STORIES OF OUR ADIRONDACKS
By Stage-Coach in the Adirondacks
New England Magazine, Vol. 9, Issue 3, November 1890
By Walter Blackburn Harte
Born in England, Harte immigrated to Canada in 1886, moving to the United States in 1890. A magazine editor, his writings, now long forgotten by the public, were admired for their innovation by contemporary writers of his time period. This magazine article “By Stage-Coach in the Adirondacks”, is the only know piece of his work concerning the Adirondacks. This excerpt gives a wonderful description of travel by stage between Westport and Elizabethtown. The full article can be found on the Cornell University website at: http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/n/newe/newe.1890.html
“If one is from Boston or New York, one is awakened at what is to him a ridiculously early hour. He hastily turns out, half asleep all the time that his is dressing, and is left with an aching void, three hours before the rest of the world is stirring at the sleepy little village of Westport. This is the point at which most people debark for their summering in the mountains. The village consists of the railway station, two hotels, and a water-tank, and it nestles in a sequestered nook on the southwest shore of Lake Champlain. Away on the western horizon are the mountains, and the stage meets the train to take passengers to Elizabethtown, which is situated in the middle of an amphitheater of dark green and violet hills, eight good long country miles away. Elizabethtown is the gateway of the Adirondacks; it is an introduction to the wild grandeur of the interior of the range – the land of shimmering lakes and silences and whisperings.
We have seen the picture of coaches and sixes on the letter-heads of the hotel writing-paper and in the advertising columns of the newspapers, but still it is with a shock of genuine surprise that one sees the reality. There it is, all complete, six horses and a coach, without springs, swinging heavily on thick leather belting, the same as our forefathers traveled in between New York and Boston. It takes a long time to load a coach at a country station, and the driver checks over each piece of baggage he receives from the express agent with a conscientiousness which a hungry traveler may be forgiven for not always admiring. At last the horses are whipped up; the agent rushes out to ask the irrelevant question about “Jo”; the driver guesses he is “all right”; the leaders wheel slowly around; the wheelers get a touch of the lash; and we are off.
To one who has never been in the Adirondacks before, this first ride on the roof of a heavy, lumbering, old-fashioned coach is a revelation. He thought perhaps that the railroad had relegated stage-coaches to the limbo of oblivion. No so, however. The railroad takes one to the Adirondacks; the stage-coach takes one into the Adirondacks. As yet the difficulties of building a road through the mountains have kept secure the privilege here presented of slipping back into the early days of the century. And who does not love to ride on the top of a coach? Who does not love to hear the sharp crack of the driver’s whip as it circles over the leaders’ flanks, and feel the coach dip and sway under the sudden impetus of the horses’ plunge forward? Where is the man whose blood has not tingled in his veins, and who has not lamented the good old days, as he read Dickens famous description of the ride from York to London? Of course the railroad is more convenient than the coach, friend, but the coach is a glorious institution still in this region. It blows the cobwebs out of one to sit there, holding on with both hands and feet as the coach rocks and sways, with the wind blowing hair about one’s eyes, cool and invigorating from the mountains. Up we go – down we go. Now slowly climbing a steep hill, with the horses straining, and foaming at the mouth; now on the summit, the chain traces and whiffletrees relaxed and clanking, the road stretching away in front, and suddenly breaking off short in what appears to be an impenetrable clump of trees. Slowly we go forward; there is a turn in the road, and then it seems to break away, and what looks like a sheer precipice confronts us. The horses plod cautiously down, the coach follows with a lurch, and the driver gathers up his ribbons tightly and puts his foot heavily on the brake. The hill is not so steep as it looked, and as it makes an abrupt turn to the right, we cross a noisy little stream, the loose planks of the bridge sending out a clatter of sharp harmonics, descending the scale, as we cross. The worst of the hill is over, the pace is slightly accelerated, the skid sends out another shower of sparks, and a cloud of dust flies in our wake. The road takes another sharp turn to the left, and we plunge into a grove of tall dark trees, through which the sun shines in patches, on the shifting, shadowy etching in the road.”