Notes On A Tour Through The Western Part Of The State Of New York Part 1

Notes on a Tour Through the Western part of The State of New York.

by Anonymous.


Two Hundred Copies reprinted October, 1916, from The Ariel, Philadelphia, 1829-30, for George P. Humphrey, Rochester, N. Y.


[We have been politely favored with a ma.n.u.script journal of a very intelligent traveller, kept during a tour through the most thriving counties of the state of New York. We give an extract below, and shall continue to furnish others until the whole shall have been published.

The journal will be found to contain the observations of a sound, practical farmer, and a lover of the works of nature as well as those of art. We recommend it to the attention of our friends in the country, and to readers generally; believing it well worthy of an attentive perusal.]


_Extract No. 1_

_May 5th._--Left Bristol Pa., at eight o'clock, in the Steamboat Trenton, for New York. About ninety pa.s.sengers were on the way-bill, not one of which I knew. Amongst our number was the celebrated Miss _Clara Fisher_--famed for her apt.i.tude in personating variety of character, having wonderful powers of mimicry. She is certainly a very interesting girl, and attracted much attention; but the gaze of strangers was evidently very disagreeable to her, and she apparently coveted not much scrutiny. Nothing occurred on our route worth notice. Having had a pleasant pa.s.sage, we arrived at New York about five o'clock.

I took my lodgings at Mrs. _Man's_ boarding-house, No. 61, Broadway.

After making some improvement in my appearance, such as brushing up my hat and coat, and brushing off my beard, I issued forth into the splendid avenue, where all the beauty and fashion of this gay city daily promenade, to enjoy the pleasure of a walk. After walking and walking, and walking further, until my feet exhibited an alarming regiment of _blisters_, I wended my tedious way back to my lodgings--took a peep at the medley of boarders that thronged the house--looked at (but did no more than _taste_) the shaved dried beef and prepared bread-and-b.u.t.ter on the supper-table--for the former was cut in true Vauxhall style, one pound to cover half an acre, and the latter was only alarmed by b.u.t.ter--sipped a dish of tea, and made my escape to bed, ruminating on the horrors of an empty stomach tantalized by a New York supper.

_May 6th._--Got up early, fresh and active--had a good night's rest, in spite of a slim supper--paid for that and my bed--_one dollar_--just four times as much as the whole was worth. Pushed off to the North America steamboat, and took pa.s.sage to _Albany_--fare, two dollars. The night boats, as they are called, that is, the boats which go in the night, are some of them as low as one dollar, board included; but you lose the pleasure which even common minds must feel when gazing on the glorious scenery that fringes the borders of the mighty Hudson, and which, to a stranger, fully makes up the difference. The North America is a splendid and superior boat, far surpa.s.sing all others that ply upon the Hudson, and ploughs her majestic course through the waves at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. I should estimate the number of pa.s.sengers on board to-day at _three hundred_, all of whom had the appearance of belonging to the higher order of society, as the low-priced boats are favored with the rabble, who move about here so often, and in such numbers, as to give those boats a good support. We left the wharf about seven: and again I looked around me, but in vain, to find in this dense crowd one familiar face with which I might claim acquaintance. I was therefore forced to look on, without having a single friendly bosom with which I might reciprocate those impressions of pleasure which the occasion was so aptly fitted to inspire. The grand Pallisadoes, the Highlands, and the abrupt sinuosities of this n.o.ble river, were calculated to awaken in my mind a sense of the fraility of my nature, and the greatness of a G.o.d. After pa.s.sing Newburg, the scenery became entirely new to me, as that place had heretofore been the limit to my journeys. After leaving this spot, many very beautiful and highly cultivated _seats_ are pa.s.sed, on the east side of the river.

They rear their captivating forms in the very bosom of apparently primeval nature, on some imposing point or eminence; and as the boat swiftly, are alternately hid and opened to the view. As we approached the Catskill mountains, which are much the highest I have ever seen, the celebrated mountain house, called _Pine Orchard_, was pointed out to me by a gentleman on board. It is located on one of the most elevated points, and is distant twelve miles from the river. Its appearance is very much that of a small white cloud in the midst of the heavens, and is in the highest degree wild and romantic. But I came to the conclusion, after gazing at it a considerable time, that the fatigue of climbing to the summit, (more than 2,000 feet high,) would be infinitely greater than the pleasure which its airy situation could afford.

After leaving the city of _Hudson_, the country gradually sinks, on each side, and appears in some places tolerably fertile--but I much prefer looking at, to living on, such a soil.

We arrived at _Albany_ about eight in the evening: but, it being dark and rainy, I left the boat immediately, and took up my abode at Welch's Connecticut Coffee-House. As the rain kept me in doors, I went to roost early, and got a comfortable night's rest.

_7th._--Got up with the sun, to allow time to survey the place, as my stay was limited. The first, and in fact the only object worthy of particular notice, (at least that I saw,) is the s.p.a.cious Basin of the great _Clinton_ Ca.n.a.l--improperly called _Erie_ Ca.n.a.l. This is formed by a section of the river, taken therefrom by means of an extensive wharf running parallel with the sh.o.r.e, about one hundred yards from the same, and in length about three quarters of a mile, having a lock at the lower end, to receive and let out vessels of considerable burden. This wharf, if I may so call it, is about thirty yards wide, having extensive store-houses built upon it, from one end to the other. Several bridges are thrown across the Basin, opposite to some of the streets, in order to facilitate the communication with the wharf. It is truly astonishing to behold with what ease vessels may be loaded and unloaded.

Albany is certainly in a very thriving condition. But I did not see one building that could be called a splendid edifice. Even the state Capitol is nothing more than a plain, and not _very large_, but substantial stone building. Yet its situation is very commanding, and embraces a fine view of the greater portion of the city. There is a very pretty representation of _Justice_, on the top of the cupola, holding a pair of scales in her left hand, and a drawn sword in her right. The other public buildings that may be thought conspicuous, are, the Academy, Lancasterian School, and several churches with handsome steeples. The beauty of the place is greatly lessened by the many old Dutch buildings, with their gable ends fronting the streets. But it is much larger than I had supposed, and upon a general view, is rather a handsome city than otherwise. The Hudson at Albany is about as wide as the Delaware at Trenton, but much deeper.

I had contemplated taking my pa.s.sage at Albany, on board a ca.n.a.l boat; but was dissuaded therefrom in consequence of the tediousness of the pa.s.sage, to _Schenectady_, having to surmount an elevation of _forty_ locks, in a distance of twenty-eight miles, and occupying twenty-four hours. I therefore took my seat in the stage for Schenectady, distance fifteen miles by turnpike, fare sixty-two cents. There are now running between the two last-named places, upwards of _thirty_ four-horse stages, (quite a match, if not superior to the Philadelphia and New York Union line stages,) which go and return daily, generally well crowded.

This may serve to give an idea of the trade of Albany with the west. I left the city about ten A. M., making one of nine tolerably large men, of which, by the way, I must confess, I was rather more than the average size. Our course was west, along Washington street, which extends not much short of two miles, thickly set with houses. After leaving the suburbs of Albany, we entered what are called the _Pine Plains_, but which in justice should be called the _Albany Desert_--for, of all miserable, sterile, sandy, barren wastes that ever I beheld, not even excepting _Mount Misery_, it caps the climax. Nor is there a single object to relieve the eye, to interest the traveller, or to merit attention, until you arrive at Schenectady, save the uniform straightness of the turnpike, (which is very good,) and a row of large, towering Lombardy poplars, about forty feet apart, on the north side of the road, in a direct line for the whole distance of fifteen miles. An interesting looking little boy, who was on the outside seat with the driver, enumerated them until upwards of 1000, when he grew somewhat tired, and gave it up as dull sport. I inquired of a pa.s.senger the object of planting them. He replied that he supposed their roots would be some security to the road, and prevent its being blown away!--and, indeed, there was some reason in his strange solution, as the open s.p.a.ces on either side were drifted in large banks.

_Extract No. 2_

We arrived at Schenectady about one o'clock. As _all_ the pa.s.sengers in our stage were bound to Utica, one of the number proposed that he be appointed to bargain for our pa.s.sage in one boat, as the opposition run very _high_, or to speak more correctly, very _low_ on the ca.n.a.l, and it required some policy, as we were soon convinced, to avoid imposition. As soon as the stage stopped at the Hotel, even before the driver with all his activity to undo the door, up stepped a large muscular fellow, and bawled out at the highest pitch of polite etiquette, "Gentlemen, do you go to the West?" "We do." "The packet starts at 2 o'clock, gentlemen; you had better take your pa.s.sages and secure your births; only 3-1/2 cents a mile, gentlemen, and two shillings a meal, with best accommodations, and a very superior boat, gentlemen." "Hang his boat, gentlemen, don't take pa.s.sage in her," said a second fellow. "I'll take you for less than half the money in a devlish fine boat, and charge you but a shilling a meal." By this time there were at least half a dozen more, all anxious for us to engage our pa.s.sage with them at almost any price we pleased. But our _Contractor_ very properly remarked, that he must see the boats himself before he would take pa.s.sage in any. We therefore all sallied forth to the ca.n.a.l, which at right angles through the town. We selected a very superior boat of the Clinton Line, calculated to accommodate thirty persons. This boat is calculated for carrying freight, and the cabins are furnished in good style. The Captain actually engaged to take us to Utica, a distance of 89 miles, for one cent and a quarter per mile!! a York shilling for each meal extra, and to make no charge for births, which are a very necessary accommodation, as the boats run day and night. "Thinks I to myself" this will make up for the shaved dried beef, and prepared bread and b.u.t.ter. I had only time to take a casual peep at Schenectady, but it appears to be a thriving, pleasant town, and is located between the Mohawk and the Ca.n.a.l. Very few persons take the boats between this place and Albany, on account of the delay occasioned by the numerous locks. We "set sail by horse power,"

as the Irishman has it, about 2 o'clock P. M., the horses being attached to a rope about 30 yards long, made fast to the boat amidships, with our ideas pleasingly elevated at the thought of traveling on the _Grand Clinton Ca.n.a.l_ for the first time. The afternoon was cool and pleasant, and never was I more delightfully situated as a traveller than on this occasion. A majority of my companions were Western merchants, well informed respecting the localities and prospects of the country we were pa.s.sing through, and ready and willing to give the required information. The Ca.n.a.l, this afternoon's pa.s.sage, has been for the most part immediately on the south bank of the Mohawk, which flows through a narrow valley of good land, but the hills on either side, unlike the Chester county high grounds, have a poverty-stricken appearance.

At the close of the twilight we arrived at Schoharie creek, distant 23 miles from our place of embarkation. This is the first place of danger I have yet observed. The creek is about 30 yards wide at this place, and is crossed by means of ropes stretched across the stream, which ropes are your only security; should they give way, you must inevitably go down the current and pa.s.s over a dam immediately below, of several feet perpendicular descent. In times of a freshet it is very dangerous. Two or three boats, like the Indians over the falls of Niagara, have already been forced involuntarily over it, and so far in safety. The horses are ferried over in scows, pulled by the same ropes. As darkness soon covered the face of nature, I retired to the cabin, and after sketching my observations, and enjoying a pleasant confab with my fellow travellers, retired to my birth, while our boat skimmed its peaceful way along this artificial and wonderful water communication.

_Extract No. 3_

_8th._--I arose early, having but a disturbed rest during the night, owing to the continued blowing of trumpets and horns at the approach of every lock, and now and then a tremendous jar received in pa.s.sing a boat; but there is the strictest caution and observation of rules respecting the mode of pa.s.sage, &c., a precaution highly important, or, owing to the immense number of boats, great confusion and no little danger would be the consequence. The boats on the ca.n.a.l have a beautiful appearance at night, being each illuminated by two large reflecting lamps on either side the bow, which has much the appearance of a street brilliantly illuminated. I endeavored to count the boats which we pa.s.sed yesterday, but I soon gave it up for a troublesome job. On going on deck this morning, I found a cold air and heavy frost; we were just pa.s.sing the village of Conojoharie, being the most considerable place since leaving Schenectady. I shall not attempt a description of all the numerous villages growing along our route, but will in another place give a list of their names, and distances apart. We are still in the valley of the Mohawk, which is narrow and fertile, but the surrounding country has nothing to boast of as to soil. The river at this place is not, I should suppose, over 50 to 70 yards wide, and is, wherever I have seen it, chequered with little islands, which give it a pleasing appearance. The locks and bridges are very numerous, and it requires great attention and care in pa.s.sing them, or you may be knocked down, and rise up without your head on your shoulders, which, before you can say "look out," may be in possession of the ca.n.a.l fishes. The bridges being low--the highest of them not more than 10 feet above the water, and some not even over 8 feet, while the boat is full seven, we have occasionally only one foot between the two objects, which hardly admit a boy to pa.s.s under them. The bridges are cheap structures, being nothing more than two stone abutments, having sleepers thrown across the ca.n.a.l covered with planks, and a handrail on each side. The main width of the ca.n.a.l at the water line is about 40 feet, and the locks 25. The captain informs me that six persons have lost their lives by being crushed between the bridges, which is a greater number than have been killed during the same time by the bursting of steam engines in the waters of the middle or eastern States.

The locks I shall not attempt to describe, as almost everybody is familiar with their construction; they are simple, very strong, well built, and permanent, being uniformly about one hundred feet long. Our boat, which is of a superior cla.s.s for freight boats, is about 80 feet long by 20; the bow and stern are 4 feet lower than the middle section, which is divided into three apartments--the two end ones for the accommodation of pa.s.sengers, the stern to eat in, and the bow to sleep and sit in, each about 23 feet long, and sufficiently high for a six-footer to stand erect with his hat on. The roof is in the form of the back of a tortoise, and affords a handsome promenade, excepting when the everlasting bridges and locks open their mouths for your head. The centre apartment is appropriated to merchandize. The only difference between this and a pa.s.sage or packet boat, is, that their centre cabins are also for the accommodation of pa.s.sengers, and in some instances a little more expensively finished, and travel at the rate of 4 miles an hour, while we rarely exceed 3-1/4, they with three horses, and we with only two. It is evident the freight boats very much injure the packets by the cheapness with which they run, but as they go with freight, their pa.s.sage money is clear gain, and compet.i.tion is the result. The packets pay heavier tolls, and of course levy it on their cargo of live stock.

We really live _well_ in our little house, and have an obliging captain and steward, with every convenience, but short necks, that we could ask or desire.

It takes 5 hands to manage a boat of this size: they are the steward, the helmsman, and two drivers, who relieve each other as occasion may require: we have relays of horses every 20 miles, and thus we are gliding to the West. At 12 A. M. we arrived at the little falls of the Mohawk, distant 88 miles from our place of embarkation, and this being the wildest place on the ca.n.a.l, I shall notice it particularly. The river falls in less than half a mile 50 feet, by one continued rapid, which is surrounded by five locks, one directly above the other. There has evidently been a terrible effort with the little Mohawk, in days of yore, to break through the crags of the mountain barrier, which it evidently has done by the appearance of the rocks, which are worn away in a variety of forms on all sides. There being about 20 boats waiting to pa.s.s the locks, which would occupy some time, the captain very politely offered to accompany me to the village situated on the opposite side of the river, which is crossed by a very handsome aqueduct of hewn stone, to supply the ca.n.a.l as a feeder. The village is of considerable size, with several very pretty buildings, located amongst the rocks and crags not unlike Mauch Chunk, being quite dest.i.tute of soil. There is a splendid water power at this place, but the most interesting sight was to see the fountains which are before almost every house, supplied from a rivulet led from the mountains, and which are spouting in all directions.

_Extract No. 4_

The rapids at the Little falls are divided just below the village by an elevated island of everlasting rocks, which arrests its progress and causes an incessant roar and foam. The ca.n.a.l for a mile below this spot is a perfect encroachment upon the bed of the river--the wall which divides it from the river is powerful and strong, that the labor and expense attending its erection must have been immense. I was shown on the village side of the river, the old ca.n.a.l and locks by which this rapid was pa.s.sed, before the great modern improvement was projected. It was constructed more than 30 years since by a company of Englishmen, and was considered at that time a wonderful production of genius. But when contrasted with the present improvement, it dwindles into insignificance; the upper section is still used to supply the feeder, and crosses the aqueduct. The country still continues poor on both sides, while the narrow valley of the Mohawk presents very fine land.

The pa.s.senger can supply himself with provisions and grog at all the lockhouses along the line at a very low rate. We arrived at 5 o'clock at the long level commencing at the village of Frankford; the ca.n.a.l is now one entire uninterrupted sheet of water for 70 miles, without a solitary lock; we have pa.s.sed enough however to suffice for a while, having ascended upwards of 40 since leaving Schenectady, a distance of 80 miles. Very soon after entering the long reach, which is the summit level of the ca.n.a.l, the country begins to a.s.sume a different appearance, and the view is not so confined as heretofore. As the afternoon is a very pleasant one, the prospect is truly delightful.

We arrived at Utica just at sunset, and found our water course literally choked up with boats, and as there was considerable freight on board of ours to be discharged here, we were notified that she would be detained about two hours, of which s.p.a.ce we determined to avail ourselves by taking a peep at the town, all agreeing to continue our voyage with the obliging Captain and steward. Accordingly, we stepped on sh.o.r.e, and took a bird's eye view of the attractions of the place. As I never had heard much said respecting this same town of Utica, I was truly astonished, and not a little pleased with it. Setting aside delightful Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore, (I always place _Philadelphia_ first on my list of pleasant cities,) I never saw so many fine buildings in any other town. It is really a beautiful place, and to my apprehension is not much smaller than Albany; I doubt whether the famed Rochester will equal it.

The streets are many of them very wide, being at right angles, nearly in a direction North, South, East and West, with the exception of State street, which runs in an oblique direction, and appears to be the Broadway of Utica, and truly for two or three squares it is in no respect inferior to that celebrated avenue of New York. There is an elegant church in the place, with a handsome steeple of great alt.i.tude, observable from a great distance. The Mohawk runs immediately on the north side of the place, and the ca.n.a.l directly through the centre.

Nothing can exceed the facility with which boats are loaded and discharged. There is a walk on each side of the ca.n.a.l about 10 feet wide: a boat stops opposite a store, a tackle descends from an upper story, which by means of a rope and windla.s.s within the building, managed by one man, can raise and lower heavy weights with wonderful despatch. I should have wished to have remained in this charming place for a longer period, but was propelled forward by persuasion. We left Utica at 10 P. M. and the ear was saluted from a great distance up and down the ca.n.a.l by the music of bugles, horns and trumpets, some of the boatmen sounding their instruments most sweetly. After enjoying these sounds for some time, I tumbled into my birth to partake of the necessary blessing of a nap.

_9th_--I awoke about sunrise and ascended our deck; there had been another heavy frost. We were just pa.s.sing Bull fort, and had entered the _Black Snake_, so called from the serpentine course of the ca.n.a.l. We have pa.s.sed, during the night, Whitesborough, Oriskany, and Rome, three mushroom villages, which, with many others, have sprung up as with the magic of Aladdin's lamp. We had now before us, with a few exceptions, one uninterrupted white pine and hemlock swamp for something like 20 miles, and really it looks to me as if you might cut and haul wood and logs to eternity without exhausting the supply. The country looks perfectly level, and in many places judging from the white clover and blue-gra.s.s which cover the of the ca.n.a.l, must be fertile, though its appearance would not indicate a healthy location for man. As we approached Canistoto, which by the way is but three years old, and a considerable place, we observed the country to be settled partially on both sides, the soil being dark and deep, was thickly covered with stumps and rich gra.s.s. In the course of the last 10 miles, we have pa.s.sed several squads of Onondaga and Oneida Indians carrying baskets, brooms, hunting apparatus, &c. I could not but think of their once numerous hordes, now no more, save a few scattered remnants of their wandering tribes, having scarcely a spot which they can call their own.

Placing myself for a moment in their situation, it made me feel sad, and I could but exclaim with Burns, "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!" Among these numbers were frequently seen little children, and we diverted ourselves for miles together in making them run after the packet, by occasionally throwing out a cent, which made great scratching and scrabbling to see who would get it. We could not prevail on them to converse by the offer of any bribe whatever.

_Extract No. 5_

As we pa.s.sed Manlius, the ca.n.a.l runs on the North side of the high bank for near two miles, which opened to view many apparently inexhaustible quarries of plaster, which is said to be of superior quality. We also pa.s.sed, soon after, Green Lake, a pretty sheet of water, which has been sounded for 400 feet without discovering bottom.

At six o'clock we arrived at what may be called one of the wonders of this part of the world--the extensive salt establishment, belonging to the state, situated immediately at the head of Onondaga Lake. Here are located the villages of Syracuse, Salina, and Geddesburg, all within a mile of each other; the first and last are on the ca.n.a.l, and Salina a little to the north, but fairly in view, connected by a short feeder.

Syracuse is in a very prosperous condition. It was a very agreeable and novel sight to me to behold at this place upwards of 200 acres actually covered with vats filled with salt water in the act of evaporation. The process is very simple, and I shall not therefore attempt a description.

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