Bull and continued by him as a public inn for some thirty years thereafter. Aaron Bull was an uncle of Cass and was born at a crossing, known as Bull’s Bridge, on the Housatonic river, in Litchfield County, middle western Connecticut. When a young man, he removed to Ulster County, N. Y., where he married into the Krum family of that section. With his wife’s brother, Matthew Krum, he settled in the southeast corner of Lot No. 95 in the town of Dryden, on a hundred acre tract owned by Matthew’s father. This tract was cleared and prepared for farming by those young men in 1806, the year of their arrival. After a residence there of twelve years, Aaron Bull bought the Cass tavern of his nephew, and lived at the tavern until his death.
Aaron Bull has several descendants of the second generation residing in Caroline, including G. M. Bull, Dr. E. L. Bull, D. B. Bull, Mrs. R. L. Speed, and Mrs. H. E. Schutt. Another grandson, Judge Frank M. Bull, resides in Rochester. His son, John, became a leading merchant at Slaterville and one of the foremost men of the town, and was an associate for years with another son, Moses, in the wool and butter business. Justus was a farmer, Henry W. a storekeeper and doctor, and Matthew an excellent typesetter, in the employ for years of the “New York Tribune.” Aaron Bull closed his tavern, then known as the “Bull Tavern,” in about 1848, about fourteen years after the advent of the railroad in this section, the “Ithaca and Owego Railroad” having crossed the southwestern part of Caroline in April, 1834. He is buried in the Old Dutch Reformed Church cemetery in West Slaterville.
Aaron Bull was born September 23, 1783, and lived to be 76 years of age. In his younger days, he operated canal boats on the Hudson, and was among the first to enter New York city by this means. The writer recalls hearing the late John Bull say that he felt it a duty to vote for the bond issue for the improvement of the Erie Canal because of his father’s connection with the canal business.
Cattle Drovers Frequented Tavern
Colonel Hemingway and Walter Holden, of Hartford, were associated in cattle-buying for the New York market and made their purchases in the western part of the state and drove the cattle over the Catskill Turnpike. The writer’s mother, now eighty-three years of age, recalls hearing Mr. Holden tell of these cattle drives, and of “putting up” at “The Bull Tavern” on the journey. Mrs. Francis Hamilton, who as a child lived in Slaterville, remembers well seeing the great droves of cattle passing her home.
Jacob DuBois Hasbrouck, a pioneer settler, was one of the men of the vicinity who engaged in the cattle trade, and for several years he was a noted “drover,” making the trip with his beef cattle over the Catskill Turnpike to New York markets. Both of these taverns were situated on a slight prominence on the course of the highway. As the eastern-bound stage descended the hill on its journey to the next inn at “Boiceville,” at a point about opposite the little “Bush House,” east of Mrs. Stephens farm, the postilion, riding for the most part on the driver’s seat, sent echoes of his bugle resounding ahead to warn the inn-keeper of the arrival of the daily mail. At the first toot of the horn, the teams were urged to a run, and the passenger-filled coach swung up to the tavern with a grand flourish.
The Boiceville Tavern
The Boiceville Tavern was built by Abraham Boice, who had come from Ulster County in 1815 and settled on land which he cleared where the Edward J. Thomas farm, now owned by his daughter, Mrs. Arthur D. Wright, is situated. The tavern stood on the site now occupied by the William H. Johnson home on the south side of the road, across from the J. D. Cutler place. After the removal of the tavern building David Sullivan built the present Johnson residence, intending it for a hotel, as its construction plainly indicates. Part of the original Boice Tavern may be seen today on the Charles Johnson or J. D. Schutt farm on the Dryden-Slaterville road north of Slaterville Springs, where it was moved years ago. Over the main entrance, may still be made out, although much faded after nearly a century, the word “Boiceville,” the tavern’s sign. One may also see the wooden shutters; and stand on the much boasted “spring floor” of the ball-room, one of the most frequented dance halls of that day.
At “Boiceville,” the stage horses were exchanged with the arrival of each stage. In those days, Boiceville outnumbered its neighboring villages in point of population. Several members of the Boice family have been large farmers in Caroline in recent years; and some of the more recent generations, including Mrs. Julia Watrous and Mrs. R. H. Hollister reside in this vicinity. John Boice and F. J. Boice sold their farms and removed to Candor some years ago. Arthur Boice resides in Waverly. Both William K. Boice and his brother, James, were Caroline supervisors and both maintained fine farm homes in their day and generation.
Abraham Boice, senior, father of this inn-keeper, lived on Rondout Creek in one of the most beautiful parts of the southern Catskill Mountains, and was the founder of the hamlet where he lived and which was named for for him, as was the village where his son settled in Caroline named for his son, “Boiceville.” Abraham Boice, Jr., was born probably in Ulster County, in 1753. He passed away in 1826, and rests in the Mulks cemetery, at Slaterville Springs. Some historians fix the date of Abraham Boice’s arrival as early as 1812.
The Tobey Tavern
Nathaniel Tobey arrived in Caroline in 1810 from Massachusetts and became one of the tavern-keepers on the Catskill Turnpike. His first settlement was made on the farm later known as the Levi Goodrich place, now occupied by W. W. Goodrich and Chauncey Goodrich. After a year here, he removed to the eastern part of Caroline and for years lived on the south side of the Catskill Turnpike on what is commonly called the “Hart Place,” now owned by Norman Mix and occupied by his parents as a residence. Mr. Tobey opened his residence as a tavern for the accommodation of the public soon after he took up his residence there; and he continued to “run” the tavern for many years. The building is in good state of repair and reminds one much of the architecture of the homes found today in his native state of Massachusetts.
This hamlet took its name from the early tavern-keeper; and was at first known as “Tobey’s.” Even today, many prefer to speak of it by its later name, “Tobey Town,” instead of using the post-office appellation, “Caroline,” assumed when the post-office was established there. Nathaniel Tobey was postmaster in this community for years, being followed in office by Mrs. Ruth Surdam, a granddaughter of the Widow Earsley.
Of special interest is the sign of this tavern. It is preserved by the writer: and after a century one reads clearly the hamlet’s later name, “Caroline,” on opposite sides of the sign, and on the other two sides, the proprietor’s name, “N. Tobey,” all appearing in bright gilt letters. The sign is in the form of a square box about 2 feet by 2-1/2 feet wide and 21 inches deep, with heavy moulding around each side, and is painted black and grained. Originally, it revolved on a post near the tavern’s main entrance.
Nathaniel Tobey had several children, including two sons, Nathaniel M. and Charles P. Tobey, who became prominent men in the community, being extensive builders and lumber merchants. They built many of the fine homes now standing on the Catskill Turnpike in eastern Caroline. Nathaniel Tobey was born Nov. 4, 1784, and died March 28, 1862. A good likeness is permanently inserted in his monument and is protected by a copper shutter, this being a rather common practice in those days. His grave is in the Caroline Grove cemetery. Several descendants reside in this vicinity, including Mrs. Esther Tobey Head, Mrs. Helen Earsley Beam, Martin Tobey of Ithaca, Mrs. Cora Matson of Richford. Garrett “Nathaniel” Tobey, said to be the seventh of that name, resides in Knoxville, Tenn.; and Charles P. Tobey, of both the Spanish and World Wars, in Binghamton; and Mrs. Salmon, in Elmira.
The Rich Tavern
East of Tobey’s Tavern, Captain David Rich built a frame inn which he conducted for many years. This building was the first frame house in this section of Caroline, and was said to have been at one time the only frame house standing between Richford and Mott’s Corners (now Brookton) on the Catskill Turnpike. The property is now owned by Miss Clara Salisbury and stands on the north side of the road on a prominent knoll about a half mile west of the Willow Creek bridge. Orrin Rich, now 84 years of age, and grandson of Captain Rich, told the writer that his father, Ranson Rich, planted the pine tree which stands in front of the tavern about a century ago, or more, and that when he was a mere child it was considered a big tree.
Captain Rich was formerly a tavern-keeper in Vermont, later moving to Caroline to continue the business of inn-keeper on the Catskill Turnpike. His family had previously lived in Massachusetts. His land adjoined that of the Widow Earsley; and for about three years these two families were the only settlers in this section of the then “New York Wilderness.” Near this tavern stood the log cabins of these pioneers, one on either side of the Catskill Turnpike to the west of the tavern.
In time, descendants of these two early families married, and today the children of Lewis Rich are direct descendants of Captain Rich and the Widow Earsley, a most unusual incident in the history of the town’s settlement. Several more descendants reside in the township, and in Richford, adjoining.
Francis Rich, a direct descendant of this Caroline tavern keeper, lost his life in France in the service of his country, and having been accorded a military funeral, rests near the ancestral settler in the Grove cemetery in Caroline hamlet on the Catskill Turnpike, near the ancestral home. Captain Rich was born in 1762 and died March 19, 1852, at the age of ninety years.
Richford an Important Stage Station
The Catskill Turnpike was commenced and built through the present town of Richford in 1816, being known then locally as the “Esopus Road” from the fact that it followed the Esopus Creek, in Ulster County, in reaching the Hudson River. Where the present Richford hotel stands, was built the first tavern, in 1817, the proprietor, Beriah Wells, having removed from Berkshire that year. The tavern was built of logs, and for some time, blankets were used for doors. Caroline was until 1811 a part of the town of Spencer, and remained a part of Tioga County until March 22, 1823. Beriah Wells was born in a house which stood on the state line between New York and Massachusetts, in Richmond, Mass., February 1, 1782. By marriage, he was related to Henry Lyman, whose parents had also emigrated from Richmond, Mass., and who became a general store-keeper in Harford, Cortland County, in the early days. In ordering goods, Mr. Lyman made the journey from Harford via Richford over the Catskill Turnpike to New York City twice a year.
About a week was consumed in making the trip by stage and boat, in either direction. Upon arrival in New York City, accommodations were secured at “Howard’s Hotel,” Broadway and Maiden Lane, then a popular resort. The rates then charged were in keeping with the times. A receipt given by Proprietor Howard to Mr. Lyman, grandfather of the writer, in 1841 reads, “To 6 and 1/3 days board, $12.00.” At present hotel rates, $12.00 would last about a day.
Beriah Wells kept the tavern where Richford is located, until April 3, 1821, when he exchanged the property with Ezekiel Rich, and returned to Newark Valley to make his home with his son, Frederick T. Wells, where he continued to reside until his death June 30, 1861, Mrs. Wells having died seven years previously. History records that, “He was a prudent, thrifty; careful man, contented with small gains, not disposed to waste either time or money, but always taking time to do his work in the most thorough manner.” The writer’s mother recalls Mr. Wells as one of the kindliest of men. He was a product of the Berkshire Hills country.
Ezekiel Rich continued the tavern business after his trade of homes with Beriah Wells, and built a new hotel building on the site of the log tavern. He was born at Cherry Valley, in 1783. He was one of Berkshire’s most enterprising citizen’s; and when Berkshire was divided, April 9, 1831, the newly created township was named “Richford” in his honor. While keeping the “Rich Hotel” he operated and owned a line of stages from Cortland to Owego via Richford. His son, Chauncey Rich, became a director and treasurer of the Southern Central Railroad, which passed through Richford. The new town was first named “Arlington.” but by act of the Legislature, was changed to “Richford” April 9, 1832. The town was organized in this hotel building, on the site of the original log tavern built by Beriah Wells. Here, its citizens met and chose the new officials.
Country in Primitive State
It is well to keep in mind the condition of the surrounding country at this period. The Catskill Turnpike preceded the survey of the Erie canal by six years (1810); only 21 years had elapsed since the closing of the Revolutionary War; and but 25 years had passed since the expedition of General Sullivan had swept Indian supremacy from the path of this great public highway. No mention is made in early histories of this territory, except to name the lakes and briefly describe the Iroquois Indian nation. It was correctly assumed by writers of the time to be a wilderness, and was treated by them as such. The forests harbored some forty different species of animal life, such as deer, black bear, wolf, catamount, wild cat, beaver, otter and the like, most of which have gradually disappeared from this region.
Only 20 years before the incorporation of the Catskill Turnpike, Judge Hugh White removed with his family from Middletown, Conn., to Sedaghquate (Whitestown), being the first settler who dared to pass the Dutch settlements on the Mohawk, and “encounter the hardships, privations and dangers of the western wilds.” Four years thereafter, in this part of the state, which comprised the counties of Oneida, Lewis, Jefferson, S. Lawrence, Madison, Chenango, Broome, Tioga, (Tompkins), Cortland, Onandaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Ontario, Steuben, Allegheny, Genessee, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua, Whitestown contained less than 200 inhabitants. Following the building of these public highways, the country rapidly filled with settlers, and in the next 20 years the population had nearly reached the 300,000 mark, a change one can hardly realize.
Most of the New England settlers reached the Catskill Turnpike over the old stage coach road between New Hartford, Connecticut, and State Line, near Richmond, Mass., and opposite Columbia County, N. Y., this being a part of the route between Boston and Albany, and the western points. On the way were the towns of the Berkshire Hills, Stockbridge, Otis through the Tyringham Valley, New Boston; and then Connecticut and east. West of this stage route, ran north the valley of the Housatonic with Sheffield and Great Barrington on the way, and Stockbridge pointing to the Catskills, with but the Hudson River Valley between the ranges.
The Green, or Hallstead Tavern
The hotel formerly conducted by William J. Carns, known as the “Magnetic Springs Hotel,” in Slaterville Springs, had been handed down through several owners from early days; and, at one time, formed part of the chain of taverns along the Catskill Turnpike. In 1873, Harrison Hallstead, father of Mrs. J. D. Schutt, removed from Elbridge, Onandaga County, and purchased the hotel of Josephus Hasbrouck. Mr. Hallstead, seeking relief from attacks of neuritis, and hearing of the curative properties of the mineral springs then recently discovered at Slaterville, decided to make his home in this village. Previously, the hotel had been owned and conducted by George Clark, Samuel Bullman and Samuel Edward Green, throughout a succession of years. It was burned a dozen years ago. Zophar T. McCluskey, probably, first kept the inn.
Harrison Hallstead’s grandfather was the first tavern-keeper at Elbridge, which was situated on the main stage route from Buffalo to Albany, and without doubt, General LaFayette passed Stephen Hallstead’s tavern on his farewell visit to America a hundred years ago.
The Green or Hallstead tavern was the last, in this vicinity, that linked modern times with the period which saw the opening of the Catskill Turnpike to public travel; and, in many ways, it was one of the most interesting in its close relationship to the hamlet’s daily life. The land in front of the tavern was a sort of public “common.” Here were driven at milking-time the cows owned in the neighborhood; and porkers roamed at will about the village street, much to the annoyance of the stage horses. When the stage-horn was heard, small boys drove these animals to cover. On Saturday, everybody was in town, and the village green was filled with men engaged in such sports as wrestling, quoit-pitching and an abbreviated form of baseball. In fact, the arrival of the stage with mail on board usually brought the entire populace in sight. The dining-room and the “bar” were in full swing, and much food and “likker” were consumed. The down-fall of excessive drinking came when some local genius started the practice of whiskey adulteration. The “boys” couldn’t stomach the arsenic, and the “bars” disappeared. Of the many different proprietors of this tavern, several have descendants residing in the township; but none whose memory can span the years that lie before.
Spirit of Tavern Days Remains
In resume, one is forcibly struck with the coincidence that from the very mountains that gave this famous road its name, came the keepers of most of the taverns that added to its fame. How much “at home” they and their families must have felt, as daily many times they heard the familiar “Catskill” in conversation. We can readily imagine that few there were who did not occasionally back-stage to the beautiful hill-slopes along Rondout and Esopus Creeks, and the mountain country that here sweeps to the Hudson. Drive over its route, and the mountains but speak the name. The bugle-calls are gone; the vast forests that bordered the highway are gone; the taverns and their keepers are gone; but the spirit of the day remains. In the not distant future, we have faith to believe, the spirit of those tavern days shall find form and expression in a modern “tavern,” placed in the Valley of the “Six Mile’” which shall combine all the cheer, comfort and hospitality that were to be found in the grand old taverns along the Catskill Turnpike.
© 2005, Richard Palmer