Typed by E. J. Heinemann.
EARLY METHODS OF OVERLAND TRANSPORTATION
At the close of the Revolutionary war a heavy debt rested upon the government, the resources of which were at the time inadequate to cancel the same, and to enable it in some degree to meet the exigency the states owning or claiming the section of country north and west of the Ohio River ceded their rights to the same for the general good.
Virginia claimed to own the larger share of this domain, under a grant from James I of England who was utterly ignorant of the extent of the vast possessions he was disposing of-whether it was a few thousand acres or an empire. A large share of this territory was claimed by and for a least a century subsequent was in possession of the French, who claimed it by right of discovery.
The grant to the government was completed in the year 1784, and the government at once proceeded to utilize the land for the payment of her war debt. On the 11th of July, 1787, Nathan Dane presented the ordinance to Congress and on the 13th of the same month it was passed, and Rev. Matthew Cutler, with a few others, contracted for the purchase of five millions of acres for which six million of dollars were to be paid, and obtained from the "Board of Treasury" the insertion of the provision that one section in every township should be set apart for school purposes and the territory should have the same advantages as the Atlantic States. By and Act of congress passed in 1802-03, which admitted Ohio into the Union, this pledge was renewed, provided, that one-twentieth part of the public lands within her boundaries should be set apart, that one-twentieth part of the public lands within her boundaries should be set apart, that the proceeds might be applied to the construction of a national road through the state and eventually to St. Louis.
On the 29th of March, 1806, Congress passed a law providing for the construction of a road from Cumberland, Maryland, to the Ohio River, and Thomas Moore, of Maryland, Joseph Kerr and Eli Wilson, of Ohio were appointed commissioners to decide upon a route. The route proposed by them, with only one deviation at Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was approved by President Jefferson in 1808, as far as Brownsville,---the route from that point to the Ohio being left undetermined.
The point at which the road would strike the Ohio was considered as of the utmost local importance, and every eligible point from Pittsburg to below Wheeling was strenuously busy in urging its own superior claims and advantages, as it was anticipated that a city would at once spring into existence wherever the point for crossing the river was definitely fixed.
At this time dates the inception of the jealousy which subsequently existed between the cities of Pittsburg and Wheeling and to a greater or less degree between all other points on the eastern shore of the river.
It therefore became a delicate question for the commissioners to decide, and remarking that "in this was to be consulted the wishes of that populous section of Ohio on its eastern border, and the connections with roads leading to St. Louis under the Act of Congress of 1806," they left it an open question.
The route from Brownsville was subsequently located by Colonel Williams with the aid of his engineer, Mr. Weaver.
An appropriation was made by Congress in 1811 toward constructing the road from Canton (now Bridgeport) to Zanesville, Ohio. This was nearly completed in 1825, when a supplementary Act was passed, providing for a survey of the route to the left bank of the Mississippi between the mouth of the Illinois River and St. Louis. In 1827 an Act was passed to complete the survey and laying out of the road to Jefferson City. At the time of the passage of this Act the road had been completed beyond Columbus, Ohio, and in 1829 partly to the Indiana state line, and an Act was passed appropriating money to lay out and grub the route through the state of Indiana east and west of Indianapolis.
In 1831 the road was ceded to the state of Ohio, except from Springfield to the state line; and in the year 1834 to the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, so far as it lay in those states. In 1832 the building of the road in Indiana and Illinois was placed in the hands of the War department, and soldiers were employed in its construction. In 1833 $1,100,000 was appropriated for the completion of the road in Ohio and toward that portion of it in Indian and Illinois. In 1836 $6000,000 was appropriated for work done upon it in Indiana and Illinois; and in 1837 the same amount. Henry Clay made a great and persistent fight in favor of these appropriations. His opponents put forth their best and most strenuous efforts to induce Gen. Jackson to veto the measures, but unsuccessfully.
But little was done on the road from 1839 to 1848, in which last year it was surrendered to Indiana with all the stone and timber for its use. At this time it was completed to Terre Haute with the exception of a little stone at some points, and was nearly completed to a point west of the Illinois line, and partly from there to Alton, the point selected on the Mississippi. As a fact the whole line was finished and bridged, but congress refused to dress it with stone unless the stone could be had as cheap as in Indiana, which could not be done, and hence the work was stopped in 1850. In Missouri, however, some work was done toward Jefferson City, but no completing of long lines by piking and bridging.
Through the increasing opposition of certain political leaders, who were opposed to the policy of internal improvements by the government, the death of Henry Clay, the champion of the road and its chief advocate, and the building of railroads, its construction was stopped. In 1817 the amount spent upon its construction up to that date was $1,800,000. It had in some portions been worn out so as to need extensive repairs.
In 1822 President Monroe issued his celebrated internal improvement message in which he argued with consummate ability the general improvement policy of the country, and enlarged upon the propriety and duty of the government carrying out the original compact with the state of Ohio by continuing the road west of the Ohio River. Its terminus on the Ohio River had been definitely fixed at Wheeling in 1817, to which point it was finished about the year 1818.
Colonel Moses Shepherd was a contractor on the road between Wheeling and Cumberland. Other well known contractors on the Wheeling end of the road were Messrs. John McLure, Daniel Steenrod, John Kincaid, James Beck, Gabriel Evans, John Kennedy and one Miller. The work was promptly executed by them and with apparent faithfulness, but it was followed with much litigation which arose on account of alleged failure to comply with the terms of the contracts in executing masonry, etc., which litigation subsequently found its way into Congress in the shape of bills for the relief of the parties. * A large amount of money was expended by the government in the construction of this great link in the chain of national improvement and some of the contractors made large fortunes out of their contracts. The magnificence of its design, its costly character, the romantic country it traversed, the solidity of it, and the immense trade and travel that constantly passed over it, all combined to call forth wonder and admiration at the undertaking and completion of so stupendous a work. It became the great artery along which poured the tide of emigration as well as the avenue of transportation between the East and the West. Notwithstanding the immense amount of trade and travel which passed over it, the tolls were insufficient to keep it in proper repair, and, as it was bidding fair to become a burden on the federal treasury, a growing disposition to abandon it, or more properly speaking to transfer it to the states through which it passed, was manifested. About the year 1825 that portion of it between Brownsville and Wheeling was much in need of repairs and the condition of the western division in this respect was so pronounced that a change of location was seriously urged from the Wheeling route to the Wellsburg route.
* Moses Shepherd, stated above as one of the contractors for building a portion of the road, had large landed interests in the immediate vicinity. The original survey of the road had been made on the opposite side of the creek which flowed in front of his homestead, and but a few rods distant from it, leaving the creek between it and the route as originally surveyed. He changed the route from its original location to that side of the creek nearest his residence, as this change he deemed would enhance the value of his property, which in all probability was the case. But the change involved a heavy expense to the government inasmuch as it required the building of two additional stone bridges. Had the road been built in accordance with the government survey not only would it have been unnecessary to have built these bridges, but also the additional length of road which thereby was required. This gave rise to his large claim against the government, which, though prosecuted by Shepherd during his life and by his widow after his death, was ignored by the government.
During the long and acrimonious contest which resulted in selecting Wheeling as the definite point on the Ohio, Wellsburg had been the formidable competitor of Wheeling, and now when the question was agitated she renewed her rivalry with intense zeal.
Topographical advantages were decidedly in favor of Wellsburg both as to distance and the nature of the ground to be traversed in order to reach the Ohio, but at that time and subsequent the narrowness of the river had suggested the practicability of a bridge at Wheeling Island, which, taken with prevailing influences on the Ohio side of the river, operated strongly in favor of Wheeling and more than counterbalanced the advantages of the Wellsburg route. Wheeling was also fortunate in securing the influence and efforts of Henry Clay, the reputed father of the internal improvement policy of the government, who threw the great weight of his eloquence and energy in favor of Wheeling and thus contributed to her final success by his zeal in her behalf, together with his sarcastic allusions to Panther mountain,---a high hill about two miles east of Wellsburg, to explore which he purposely went out of his way on one of his journeys to Washington to see for himself the merits of the route. He may perhaps have unwittingly misrepresented the character of the Wellsburg route, the entire 23 miles of which, it has been estimated since, would have cost less than the two miles nearest Wheeling. But superior management triumphed and the original location at Wheeling was confirmed.
When afterward Henry Clay became a candidate for the presidency in opposition to Gen. Jackson, in 1832, he was remembered by the adherents of the respective routes. Ohio county and the city of Wheeling polled an almost unanimous vote in his favor, while in Brooke county and Wellsburg he received but one vote, that of a person named Providence Mounts; who is represented to have been an eccentric, hair-brained individual, whose solitary vote was for a long while a subject for amusement among his neighbors and acquaintances. This fact coming to the ears of Mr. Clay elicited from him a humorous and good natured remark. This local controversy left the impress of its influence not only upon the neighborly relations of the people of the two counties, but as we have seen, upon their political complexion likewise. The city of Wheeling and Ohio county became thoroughly Whig in sentiment and devoted to the interests of Mr. Clay, while Brooke county became uncompromisingly anti-Clay and Democratic. Subsequent events and the mollifying effects of Time have softened and modified these local antipathies in great degree.
At the time of the last desperate effort to wrest from Wheeling the terminus of the road the congressional district (which included the counties of Ohio and Brooke) was represented by Philip Doddridge, who was a resident of Brooke county, but who appeared not to have entered fully into the views of his fellow citizens, who had gotten up strong documents in their behalf, and had sent General Connell to Washington to enlist Doddridge's efforts to change the terminus from Wheeling and establish it at Wellsburg, but both being of a convivial nature they went on a frolic together and the documents which had been entrusted to the care of Connell were lost or mislaid, but at all events they were never presented.
The National Road was finally relinquished to the states in 1836, having cost the government $7,5000,000 in its construction and support. Previous to its final relinquishment, the government had appropriated $300,000 to put it in good repair east of the Ohio with the understanding that after its relinquishment the general government was to be released from all further obligation on its account.
Seventy odd years ago the mails and travelers from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Ohio River at Pittsburg and Wheeling were carried over the road by stage lines, largely owned and managed by James Reeside, popularly designated as the "Land Admiral," who became one of the largest, if not the largest, mail contractor in the United States. Personally he possessed a grand physique, being six feet four and a half inches high, without any surplus flesh, measuring 53 inches about the chest, and weighing 220 pounds. He was a person of great enterprise, remarkable executive ability, strict integrity, plain in speech and frank and open-handed in his generosity. He was an intimate friend of General Jackson and the associate of Clay, Crittenden, Benton, McLean and other distinguished men of that period.
About this time there were four rival lines of stage coaches on the National Road which were known as the Good Intent, National, Pioneer and June Bug, between which there frequently occurred spirited races as competitors for public patronage. From Wheeling to Cumberland, a distance of 132 miles, the run was made in 24 hours. The mail coach always carried a horn, the notes of which were sounded in advance of the appearance of the coach at its stopping place, as well as in setting out from its starting point, and was the signal for the gathering of the people at the different relays to obtain the news which the passengers might be able or willing to communicate to the expectant crowds. The horses were hurriedly changed every 10 miles. But brief time was allowed the passengers for refreshments.
During the California fever excitement there was an unusually large number of passengers to be carried, hence a number of extra coaches were chartered, often as many as 20 starting westward from Wheeling in one morning.
When President Zachary Taylor was on his way to Washington, to assume the duties of his office, the boat on which he was proceeding up the river was caught in the ice at Moundsville and was frozen in so that it could not continue on its voyage to Wheeling. The late John A. Brown, a citizen of Wheeling, was called upon to help forward the presidential party and drove for eighteen hours with only such delays as were necessary to change and refresh his team.
In those days the stage companies, being desirous of making the best possible time, bought the finest stock within their reach; the Consul and Mayduke horses had the preference and to use Mr. Brown's expressions they were "crackers, leggy, but having good action and body, about 16 hands high and game as the devil." That these horses had endurance is instanced by the fact that on one occasion two of them jumped the wall near where Major McCollock made his great leap on the hill immediately east of Wheeling, and being held suspended by the wheel horses and the coach until they were choked and ceased to struggle, they were cut loose and allowed to fall a distance of 12 feet, after which performance they were again harnessed and completed their trip.
After a time Reeside dissolved with his partners in the Good Intent line and started a line of his own from Wheeling to Frederick. This caused the opposition to cut the fares to a ridiculously low price, the usual fare of $8 and $10 falling to 50 cents. This, however, could not last long, and after losing a large amount of money the other lines bought Reeside off, and thence forward the survivors, although continuing as separate organizations, divided waybills and kept up rates as well as they were able. Two more attempts were made to start opposition lines, which, however, proved abortive.
None of the "old stagers," we believe, with the exception, it may be, of one or two, are left who used to hold the "ribbons." The significant crack of their whips is no longer heard as they shouted to "Bill" or "Dick" or "Joe" to "hurry up," and the echo of their horns has died away in the hollows of the hills and the fastnesses of the mountains. But we take pleasure in rescuing the names of some of them so rapidly passing into the shadowy past, for the most, if not all, of them having driven over the bridge which spans between Time and Eternity. The few whose names we have been able to secure lived in Wheeling and its vicinity: Charles Prettyman, George Widdle, John A. Brown, Frank Lawson, William Tracy, Abner Charnock, Joseph Whissen and Jacob Frager.
In its palmy days the National Road was more like the grand avenue of some proud city than a road through rural districts.
Whatever may be said as to the cost of this early public improvement it must be conceded that this was small compared with the benefits it was to the country at large. The great Ohio and Mississippi valleys were undeveloped and comparatively unknown. Their millions of acres were waiting for the plow, the sickle and the hoe, and their billions of waiting wealth needed only the enterprise and energy of man to startle the world with the wonderful possibilities. The building of this highway set in motion and turned a vast tide of emigration into these fertile valleys which has not yet ceased, and its overflow has reached the golden strand of the Pacific Coast. Great cities and commercial centers have sprung into existence as if at the touch of a magician's wand. Before the establishment of the National pike, Braddock's trail was the famous route for crossing the Alleghanies for the original pioneers who settled western Virginia, who carried their effects on pack horses across the mountains.
The only wealth acquired by the pioneers in the wilderness was peltry and furs, and each autumn a caravan of pack horses bore the accumulated spoils of their neighborhood, under the charge of a master driver and three or four assistants, to an eastern market. To the hinder part of eaach pack saddle was fastened a pair of hobbles made of hickory withes, and a collar with a bell attached was fastened to the neck of each horse. The horses's feed of shelled corn was carried in bags destined to be filled with alum salt on the return journey. On the journey down part of the feed was deposited for the use of the return caravan. Large wallets filled with bread, jerked bear's meat, ham and cheese furnished food the drivers. At night the horses were hobbled and turned out into the woods or pasture, and the bells which had been muffled in the day time were unfastened to serve as a guide to the drivers in the morning. The furs were carried to and exchanged first at Baltimore as a market; later the drivers went only to Frederick; then to Hagerstown, Oldtown and finally to Fort Cumberland. Iron and steel and salt were the articles most eagerly desired by the settlers. Each horse could carry two bushels of alum salt and each bushel weighed 84 pounds. This was not a heavy load, but the horses were scantily fed. Sometimes an iron pot or kettle was tied on either side on top of the salt bag. Ginseng, bear's grease and snake root were at a later date collected and added to the furs and hides. The horses marched in single file on a road which in many places was scarcely two feet wide; the first horse was led by the master of the caravan, and each successive horse was tethered to the pack saddle of the one in front. Other men or boys watched the packs and urged forward laggard horses.
THE CONESTOGA WAGON
To return after this digression concerning the primitive mode of conveyance by pack horses across the mountains, the stage coaches were not alone as important and interesting conveyances, as the Conestoga wagon was also a factor in opening trade and barter between the East and West over this national thoroughfare. It was a product of Pennsylvania skill and enterprise and derived its name from the valley in that state known as the Conestoga. They were first used in that state in any considerable numbers in the year 1760. They had broad wheel tires, and their body as a rule was painted a bright blue, being furnished with side boards of an equally vivid red, while over semicircular supports fastened to each side of the wagon was stretched a canvas covering, which was corded down at the sides and ends, and each end of the wagon was slightly elevated causing the center to be slightly lower. They generally carried from four to six tons of freight. The rates between Philadelphia and Wheeling were usually $2 per ton. The team consisted of four or six horses, generally the latter number, and it was common for each of the horses except the saddle horse to be decked with bells. These were called bell teams. Ten, 20, 30, and 40 would follow one another in procession along the road. Numbers of them were constantly passing and re-passing during the day, sometimes in a continuous stream. Scarcely a night passed that Wheeling was not filled, it being no unusual sight to see as many as 40 and 50 of a night, laying over at McCourtney's and Newlove's, each of whom kept a tavern and wagon yard for the accommodation of the wagoners.
There were two distinct classes of these wagons and wagoners,---the one were called "regulars," who made it their constant and only business the year round, and the other "militia" or "irregulars," these latter being common teamsters who made only occasional trips, and who were distinguished from the former by driving only four horses in their teams. The "regulars" carried no food for themselves, nor feed for their horses, but both classes carried mattresses and blankets which they spread upon the barroom of the tavern where they put up over night. When the horses were unharnessed they were fed out of long troughs securely fastened to the long pole of the wagon.
Up to the time of the completion of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to Wheeling, in December,1852, long lines of these wagons came into the city from the East and from the West, their contents being consigned to the different forwarding and commission houses then located in Wheeling, the most prominent of which were the firms of Forsythe & Atterbury, Dorsey & Tyson, Jacob & Mitchell, T. Jones, C.D. Knox & Company and J. Chapline & Sons.
Twenty-five cents was the uniform price of warm meals at the old taverns, with a drink of whisky thrown in. a cold check was set out in the middle of the day for 12 ½ cents-a "levy" in the old phrase,--and a drink thrown in. the "regulars" were very hostile to the encroachments of railroads and regarded them as the invention of the Evil One. They had an old song among them which ran something after this fashion---
The old Conestoga wagon as well as the stage coach have become relics of the fast fading past, and have been pushed aside by the progressive spirit of the age. Now is heard the weird shriek of the rushing train as with swift wings it flies along the ringing rail. The coach and the wagon alike are but a fast fleeting memory.