Monday, November 14, 2011

Those Were the Days, 5: Stagecoach and Tavern Days in Westchester


What was it like to be a traveler on Westchester’s Albany Post Road when the Stagecoach Era began? Join me now on a hypothetical jaunt up this early highway.
The 1790 federal Census showed 33,131 persons to be living in the country’s largest city, New York--almost all at the southern tip of Manhattan Island below the present Houston Street. Philadelphia, formerly the most populous city, was second with 28,522 residents and Boston, a distant third, with 18,320.
Westchester, which then included what would become the borough of the Bronx in 1898, totaled 23,978 residents, mostly in the northern part of the county.
Taverns were important to stagecoach traffic. Coaches brought mail and passengers for pickup or delivery at each hamlet or village up and down the line. Certain taverns maintained stables where changes of teams of stagecoach horses were made.
Our story begins in 1723, when the route was laid out for an inland road to link New York City and Albany. Initially, post riders carried the mail in saddlebags. Long-distance stagecoach service began in 1786.
The Albany Post Road heading out of New York City threaded its way north through the sparsely settled farm country of Manhattan until it reached the King's Bridge at the northern tip of the island. The last stop in Manhattan was at a tavern originally built by Jacobus Dyckman in 1759 and sold to Caleb Hyatt about 14 years later.
On the rainy Thursday of October 13, 1789, George Washington, the nation’s first president, stopped at King’s Bridge. He recorded in his diary that he and his party dined there “in a tavern kept by one Hyatt.”
Once past Sputum Duyvil Creek, travelers would be in Westchester. Stagecoach stops in Yonkers included a tavern at the corner of Main Streetand Nepperhan Avenue called Hunt's Tavern after the proprietor, David Hunt. A new tavern built by Jacob Stout replaced it. Successively called the Indian Queen Inn, the Eagle Hotel, the Nappeckamack House, and the Stage House, it was moved in 1851 to another location to make way for the Getty House.
A Yonkers competitor, Bashford's Tavern, stood some distance from the post road, near the wharf on the Hudson at the mouth of the Nepperhan (Saw Mill) River. So popular was its proprietor, John Bashford, stage coach drivers made a detour to reach his establishment.
In Hastings, the Dyckman homestead on Broadway near the Yonkers border was known for a time as Brown's Tavern. The only documented basis for this claim is that in 1716 Evert Brown obtained a license to operate a tavern. There is no evidence that his license was ever renewed. Brown died in 1767; no mention of a tavern is made in his rather detailed will. The house still stands as a private residence.
Peter Post had a house and tavern at the Five Corners in Hastings. The tavern keeper overheard information about British troop movements and passed it to Patriot officers. On Sept. 30, 1778, Continental dragoons under Maj. Henry Lee ambushed and killed 23 Hessians in the skirmish called the Battle of Edgar's Lane. A state marker commemorates the event. The building was demolished in the mid-20th century.
In Irvington on Route 9 at West Clinton Avenue is the Jan Harmse house, built about 1693 as a tenant farmhouse on the Philipsburg Manor. Sometime before the Revolution, this modest stone dwelling was leased and converted to use as a tavern by Jonathan Odell.
 In 1785, the Commissioners of Forfeitures, charged with disposing of Loyalist properties seized during the Revolution, sold it to Odell, who continued it as a tavern until his death in 1818. After a succession of owners, it later became an estate gatehouse.
Also in Irvington, close to the Tarrytown line and adjoining the grounds of "Sunnyside," Washington Irving's home, was the old homestead of the Acker family, a noted tavern and stage stop after the Revolution.
In Tarrytown, at the northwest corner of Main Street and Broadway, stood an old tavern and stage stop owned by Edward Couenhoven, “famous throughout the Provinces for its entertainment” (i.e., hospitality). George Washington was a frequent guest at Couenhoven’s tavern during the war.
With their staffs, he and Gov. George Clinton stopped there on November 19, 1783, on their way to witness the British evacuation of New York City. They rode down through Yonkers to Harlem, where they waited at a tavern for word of the final British departure.
Couenhoven’s tavern later was operated by Martin Smith and his son Jacob. After it provided pens along the Broadway above Central Avenue and as far west as Washington Street, it became popular with cattle drovers on their way to city markets.
While stopping there, Freeman Hunt, founder of Hunt's Merchants Magazine, was berated by the proprietor for returning late to the hotel--at 9 p.m. To add insult to injury, the staff neglected to call him for breakfast in the morning. Hunt checked out immediately.
He took revenge by publishing a letter describing the incident in the magazine American Traveler and later in his 1837 book, Letters about the Hudson River and Its Vicinity.
Hunt added that few travelers stopped at Smith's Tavern "without having some difficulty with the ignorant booby who pretends to keep a hotel. Indeed, many travelers go four or five miles out of the way to avoid stopping at this house."
Years later, when the building was torn down a secret tube was found that led from the fireplace in the public room to an upper chamber "through which it is conceivable that more than one stratagem of casual enemy guests became known to American leaders.”
Also in Tarrytown, on the east side of Broadway north of Main Street and near the imposing Second Reformed Church, was a stone house built around 1712 by Abraham Martlingh that served as a tavern during the Revolution. According to legend, a cannon ball fired from a British vessel in the Hudson passed through a ground floor front window and exited out the door at the back.
In Ossining on Revolutionary Road (then part of the Albany Post Road) at the entrance to the locally designated Sparta Historic Architectural and Design District is the so-called Jug Tavern, originally believed to have been built about 1760 as a tenant farmhouse on the Philipsburg Manor. Peter Davids, whose family had lived in the house before the Revolution, purchased it from the Commissioners of Forfeitures in 1786. In 1795, his son David applied for a license to sell liquor.
By 1814 the building had been sold to Nathaniel and Annis Garrison and became known as the Garrison House. He died about 1843 at age 76, and Mrs. Garrison continued to occupy the building until her death in 1869. After that the house fell into disrepair.
In 1986, the chance discovery of a brief news item in an old Ossining newspaper revealed the surprising information that the original Davids-Garrison house had been demolished in 1884. Michael Geisler, the new owner of the property, built a house there sometime around 1890, perhaps using some of the beams and material from the original house. Now owned by the Town of Ossining, the Jug Tavern is no longer considered to be the oldest building in Ossining.
Also in Ossining (then called Sing Sing), Ward's Tavern was located on Main Street near the town pump on what was later called Pleasant Square. Operated by Major Moses Ward, it was continued in operation as a tavern by his widow, Nancy, after his death. It became a store in 1845. Holmes's Tavern, at the corner of Church Street and Highland Avenue, later was known as the Union Hotel. A state marker commemorates its site. Whenever the legislature was in session in Albany, as many as four stages, each drawn by a four-horse team, would stop here on a single day.
Stage passengers are reported to have been served a meal of chicken potpie, doughnuts and applesauce. One of the Union Hotel's proprietors was Enoch Crosby, Jr., son of the man on whom James Fennimore Cooper modeled the hero of his Revolutionary War novel, The Spy.
Napoleon III, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was among the distinguished guests who stopped at the Union Hotel. The pretender to the French throne had been exiled to America in 1836 and lived in Bedford. He dined at the Union Hotel on several occasions after a trip by stage from Bedford to Sing Sing to take a boat for New York.
Napoleon also visited the infamous prison established to quarry the dolomitic limestone known as "Sing Sing marble." Harsh discipline, the lockstep, the rock pile and the lash were routine in the prison.
Writing in J. Thomas Scharf's 1886 History of Westchester County, Ossining's Dr. George Jackson Fisher mentions that Simeon M. Tompkins, then a proprietor of the Union Hotel, told him of many conversations he had with his famous guest. Unfortunately, Dr. Fisher did not record these exchanges for posterity.
Other Sing Sing taverns dating from early in the 19th century included Col. Joseph Hunt's American Hotel, later known as the Weskora Hotel, and the St. Cloud, built by Alexander Graham and also known as the Ossining House. Both served as stage stops at one time.
The stage stop in Croton-on-Hudson was the Old Post Road Inn, formerly the McCord residence, located at the junction of the roads to Albany and to Yorktown. A two-story wooden building with a long porch across the front at the second floor, it was operated by novelist Jane Burr during Croton’s bohemian period in the early 20th century.
A Guggenheim heiress and fighter for woman’s suffrage, she renamed it the Drowsy Saint Inn. Its rough stone foundation can still be seen on the north side of Old Post Road North, across from the Holy Name of Mary Church.
Among the first houses erected in Peekskill was a tavern known as the Birdsall House. Popular with American and French officers during the Revolution, according to legend, Washington and Rochambeau often stopped there. It remained a tavern until the 1880s.
Until 1912, near the Upper Manor House in nearby Van Cortlandtville, stood the Gardner Holman house, a tavern for many years and a regular breakfast stop for carriages on the way to New York. Built about 1750 by John Taylor, it was known first as Taylor's Tavern and later as Dusenbury's Tavern.
Captured British spy Major John André and his guards breakfasted there on September 25, 1780. André was being taken to Gen. George Washington at the Beverly Robinson House that stood on what is now Route 9D, south of Garrison.
We now conclude our journey over the Albany Post Road through Westchester. Its northern boundary reaches the Hudson at about Anthony’s Nose. North of this east-west line was Duchess County. Putnam County was a latecomer and would not be created until 1812.

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