Robert Rainy.

Notes on a tour through the western part of the state of New York online

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IN 1829



1829 -30

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



/ //7

[We have been politely favored with a
manuscript journal of a very intelligent trav-
eller, 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.]




Eootract No. 1

May §th. — Left Bristol Pa., at eight o'clock, in the
Steamboat Trenton, for New York. About ninety pas-
sengers were on the way-bill, not one of which I knew.
Amongst our number was the celebrated Miss Clara
Fisher — famed for her aptitude in personating variety
of character, having wonderful powers of mimicry.
She is certainly a very interesting girl, and attracted
nuich 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 passage, we
arrived at New York about five o'clock.

I took my lodgings at Mrs. Man's boarding-house,
No. 6i, 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

8 Notes of a Tour in 182Q

of blisters, I wended my tedious way back to my lodg-
ings — 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-
butter 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 butter — 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 ofif to the North
America steamboat, and took passage 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 surpassing 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 passengers on board
to-day at three hundred, all of whom had the appear-
ance of belonging to the higher order of society, as the

Through IV est cm Xeiu York 9

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 pleas-
ure which the occasion was so aptly fitted to inspire.
The grand Pallisadoes, the Highlands, and the abrupt
sinuosities of this noble river, were calculated to
awaken in my mind a sense of the fraility of my nature,
and the greatness of a God. After passing 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 culti-
vated seats are passed, 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 passes, are alter-
nately 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 appear-
ance is very much that of a small white cloud in the
midst of the heavens, and is in the highest degree wild

10 Xotes of a Tour in i82p

and romantic. But I came to the conclusion, after gaz-
ing at it a considerable time, that the fatigue of climb-
ing to the summit, (more than 2,000 feet high,) would
be infinitely greater than the pleasure which its airy
situation could afiford.

After leaving the city of Hudson, the country grad-
ually sinks, on each side, and appears in some places
tolerably fertile — but I much prefer looking at, to liv-
ing 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.

yth. — 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 spacious Basin of the great
Clinton Canal — improperly called Erie Canal. This is
formed by a section of the river, taken therefrom by
lueans of an extensive wharf running parallel with the
shore, 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 consider-
able burden. This wharf, if I may so call it, is about
thirty yards wide, having extensive store-houses built

Through Western Xew York 11

upon it, from one end to the other. Several bridges
are thrown across the Basin, opposite to some of the
principal streets, in order to facilitate the conmiunica-
tion 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 build-
ings, 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 passage at Albany,
on board a canal boat ; but was dissuaded therefrom in
consequence of the tediousness of the passage, to

12 Notes of a Tour in i82p

Schenectady, having to surmount an elevation of forty
locks, in a distance of twenty-eight miles, and occupy-
ing twenty-four hours. T therefore took my seat in the
stage for Schenectady, distance fifteen miles by turn-
l^ike, fare sixty-two cents. There are now running be-
tween 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. 1 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 ex-
tends not much short of two miles, thickly set with
houses. After leaving the suburbs of Albany, we en-
tered what are called the Pijic Phiiiis, but which in jus-
tice should be called the .Ubany Desert — for, of all
miserable, sterile, sandy, barren wastes that ever I be-
held, not even excej)ting Mount Misery, it caps the cli-
max. Xor 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

Through IV est cm Xew York 13

distance of fifteen miles. An interesting looking little
boy, who was on the outside seat with the driver, enum-
erated them until upwards of looo, when he grew
somewhat tired, and gave it up as dull sport. I in-
quired of a passenger 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 spaces on either side were
drifted in large banks.

Extract No. 2

We arrived at Schenectady about one o'clock. As
all the passengers in our stage were bound to Utica,
one of the number proposed that he be appointed to
bargain for our passage in one boat, as the opposition
run very high, or to speak more correctly, very low on
the canal, and it required some poHcy, 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 passages and secure your births ;
only 3^ 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 passage 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 passage 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 passage in any. We
therefore all sallied forth to the canal, which passes at
right angles through the town. We selected a very

16 Notes of a Tour in i82g

superior boat of the Clinton Line, calculated to accom-
modate thirty persons. This boat is calculated for car-
rying freight, and the cabins are furnished in good
style. The Captain actually engaged to take us to
Ctica, 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 1 to myself" this will make up for the shaved
dried beef, and prepared bread and butter. I had only
time to take a casual peep at Schenectady, but it appears
to be a thriving, pleasant town, and is located princi-
pally between the Alohawk and the Canal. \'ery
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 I'. 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 Canal
for the first time. The afternoon was cool and pleas-
ant, and never was I more delightfully situated as a
traveller than on this occasion. A majority of my com-
panions were Western merchants, well informed re-
specting the localities and ])rospects of the country we
were passing through, and ready and willing to give the
required information. The Canal, this afternoon's
passage, has been for the most part immediately on the

TJiroiigh Western Xezv York 17

south bank of the Mohawk, which flows through a nar-
row valley of good land, but the hills on either side,
unlike the Chester county high grounds, have a pov-
erty-stricken appearance.

At the close of the twilight we arrived at Schoharie
creek, distant 22, 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 pass
over a dam immediately below, of several feet perpen-
dicular descent. In times of a freshet it is very dan-
gerous. 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 communica-

Extract No, 3

8th. — I arose early, having but a disturbed rest dur-
ing the night, owing to the continued blowing of trum-
pets and horns at the approach of every lock, and now
and then a tremendous jar received in passing a boat ;
but there is the strictest caution and observation of
rules respecting the mode of passage, &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 canal have a beau-
tiful 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 illumi-
nated. I endeavored to count the boats which we
passed yesterday, but I soon gave it up for a trouble-
some job. On going on deck this morning, I found a
cold air and heavy frost ; we were just passing the vil-
lage of Conojoharie, being the most considerable place
since leaving Schenectady. 1 shall not attempt a de-
scription of all the numerous villages growing along
cur 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, 1 should suppose, over 50
to 70 yards wide, and is, wherever I have seen it.
chequered with little islands, which give it a pleasing

20 Notes of a Tour in 182Q

appearance. The locks and bridges are very numerous,
and it requires great attention and care in passing 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 canal 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 pass under them. The bridges are cheap
structures, being nothing more than two stone abut-
ments, having sleepers thrown across the canal covered
with planks, and a handrail on each side. The main
width of the canal at the water line is about 40 feet,
and the locks 25. The captain informs me that six per-
sons 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 class 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 passengers, the stern to eat in, and the bow to sleep

Through Western Xew York 21

and sit in, each about 2^ 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 passage or
packet boat, is, that their centre cabins are also for the
accommodation of passengers, and in some instances a
little more expensively finished, and travel at the rate
of 4 miles an hour, while we rarely exceed 3)4, they
with three horses, and w^e 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 passage money is clear gain, and competi-
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 cap-
tain 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 ma}^ 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
canal, I shall notice it particularly. The river falls in

22 Azotes of a Tour in 182^

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 pass the locks,
which would occupy some time, the captain very polite-
ly 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
canal 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
destitute of soil. There is a splendid water power at
this place, but tlie most interesting sight was to see the
fountains which are before almost every house, sup-
plied 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 canal 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 canal and locks by which this
rapid was passed, before the great modern improve-
ment was projected. It was constructed more than 30
years since by a company of Englishmen, and was con-
sidered 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 passenger can supply himself with pro-
visions 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 canal
is now one entire uninterrupted sheet of water for 70
miles, without a solitary lock ; we have passed enough
however to suffice for a while, having ascended up-
wards of 40 since leaving Schenectady, a distance of 80

24 A'otes of a Tour in 182Q

miles. Very soon after entering the long reach, which
is the summit level of the canal, the country begins to
assume a different appearance, and the view is not so
confined as heretofore. .\s 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 space we deter-
mined 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
shore, 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, (T 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 aj^prchension
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 excep-
tion of State street, w^hich 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

Through JVesfeni Xew York 25

that celebrated avenue of Xew York There is an ele-
gant church in the place, with a handsome steeple of
great altitude, observable from a great distance. The
Mohawk runs immediately on the north side of the
place, and the canal directly through the centre. Noth-
ing can exceed the facility with which boats are loaded
and discharged. There is a walk on each side of the
canal about lo feet wide ; a boat stops opposite a store,
a tackle descends from an upper story, which by means
of a rope and windlass within the building, managed
by one man, can raise and lower heavy weights with
wonderful desjmtch. T should have wished to have re-
mained in this charming place for a longer period, but
was propelled forward by persuasion. We left Utica
at lo P. M. and the ear was saluted from a great dis-
tance up and down the canal 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 par-
take of the necessary blessing of a nap.

gth — I awoke about sunrise and ascended our deck ;
there had been another heavy frost. We were just
passing Bull fort, and had entered the Black Snake, so
called from the serpentine course of the canal. We
have passed, during the night, Whitesborough, Oris-
kany, and Rome, three nuishroom villages, which, with
many others, have sprung up as with the magic of
Aladdin's lamp. We had now before us. with a few

26 Xofes of a Tour in i82p

exceptions, one uninterrupted white pine and hemlock
swamp for something Hke 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-grass which cover the shores
of the canal, 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

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Online LibraryRobert RainyNotes on a tour through the western part of the state of New York → online text (page 1 of 3)