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‘Iron Horse’ Put End to Stage Coach

Footnotes to Long Island History

‘Iron Horse’ Put End to Stage Coach

December 30, 1965

by

Thomas R. Bayles


‘Iron Horse’ Put End to Stage Coach
Colonial Post Rider delivering the mail.

       During the first years of the settlement of Long Island, before the days of the stage coach and railroad, mail was brought from New York to the villages on the east end of the Island by "post riders" on horseback once or twice a week.

       Later on, when the stage coaches came into use, it was carried by them along with the passengers. From the records in 1830 we find that mail was sent from New York to Coram, Middle Island, and Riverhead every Monday and Friday at 4 p.m. The mail was very light in those early days, and usually there was not more than half a dozen letters sent out from Middle Island in one mail. The postage at first was collected on the delivery end as there were no postage stamps then. It cost 16 cents to send a letter to Smithtown.

    Middle Island was the first post office in Brookhaven Town and was established in 1796.The old house that stood where Horton's cement block works has been for several years was than post office for a good many years before it went to Pfeiffer's store where it was for over 50 years.

     Before the railroad opened through to Greenport in 1844 the stage coach was the only land transportation that could be used by people coming from New York or Brookhaven to eastern Long Island. It took from two to three days to make the trip through the Island which was afterwards made in a couple of hours by the railroad trains.

       In those days the arrival of the mail stage was an exciting event in the villages it passed through, and the stage driver was an important man. A journey to the big city was an important event and a man who had been down to York as they called it was called on for a week to tell what he had seen and heard in the city.

       It was a long and tiresome journey from the city to the villages out this way and the driver of the mail stage performed many duties. He acted as driver, baggage master, expressman and conductor. He carried money for people to deposit in banks, and bought goods in the city for people along the way.

   The Inn operated by Thomas Hallock in Smithtown was the overnight and halfway stopping place for the stages that ran from Fulton Ferry, Brooklyn, to Riverhead, Southold and the Hamptons. Hull Conklin was driver of the stage line between Brooklyn and the east end villages for several years before the railroad opened and was always on time .Twice a week he would leave one end of the Island or the other at 4a.m. and arrive at Hallock's Inn at Smithtown that night where the passengers stopped over night. The post office here was a small room back of the bar in the hotel where the mail would be left over night and picked up again in the morning with the passengers to continue the rest of the trip which was finished by night. On one trip, Hull drove the whole length of the Island in 24 hours, changing horses five times, Hull's mail stage always went through and " neither snow nor  rain nor gloom of night" prevented him from  getting through on time.

  The old Hutchinson house which we have mentioned where Horton's cement block factory has been was a meal stop for the stage coaches as well as post office for many years. Pfeiffer's store was another stage coach stopping place for the stages that went through the middle of the Island.

   Hamilton's trip through Long Island on horseback in 1744 mentions stopping at one Brewster's (Pfeiffer's store) Middle Island and he said, "where we put up all night and in this house could get nothing either to eat or drink so were obliged to go to bed fasting and supper less. I was conducted upstairs to a large bed room. The people in this house seemed quite savage and rude," The next morning he said "when I awoke I found two beds in the room where I was in which lay two black beards. I took them for weavers as there was a loom on each side of the room. In the other bed was a raw boned boy, who with the two lubbers, huddled on their clothes and went reeling down the stairs making as much noise as three horses".

       The taverns along the route at which the stages stopped for meals and a night's lodging were centers of interest in the communities, for it was there that some of the prominent men of the day could be found, and the people gathered to talk about the latest news brought in by visitors from the outside world. It was also here that the letters and packages for people in the settlements round about were left. One of the mail stage drivers who operated in the Patchogue section after the railroad was opened to Greenport was Chauncey Chichester of Center Moriches. The railroad was not opened to Patchogue for several years so he met the trains at Medford and took the mail to Patchogue and villages east to East Moriches. The mail was all put in one bag and at each post office the bag was unlocked and the mail for that office sorted out and the rest put back and the bag locked and taken on to the next post office. An old time table of the railroad in 1860 carried the following instructions for employees:" When passenger trains are more than one hour behind time, a freight train may proceed with care, but must fall, send a flagman ahead around all curves."

    Also: "A very good reason must be given for killing cattle or a part of the damage will be charged to the engineers." 

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