Stage-coach days in Medford.
[Read before the Medford
Historical Society by Eliza M. Gill
, February 5, 1910].
ROM her settlement Medford
was favorably situated for communication with the world beyond her boundaries, for those opportunities for contact with men and affairs that keep a community alert and progressive.
She had that fine water-way, the Mystic river
, at first on her southern border, later, by an accession of territory, through the middle of the town.
She was near Boston
, and all the land travel from the north and east to that great center of New England
's interests and ideals, for more than a hundred and fifty years, passed through her market-place and over the successive bridges spanning the Mystic
where the Cradock bridge
From as far as Quebec
and Passamaquoddy Bay
came the traveller on foot, on horseback, in chaise, pung or stage, as the varying seasons came, with their gradual improvement for comfort and convenience in travelling.
Almost without stirring beyond their door-steps, the people of Medford
had the advantages of a cosmopolitan life in their midst.
If ordinary travellers caused a ripple of excitement in the calm of the place, what must it have been when the air was rife with rumors of war?
For here came many a youth bound for Boston
to sail with Sir William Pepperell
on the famous expedition to Louisburg
; a little later there must have passed through here some of those who gathered on Boston Common to prevent the landing of the dreaded French invaders.
Other travellers passing through the town were the hurrying Minute Men and the recruits for the Continental Army
If the novelist could correctly reproduce for us these travellers, we might find them endowed with a charm akin to that of the Canterbury Pilgrims
To accommodate all this early and later tide of travel, there were several taverns within a stone's throw of each other in the market-place, besides others within a half mile on the east and on the west.
Surely these were not maintained for the benefit of the towns-people, nor were so many necessary to Medford
's small population.
There is proof enough that many who travelled for business, pleasure or adventure stopped here for shelter and lodging.
The period of coaching days must have added no little extra excitement and interest to the daily life of the town.
The earliest stage line from the North
was from Portsmouth
This was established in April, 1761, and the following notice announced the enterprise to the public.
What an event that was in Portsmouth
when the ‘Flying Stage-Coach’ set out on its trip of over fifty miles! what an event, too, when it passed over the Medford
roads on its way to Boston
With what eager curiosity the crowd gathered at the inn watched its departure, and how, perhaps even more so, they looked for its return!
The humor of the name struck Portsmouth
's witty son, that delightful Bad Boy, for he says the Flying Stage-Coach
‘crept back from Boston
Let us look at one whose portrait a poet has given us:
One hundred years ago, and something more,
In Queen Street, Portsmouth, at the tavern door,
Neat as a pin, and blooming as a rose,
Stood Mistress Stavers in her furbelows,
Just as the cuckoo-clock was striking nine.
Above her head, resplendent on the sign,
The portrait of the Earl of Halifax,
In scarlet coat and periwig of flax,
Surveyed at leisure all her varied charms,
Her cap, her bodice, her white folded arms,
And half resolved, though he was past his prime,
And rather damaged by the lapse of time,
To fall down at her feet, and to declare
The passion that had driven him to despair.
For from his lofty station he had seen
Stavers, her husband, dressed in bottle green,
Drive his new Flying Stage-Coach, four in hand,
Down the long lane and out into the land,
And knew that he was far upon the way
To Ipswich and to Boston on the Bay!
In 1767 a line was started from Salem
, in 1772 one from Marblehead
, and an advertisement of the line from Newburyport
may be seen in the Boston Gazelle
, May 10, 1773.
With what pleasure these coaches must have been watched as they came bowling along the Salem
road, [p. 80]
swinging through the market-place over the bridge, stopping at the Royal
's or the Admiral Vernon Tavern
Travel was interrupted by the Revolution, and when resumed at its close, gradually increased.
The building of Malden
and Chelsea bridges over the Mystic
, and the joining of Charlestown
by a bridge, gave an added impetus to travel, but turned some away from Medford
Schedules of the roads leading from Boston
, giving the distances from town to town, and later the names and distances from each other of inns of established reputation, were printed in early almanacs and similar publications.
After 1805 we find the stage-coach lines inserted in Thomas' Almanac, the times of arrival and departure, the place of headquarters noted, together with the days and number of times a week the coach started out.
innkeepers' names given in these road lists were as follows: 1771, Jones
; 1773, Billings
; 1780, Billings
; 1782, Porter
; 1792, Blanchard
, and also Bradshaw
; 1794, Blanchard
; 1800, Hezekiah Blanchard
, located at Union Hall
These are taken at random from the various almanacs above mentioned.
As the Blanchards were tavern-keepers for fifty years, and their house was the house par excellence
, that name appears for many years.
Strangely enough, sometimes the distance of this tavern from Boston
is given as four miles and sometimes five.
A gentleman eighty-five years of age, living in Medford
, describes most interestingly the journeys he made with his father and others to Boston
from near Montpelier, Vt.
They came in pungs loaded with beef, pork, poultry, eggs and cheese and took back dry goods
The round trip took two weeks, fare at the taverns was good, charges reasonable, and one of the towns where they staid over night was Medford
was given as being on the road to Montreal
and numerous other places.
Until one has looked over piles of musty old almanacs of no use chronologically or astronomically considered, he can have no idea how interesting he will find them.
Such stores of quaint items, bright jests and most preposterous remedies for physical complaints will greet him, together with such valuable facts concerning social and political life of the period as to compensate for the time spent in poring over the pages of rude print and encountering stale odors.
The disuse of the stage-coach after the coming of the steam cars was a natural sequence, but it was the passing of a very picturesque and interesting phase and period of village life.
The arrival of a stage, whether daily or weekly, was a notable event in every community.
Its approach, announced by a blast from a horn, the reining up of the dusty horses under the guidance of a skillful driver, the alighting of the passengers, the unloading of the baggage, the delivery of the mail, was watched alike by the loafer, the store-keeper, the innholder and the varied throng gathered at the place where the commercial and social life focused.
Stage lines were becoming more numerous, and as early as 1805 a daily stage was started between Medford
The starting of this local line was then considered a great undertaking.
It seems difficult to believe that there was a time when one stage-coach between Medford
was sufficient to accommodate the passengers between these places.
had her stage-coach days, just as surely as she is now having electric-car and automobile days.
The high-water mark of the coaching period was from 1820 to 1840.
Something different from an annual publication in an almanac of stage lines with the time of arrival and departure was then needed, and the want was supplied by ‘Badger
's Stage Register.’
This was a supplement to a newspaper (the American Traveller
), and was published once in three months at No. 72 Market [p. 82]
street (corner Market and Court streets) Boston
It gives full data in regard to stage travel, and was published from 1825 to 1836.
In the issue of November i, 1825, the following will give an idea of its scope:—
After this we do not find the stage thus designated, though Mr. Wyman
, without doubt, transported the mail.
The Post Office at that time was in Porter
's store, and William Rogers
was postmaster from 1818 to 1828.
Occasional changes in time were made, and No. 12, issued May 1, 1827, is as follows in regard to our local stage:—
‘Medford and Boston Stage, at 1/2 past 7 A. M. and 2 P. M.— leaves Wildes', No. 11 Elm street, Boston, every day, except Sunday, at 12 M. and 1/2 past 5 P. M.—through Charlestown—distance 5 miles—Proprietor, Joseph Wyman, Jr.’
Our citizens were now being accommodated with two stages daily, while four other lines passed through Medford
These last were not all daily stages.
From some towns both mail and accommodation stages started; the former generally carried fewer passengers, went faster, and the fare was a little more.
Between the Woburn and the Medford
stage was a great rivalry as to which could go the faster; the former had four horses, the latter two.
In 1832 the Boston
and Concord Stage, via Derry
, and the Boston
and Concord, N. H.
, Stage, via Lowell
, passed through Medford
Our 1805 stage, according to one of the almanacs of [p. 83]
that date, arrived in Boston
's tavern every day (Sundays excepted) at 9 o'clock in the morning, and left said tavern at 12 the same days.
In 1814 it set out from the same place every day, except Sunday, at noon. In 1825 it left Boston
daily at i P. M. and arrived there at 8 A. M.
In 1830 our stage, this time again called a mail stage, (though the name depended upon the almanac consulted,) started from S. Wildes
', Elm street, every day except Sunday.
In 1845 Medford
had four omnibus trips each day, and in 1846, six, according to The Boston Almanac
It would be pleasant to know who were the passengers by the stage-coach in the early days of the Medford
Probably Timothy Bigelow
, who moved to Medford
about this time, and later his son, John Prescott Bigelow
, for they were lawyers, and must have used this means to reach their office, 7 Barristers' Hall, Court Square, Boston
Perhaps, too, some members of the Brooks
families, when they did not choose to use their own carriages, travelled by stage-coach.
citizens who have passed the four-score mile-stone were among the later passengers, and they enjoy recalling their old-time experiences of travel.
The successful merchants and business men of today who ride over our country in palace cars would often, as young lads, walk one way and ride the other when the necessary fare was not jingling in their pockets.
As one told me, ‘Why, when we went to Boston
to see the fireworks on the Common, we would have had no money for popcorn and lemonade if we had paid two fares.’
Many of the adults, both men and women, rode but one way, for although it was the days of Medford
's prosperity through her ship-building, it was also the time of thrift and economy over against the present-day extravagance and easy spending of money.
, called the Poet of the 1818 Club, read at one of the meetings a poem called ‘Old Memories,’ in which he describes the changes he had seen in [p. 84]
a long life.
He touches upon one subject in these words:—
Our railroad was not running then,
The project was not broached,
And they that chose to ride to town
Went in J. Wyman's coach.
In every morn, at 8 A. M.,
'T would stand with open door,
Beneath the willow in the square,
Justby George Porter's store.
I have been unable to learn when Mr. Wyman
gave up his business of stage driving, to which he added the livery business, but it is said he drove daily for thirty-four years without having an accident of a serious nature.
The actual time must have been longer than that.
His patronage increased, and in 1836 he had an omnibus built expressly for him, which he named very appropriately ‘Gov. Brooks
This accommodated eighteen persons inside and six outside, and on the smaller stage, which carried nine inside, the coveted seats were on the top.
The easier way to Boston
was over Medford turnpike (Mystic Avenue), but the preferred way was over Winter Hill
This must have been a steep climb (the grade is now easier), but there was more chance of obtaining passengers.
A rival stage line was established, greatly to the annoyance of Mr. Wyman
, and he would sit by his fireside, saying to himself, ‘I
drive my own coach, I
crack my own whip.’
, who bought out Mr. Wyman
, had driven for him, although Mr. Wyman
handled the reins the most of the time.
Other drivers were Thomas Gillard
, Warren Tileston
, Jerry Jordan
, George Clapp
and Charles Knapp
, as was the old-time custom, often ‘took a drop,’ and a favorite drink of that time was ‘Tom and [p. 85]
Jerry,’ so the joke went round that ‘Wyman
had a Tom and Jerry within and without.’
, who started the rival line, also carried on an extensive livery business for many years, using both stage and omnibus.
I am unable to give the dates of this enterprise, but both stage and omnibus seem to have been used even after the Medford Branch Railroad was put in operation in 1847, for a business card reads as follows:—
I shall best be understood by Medford
people if I speak of the proprietor of the second stage line as ‘old Sam Blanchard
,’ as he was always called, for he had a son Samuel who drove for him, and succeeded his father in the livery business.
From a ledger kept by father and son, 1849-50, we find the stage was used to convey ladies to parties and to weddings, and the omnibus was also used for weddings and funerals.
The new railroad, with its steam-cars, could not answer for all travel, and many still hired teams of Mr. Blanchard
to go to Boston
The adoption of all new inventions is met by some with conservatism, and the advice,
Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.
is taken by many.
Let us now turn from the subject of these business enterprises, that added so much to Medford
's prosperity and convenience, to the men whose foresight started them, and to whose public spirit Medford
citizens are so much indebted.
were descendants from a family of Saxon
derivation, and belonged to the ‘sturdy yeomanry.’
The New England
ancestor settled in Woburn, Mass.
, and there Joseph Wyman
was born, August 15, 1762.
He married Ruth Fowle
, 1781, and had a family of four sons and two daughters born there, the birth of Joseph junior occurring June 13, 1782.
are found often on our town records, for there were several families of this name living here.
The senior Joseph
settled in Medford
, and as his name is first found on our tax-list 1783, it was probable that he came here with his family a short time before that date.
Joseph junior was first taxed in 1803, being then twenty-one years old. The Captain Joseph
of 1794 was probably the school teacher, and a James Wyman
kept a private school where Mrs. Susanna Rowson
had previously held one.
owned the farm where he lived, which was on the present Winthrop street, just beyond Oak Grove Cemetery, now in possession of the Russell family, who bought it of the Wymans.
He grew large quantities of small fruits of excellent quality.
He died in Medford
, November 27, 1841.
The family name has been given to a street running from Winthrop street, crossing Woburn street to Allston street, West Medford.
Joseph junior married in Medford
, April 15, 1821, Esther Lynde Blanchard
, and received the blessing from Dr. Osgood
, the minister who performed the ceremony.
was the daughter of Hezekiah Blanchard, Jr.
, of tavern fame, and his first wife, Esther Tufts
She was born July 4, 1792, in a family blessed with fourteen children.
Hannah Adams Wyman
, the only child of this union, was baptized September 15, [p. 87]
1822. Mrs. Wyman
died May 16, 1859, and her husband, Joseph junior, died July 16, 1867, in the house standing on High street numbered 43.
After selling out his business he went to the old home farm a while, and finally moved to the west half of the house just mentioned, west of the Savings Bank.
was well-favored in regard to looks, but inherited some of the oddity of her father.
After his death she lived for a while in Sables court, then in the old Fountain House (formerly a famous inn), where she died, October 5, 1880, aged fifty-eight years, seven months and sixteen days. She supported herself by sewing, and the fine work she put into men's shirts, all hand made, could not be surpassed.
started his stage at first from his father's farm, then from the corner of High and Woburn streets, for he was then living in the house occupied at present by Mr. DeCamp
, 283 High street, or in one on this site; later the stage started from the Seccomb house
The stable was some distance in the rear, reached by a passageway still existing east of the house.
The stable was burned one Sunday afternoon.
The fare was at first thirty-seven and one-half cents each way, but on account of competition was reduced to twenty-five cents. On notice, the coach would call for passengers, and sometimes light teams were sent around instead.
For the convenience of those in the east part of the town a slate was kept in the house standing on the site of the one built by the late Samuel Clark
about ten years ago on Riverside avenue (old Ship street). There passengers registered their names.
was a good type of the old stage-coach driver—strong, steady, sturdy, large in build, brusque yet kind, accommodating, yet too keen to be imposed upon by over-shrewd patrons, and having a good sense of humor.
He never really denied a passenger's request, but his answer was couched in such a form that the one [p. 88]
asking the favor knew he had received a denial through his own impossible proposal.
Historical Society owns a daguerreotype of him, showing him in old age with a strong, rugged face.
He commonly wore a checked handkerchief around his neck over his stock.
He was somewhat awkward in his movements.
The impression I have received regarding him, as I have talked with those who knew him, is that he was peculiar, decidedly so. Some seem to retain a vivid impression of his remarkable under lip, which was a potent factor in his facial expression.
Read what Mr. Usher
says about him and you will find him ‘genial and obliging’; hear what others tell you and you will decide he was disagreeable and even rude.
Hard out-door work often tended to make people of the past less refined and gentle than those of today.
His conversation was rugged like himself, not always printable, nor fit for ears polite, so the stories that follow are not exact quotations.
Many are told which show his ready wit. An interesting account of a runaway slave is told at length in Brooks
' ‘History of Medford
,’ which is a pleasing piece of local history, in which the old stage-driver, at that time a young man, bore himself with dignity and discretion.
As much baggage as was possible was brought out with the passengers on the stage, and to a shrewd woman who wanted a barrel of flour taken out so it would be no expense to her he suavely replied, when she made known her desire, ‘I am sorry, madam, that I cannot accommodate you, but I have just been applied to for baggage room for a saw-mill.’
A request to carry out a stove received a similar reply; at another time he refused to transport something because he had ‘a hogshead of molasses to take out for Lawrence
When he was really
asked to carry out so cumbersome an article as a barrel of molasses he said, ‘I shall be very glad to take it out if you will trust it to the only place I have for it; if so, I will tie it to a wheel.’
Stopping in Charlestown
to take on either passenger or baggage, he was roughly spoken to by some driver, who said, ‘Get up with your old bean-pot.’
‘Wait till I have loaded up my pork,’ said Mr. Wyman
A fine double entente
people of that day must have appreciated and enjoyed.
A former resident of Medford
, now of St. Louis
, writes, saying, ‘Wyman
was a typical old-time stage-driver, always polite, and very accommodating to the ladies, very prompt, and gave close attention to business.’
A half sheet of paper, upon which a newspaper clipping (now lost) had been pasted, has been kept these seventy-five years that we today may know something more of our veteran stage-driver, something that was complimentary to him. Underneath the printed scrap was written:—
This was addressed to ‘Jon
A. B. was Alfred Brooks
, son of the one to whom the note was addressed, and younger brother of the wellknown Rev. Charles Brooks
, at one time a neighbor to the Wymans.
Contracts were made by the Government
with the stage-coach proprietor for carrying the mail, and after having carried the Medford
mail for many years a misunderstanding or some difficulty occurred that led Mr. Wyman
to write to Hon. Abbot Lawrence
, then representative in Washington
, on the subject.
This letter Mr. Lawrence
forwarded to Amos Kendall
with one he had written.
was of the trio of Postmasters General during the administration of Andrew Jackson
At this time they were first considered as cabinet officers.
From the Post Office Department, 2d February, 1836, he replied to Mr. Lawrence
, saying:— [p. 90]
Mr. Wyman's contract for carrying the mail between Boston and Medford expired 31 December, 1832, and was not advertised for reletting under the contracts commencing 1st January, 1833, because of Medford being on the daily Post Route from Boston to Concord, N. H. Mr. Wyman was advised in July, 1834, throua Mr. Young of the Boston Post Office that the Postmaster General declined renewing his contract for this service or making him any compensation for services uncalled for by the Department.
I can perceive no good reason for reversing this decision.
From this there was no appeal, of course, and Mr. Wyman
must have experienced disappointment and probably pecuniary loss.
He had no confidence in banks, nor would he put his money at interest, but kept his savings in a little trunk, taking his money therefrom as he needed it, until the hoard was actually used up. He hid three thousand dollars which was never found, and his daughter, to whom it would have meant much in her simple way of living, used to frequently speak of the circumstance and bemoan the loss of the money.
tomb is on the west side of the Salem
-street burying-ground, and there the ashes of the old stage-driver and his kin repose.
‘Old Sam Blanchard
’ was the son of Hezekiah junior and Eunice Floyd
, his second wife, and half-brother to Esther Blanchard
who married Joseph Wyman, Jr.
He was born in Medford
, April 30, 1803, and was baptized the following day. He married, first, Frances Burroughs
of Sutton, N. H.
, November 2, 1825.
His second wife was Mrs. Ruthena Hillard
of Lexington, Mass.
The intention of marriage was recorded April 8, 1844, but no return of the marriage was made.
He had five daughters and three sons.
He was proprietor for a few years of Blanchard's Tavern, a house which his grandfather and father had made of great popularity.
When he established a stage line to Boston
the coaches started from that tavern, but later he removed to the north side of the three-story building on Main street, just south of the Medford Mercury's
office; here [p. 91]
he had his residence, with a stable in the rear.
He then moved to the Governor Brooks house
on High street and used the stable belonging to this fine old estate, carrying on an extensive livery business for years.
The site today is occupied by the Medford
An excellent painting of the Governor Brooks house
is owned by the Sarah Bradlee Fulton Chapter
, D. A. R., and is hanging on the south wall of the west parlor of the Royall House
probably discontinued the stage line when he moved to High street. The stages were stored in the stable, and one was sold to a Mr. Keene
of Kittery Point, Me.
, and used to carry passengers back and forth between that place and Portsmouth, N. H.
Some time after the spring of 1859 he removed to Sutton, N. H.
, where he died.
His son, always called ‘young Sam,’ who had been a partner with his father, continued the livery business until his death in Medford
, September 19, 1871.
was an all-round man, if we are to judge by the various callings he engaged in, for besides being tavern-keeper, stage proprietor and liveryman, he was constable and auctioneer, and figured largely in town affairs.
He was a large man, six feet tall, rotund and florid, a rapid talker and with a sonorous voice, a very fitting accompaniment to the auctioneer's hammer.
The St. Louis gentleman before quoted, whose memory is excellent, despite his eighty-six years, says:
Mr. Blanchard commenced stage driving in opposition to Mr. Wyman —he used both coach and omnibus.
His son Samuel drove the team at times on occasion when short of help.
Amos Hemphill drove for Blanchard for some time—for one or two years.
was the first captain of the Brooks
Phalanx at its formation in 1841.
He resigned its command when he was raised to the office of lieutenant-colonel in the militia.
He is said to have made a fine [p. 92]
appearance as a military man, and was widely known in Middlesex
and Suffolk counties
He owned a green baize-covered sleigh, with the name Governor Brooks
painted on it, and perhaps this is the vehicle called in the ledger the stage-sleigh.
It is said to have belonged to Governor Brooks
A good story is told of him which shows his attention to business and his determination not to lose a passenger.
A lady belonging to a well-known and prominent family here wishing to return to Medford
, decided to come by the Woburn stage, as it passed her home, and was just entering it when Mr. Blanchard
, perceiving her intention, stepped up, put his arms about her, lifted her bodily into his coach, saying politely, ‘This
is your stage, Miss
One lady remembers, when a pupil at A. K. Hathaway
's private school, of riding alone in the stage from Pleasant street, Medford
, to Harrison avenue, Boston
A procession in honor of Zachary Taylor
of the United States
, who had recently died, was passing in the city, and she particularly recalls the kindness of the driver to the little miss during the frequent stops and changes he was obliged to make.
A lively episode is related as taking place at the Medford House
one Sunday night. Mr. Blanchard
and Mr. Hemphill
, the latter then owning a route, were trying vigorously to get passengers.
The fare was twenty-five cents, and Mr. Hemphill
offered to take passengers for ten cents. This cut Mr. Blanchard
met by the offer to take them for nothing.
's next move was to offer to pay
twenty-five cents to any who would ride with him. How this war of words ended I do not know.
It may have been more in jest than in earnest, but we do
know that rival stage lines made greater concessions than these and offered greater inducements to secure patronage; but times have changed.
The coach is laid aside, and now
A railroad takes its place.