AN OLD MILITARY ROAD—THE
WAYSIDE TAVERN—THE CORDUROY
AND OTHER ROADS—THE OLD STAGE COACH—HORSEBACK RIDING.
a settlement the first settlers
usually selected the best land situated on
the borders of the rivers and lakes. The
Niagara River being a narrow body of water,
many of the emigrants from the States crossed the frontier at some point
along this river, and made choice of locations along its banks, so that it
was not long before a line of settlement extended from Niagara to Fort
Erie. As so many rods along the banks of a large stream is a government
reserve, the old road along the river might be called a government road.
It facilitated the transportation or conveyance of troops from Fort Erie
to Fort George, a necessity in itself in those troublous times succeeding
the Revolutionary War, and although it followed the windings of the river,
it became the main highway for travel for many years. Of late years more
direct roads have been made further back in the
country, but in picturesqueness and beauty they are not to be compared
with the old river road, although it has been getting so very much
narrower in places caused by the constant washing away of its banks.
Indeed, it is now likely to soon lose its quaint beauty, for a line of
electric cars is being talked of to run from the village of Fort Erie to
For years, and within the
recollection of a few of the oldest inhabitants, this old road was the
route for a line of stage coaches running from Niagara town to Fort Erie
village. At that time there was a number of hotels scattered along the
river, but since the stage coaches have been done away with most of these
have also disappeared.
Within the memory of the writer's
mother, who was born in 1828, much of the bank along the river has been
washed away, and in many places the military road of a hundred years ago
now lies under water. To prevent the bank from washing away in front of
his farm the writer's grandfather planted a row of willow trees close
together along the edge of the water. The river road is rendered very
pretty in places by the tall poplars and maples planted by our forefathers
fifty and one hundred years ago. Familiar to the writer is the old maple
tree in front of the old homestead, which was a good-sized tree
three-quarters of a century ago, and still blossoms in beauty and
strength. It tempts him to exclaim
"Woodman, spare that tree,
Touch not a single bough
In youth, it sheltered me,
protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it in this
So woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not."
Long may its fine spreading
branches be protected from the depredations of the despoiler. In the early
days it was a great hindrance to the lumbermen, when towing their rafts of
logs up the river from Chippawa, as they were obliged to unhitch their
horses in order to get around it.
The Wayside Tavern.
Situated here and there, at
convenient distances along the leading roads, were to be seen the country
taverns. Some of them were fine, imposing edifices, although in the
earlier days many of them were built of logs. They did not partake of the
nature of saloons as much as the country taverns of the present day, but
were built expressly for furnishing accommodation and shelter for man and
beast, as well as refreshment, for in those days, there being no railways,
all the traffic was over the public roads. Everything had to be conveyed
overland by wagons; a great many farmers had to team their produce many
miles to the nearest market town. These country hotels, or inns, were
patronized largely by the immigrants coining into the country, of which
there was at that time a constant stream; The innkeeper did not always
depend on the inn for his living, many of them having farms in connection
therewith. Liquor in the early days was considered more of a necessity by
the people than it is now. The temperance agitation not having commenced,
it was the custom for all to drink. Even prominent members of churches
"kept tavern" and religious services were frequently held there. Most of
the people kept liquor in their houses, and many of them served it at
their table, but strange to say, there was no more (perhaps less)
drunkenness than there is now. Possibly one reason was because the people
were obliged to work hard and had little time for leisure, and less money
to spend, for after they became better circumstanced the drinking custom
became more alarming. It is true some people drank to excess, but as long
as they attended to their business it was not considered wrong. The art of
adulterating liquor being then unknown, the same harm did not seem to
result from drinking to excess as in later days. It was not considered
necessary to adulterate whiskey in those early days, for the pure article
could be obtained at a trifling cost, say, from fifteen to fifty cents a
gallon. There was no Internal Revenue tax imposed upon its manufacture as
at present. In some localities the people were very temperate, very few
people drinking to excess, those who did so being considered as lacking in
In the early times the tavern was the centre of social life in
the neighborhood. The men would congregate there and acquaint themselves
with the latest news of the day, talk politics, have a few glasses of
grog, and even if they did become a little tipsy it was thought nothing
Over the driving-shed, in
connection with many of these country hotels, there was usually a large
hall, in which the annual ball was held. It was also engaged by travelling
theatrical troupes, lecturers, phrenologists, etc., and was often used for
local public and political meetings, and even, as already remarked, for
The stage coaches running between
the different towns made these hotels their stopping-places. It was here
they let off and took on their passengers and luggage. Somewhere on the
walls of the hotel shed were posted colored bills of the coming circus.
These pictures of animals, clowns, actors, etc., filled the small boy with
wonder, and gave him something to think and talk about for days, as was
only naturally to be expected.
The Corduroy and Other Roads.
Some of the first roads in the
country were not much more than paths through the woods, with a piece of
bark cut off the sides of the trees here and there to point out the way.
After a while a few trees were cut down along the road, and the strip of
sky showing between the tree-tops on each side of the road would indicate
the route, for the marks made by the wheels of the occasional waggon were
soon grown over with grass In swampy, marshy places, the roads were
bridged over with corduroy. This was done by laying logs of cedar, or some
other wood, six or eight inches in diameter, close together, across the
road. Sometimes these corduroy roads would extend for as much as a couple
of miles, where the nature of the causeway required. They fairly jolted
the life out of one with the constant bump, bump, bump, they gave when
driving over them. In the course of a few years they were usually covered
over with ground, which helped to make them a little more passable. Some
of the first main roads running through the country were made of plank;
sleepers were put down, and four to six-inch plank nailed on them.
Macadamized roads were afterwards introduced, but as they were expensive
roads to build, the right of building and operating them was granted to
private companies, who were allowed the privilege of erecting toll gates
and levying toll on all teams passing through. In this way they earned a
dividend on the money invested, and paid the running expenses of the road.
In the early days, before the era of railroads, when there was so much
overland traffic over the public highways, this may have been a good way
of securing good roads, but nowadays it would seem like an imposition, and
we are pleased to know that of late years the toll-gate nuisance has been
gradually done away with, so that now there are very few toll-gates left
in the country.
The Old Stage Coach.
Before the era of railroads the
general public travelled by means of stage coaches, regular lines of
coaches running between the different frontier towns. The coaches being
heavy and cumbersome, and the roads frequently very bad, especially in the
spring and fall, they were usually drawn by four horses, a change or relay
of horses being made at certain places along the route. They were obliged
to travel fast to make good time, in order to connect with other lines at
the various junctions, and, if mail coaches, to fulfil their contract with
the Government for carrying the mails. The trunks and valises, or carpet
bags, were piled on top or on a rack behind. It must have been a very
tedious way of travelling. How much we, who live in an age of steam and
electricity, with our rapid modes of transit, finely lighted and
comfortably heated cars, have to be thankful for; and yet many of us have
yet to learn how to properly appreciate and enjoy the privileges we have.
An aged Toronto gentleman ..told the writer that he remembered when it
took eight days to travel from Montreal to Kingston by stage, a distance
of 180 miles. The stages often got stuck in mud holes, and the passengers
were then obliged to alight and help pry the coach out with fence-rails
and wooden levers.
Horseback riding was quite common
among persons of both sexes in the early days. It formed one of the chief
diversions of the young people.* A number of them would frequently gather
at a friend's house and go out together for a ride. Every farmer kept a
saddle or two for the men, and a side-saddle for the ladies to use.
Horseback riding was the most convenient means of travelling through the
pathless woods. Some of the old settlers, when visiting their friends so
far away as Pennsylvania, used to travel back and forth in this manner.
The early Methodist minister, or circuit rider, with his saddle-bags
containing his Bible and hymn-book, a valise with his clothing and an
umbrella tied on the pommel, was quite a familiar figure on the roads. The
roads, in consequence of poor drainage, were very bad in the early days,
and for that reason travelling on horseback was the easiest and quickest
means of transit. It was not until about sixty or seventy years ago that
steel-spring buggies first came into use. The first vehicles of that class
were very heavy and cumbersome, and it was some time after their
introduction before they became popular. The "buckboard," a species of
buggy, was at one time in considerable favor among the people. Being light
and strongly made, it could well withstand the jolting over the rough
country roads. Saddles were made of hog's leather, or pigskin, the old
settler frequently having skins tanned for this purpose. It is quite
common, even now, to see a saddle as a sign in front of a harness shop and
the name "Harness-maker and Saddler" over the door, but the name saddler
has largely lost its significance.