Copied from Harbaugh's 1909 History
Miami County Ohio
- Corduroy Roads - First
Gravel Road -The National Road -
- Braddock's Road - Early StageLines
- Stages and Stage Drivers -
- Famous Taverns - Water Transportation
- Freighting on the Miami -
- To New Orleans by River in 1819 - An
Unfortunate Voyage -
- Dr.Dorsey's Recollections of Flat Boat Navigation
- Canal Construction - The Miami and
Erie Canal -
- Benefits of the canal -
- The Old Mail Service - Postal Rates
in 18l6 -
- Post Office Established at Piqua - The
Early Postmaster -
- A Male Carrier's Adventure - A Century's
Transportation and travel in the early days of the county bordered on
the primitive. For a long time there were no roads at all, only the buffalo
trails, and these zigzagged in every direction. They were at first used
by the men who opened the wilderness and were followed by the blazed ways
from one settlement or town to a another. As early as 1806 a road was blazed
to Greenville through the forest, and was for a time the main thoroughfare,
so to speak, in this region. As the various settlements grew and the people
increased in numbers by accessions from other localities, better roads
became necessary, and the settlers began to construct them. Long before
the days of the turnpike came corduroy roads, which for a while seemed
to fill a "long-felt" want.
J.M.Thomas, one of the early pioneers, has written as follows of the
"The best roads were the corduroy roads.
The matter in which they were constructed was to get together the men and
boys of the neighborhood with their axe and oxen, `Buck and Berry,' as
the oxen were almost always called. The men who drove them had a stick
about six feet long with a leather strap tied to one end of it, with which
he would guide his team. The men would cut down trees, split them into
rails and haul them with the ox-teams to the worst places in the road.
They would first lay brush in the road to support the rails and prevent
them from sinking too deep in the mire; then lay the rails on top of the
brush and shovel mud over them. This was the best road we had in those
days. We did not dream of steam or electric railways. "I remember
when the only road from my father's house to Troy was the old Indian trail.
We lived south of where the Peters' nursery now is, about two miles south
of Troy. When I was about ten years old I recollect seeing the men surveying
the route for the road now called the Northcutt or Westlake Pike. It was
then made a corduroy road, laid with brush and rails to give us a better
road to Troy than the old Indian trail, which was only a path running through
the woods. This path led from my father's house along the route of the
present pike till it reached the point where Henry Wilson's house stands,
then it struck off through the bottom lands now owned by John and Henry
Wilson, coming into Troy about the south end of Market Street.
Woods all the way, no canal to cross, no hoisting bridges and no
locomotive whistles to frighten our ponies. About the only noise we heard
along the old corduroy road was the barking of the squirrel, the drumming
of the pheasant on an old log, or the hoot of an owl."
The early road leading from Troy to Covington was mud almost all the
way. Mr.Thomas says that frequently, when traveling between these two places
on horseback, he was compelled to dismount and lead the horse for fear
the animal would swamp and tumble him off. He would have to go out in the
woods and get on the old logs to keep out of the water. Not infrequently
a misstep would throw him into the water, where he would be treated to
a first-class ducking. After the first Troy-Covington Road had been given
a trial, a few Troyans concluded to build a better one. They constructed
a plank road, but alas! The plank soon rotted in the swampy ground, and
gravel was next tried in road building. The last experiment
proved a success. It was probably the first gravel road in the county.
The lack of good roads was a detriment to the settlement of the county.
True, neighbors were few and far between those days, but milling had to
be done, and this necessity, to some extent, brought about the construction
of better roads than the primitive ones. Intercourse between the towns
was another inducement to road building, but many years elapsed before
the first rude county roads gave way to the magnificent turnpikes which
now reach in every direction.
As early as 1806, however, Congress took a hand
in road building in Ohio. In that year it passed an act "To regulate
the laying out and making a road from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland,
to the State of Ohio, and it was this act which enabled Thomas Jefferson
to become the official father of the National Road. It is interesting to
note that this famous thoroughfare passes through a portion of Miami County.
The old National Road enters Bethel Township at its southeast corner, and
after crossing the township in a southeasterly direction, passing through
Brandt and Phoneton, crosses the Miami at Tadmor and debauches into Montgomery
County. This road was to the early West what the Appian Way was to Rome.
It was the first great highway from the East to the West, and maintained
its prominence until the canal and the steam roads came into vogue.
Since the National Road did much to open up the Miami Valley and its
adjacent territory, let us briefly consider some of its history and characteristics.
It was conceived in the brain of Albert Gallatin, a Swiss, who came to
this country in 1780 and afterward became secretary of the treasury under
Jefferson. Gallatin broached his project of a great National highway to
many distinguished people, and in 18O6 President Jefferson appointed a
commission to look into the matter. The National Road, as originally designed,
was to cost $7,000,000 and was to reach from the Potomac to the Mississippi.
It passed through the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois
and was "one of the most important steps in that movement of National
expansion which followed the conquest of the West." Undoubtedly its
construction was one of the influences which secured and held the West
to the Union, for the population which by the opening of this highway rushed
into the Ohio Valley saved the embryonic western states from threatened
perils and hastened their settlement and subsequent prosperity. Everybody
- pioneers, traders, adventurers - hailed the National Road with delight.
Before the building of the road west the routes of
travel followed the zigzagging buffalo trails or the winding pathways of
the Indian. These, of course, were not satisfactory. It has been said that
the course of the buffalo through Maryland and Pennsylvania is the most
historic route in America, and one of the most famous in the world. The
old Braddock Road may be called the genesis of the National Turnpike. The
blazed trees which marked this route for many years pointed out the trail
of the unfortunate British general to the battlefield of the Monongahela.
Washington, however, previous to Braddock's expedition, had blazed a way
to the Ohio Valley, and this route, strange to say, afterwards be came
the marching ground of the British army.
For seventy-five years Braddock's Road answered the entire imperative
needs of modern travel, though the journey over it at most seasons was
a rough experience. During the winter the road was practically impassible.
All that was needed to turn the current of immigration towards the Ohio
was a good thoroughfare. Many times was the question asked, "When
will it be built? " Not until the nineteenth century was the question
answered. It may be said that the creation of Ohio is directly responsible
for the building of the National Road.
On December 30, 1806, the commissioners appointed by Jefferson to lay
out the National Road made their first report. These commissioners were
Thomas Moore, of Maryland; Joseph Kerr, of Ohio, and Eli Williams, also
of Maryland. After the first report came another, in 1808, and in this
it was announced that the contracts had been made for clearing the surveyed
road of brush and trees. Contracts for the first ten miles west of Cumberland
were signed in April and May, 1811, and the following year they were completed.
In 1817 the road was brought to Uniontown, and not long thereafter United
States mail coaches were run from Washington, D.C. to Wheeling. The next
year it was proposed to open the road to the Ohio River. The cost of the
eastern division of the road staggered many. It exceeded the estimate by
$3,000 per mile.
No sooner had the first division of the National Road been completed
than travel across the Allegheny Mountains into the Ohio basin began. Hundreds,
aye, thousands of people, faced westward, looking for homes, and the new
highway presented an animated scene. It was not until 1825 that Congress
authorized the extension of this great road into the State of Ohio, and
this act was greeted with immense enthusiasm by the western people. Nearer
and nearer the National Road was creeping towards Miami County. In 1837
Lieutenant Dutton, of the United States Engineers, with headquarters at
Springfield, advertised for proposals for road building in which he said:
"Notice is hereby given to the proprietors of the land that part
of the National Road lying between Springfield and the Miami River to remove
all fences and other barriers now across the line, a reasonable time being
allowed them to secure that portion of their present crops, which may lie,
upon the location of the road.
As this highway stretched westward, travel over it became tremendous.
In a short space of time vehicles of every description from the smallest
wagons to the creaking, "mountain' ships" crowded the new thoroughfare.
It was almost blocked with herds of cattle and gaily painted four and six-horse
coaches rumbled over its broad bed. Rude taverns sprung into being every
few miles, with gaudily painted signs denoting entertainment for man and
beast, and, in short, everywhere along the road the scenes were lively
The National Road was a toll one from the first. The toll takers were
appointed by the governor and there were some lively scrambles for the
places. All persons "going or returning from worship, muster, common
place of business, on farm or woodland, funeral, mill or place of election,
common place of trading within the county in which they resided,"
were permitted to travel free. School children and clergymen were also
on the free list. People who made lengthy trips over the road had the privilege
of paying toll the entire distance and receiving a certificate guaranteeing
free passage to their destination. The gate keepers usually received a
salary of $30 per month. The opening of the National Road, which was the
first linking of the West to the East, gave rise to
many stage lines which competed with one another for the traffic. These
cumbersome vehicles, which disappeared long ago, were marvelous things
in their day and were "fearfully and wonderfully made." Many
were decorated and richly painted, the linings being often silk plush.
They usually had three seats inside and could comfortably carry nine passengers.
Some were long, unsightly affairs without springs or braces, and the harness
was heavy and uncouth. There were fifteen-inch backhands, and hipbands
of ten inches, and the traces were little less than loads of chains.
Nor were the old stages the only vehicles that rattled over the National
Road through this county. There were greater ones called "freighters."
These were "broad treads," with four-inch tires, and some of
the loads they carried were little short of marvelous. One of these freighters
crossed the mountains in l835, carrying eleven hogsheads of tobacco, or
a net weight of ten thousand pounds. As to speed over the new roads, ten
miles an hour was considered ordinary. The old waybills, which the drivers
received, were often inscribed, "Make this time or we will find someone
who will." Competition in stage line travel
was always at fever heat and the rival drivers had their amusements. They
were a jolly set of drivers on the "Old National Road," great
lumbering fellows, yet active as panthers. They "jollied" one
another with all sorts of pleasantries, and even the advertisements of
the competing lines dropped into humor. Couplets were often conjured up
containing some brief story of defeat with a cutting sting for the vanquished
"If you take a seat in Stockton line,
You're sure to be passed by Pete Bodine."
"Said Billy Willis to Pete Bodine:
You'd better wait for the oyster line."
These Witticisms were always taken in good spirits and were often posted
in the taverns, where they caused all manner of amusement.
Fares in the old passenger coaches were not considered extortionate.
Two dollars were charged from Columbus to Springfield, and intermediate
points five cents per mile. Mails were carried over the National Road.
It took three days and sixteen hours to get the mail from Washington to
Columbus, which fact provokes a smile nowadays when the "mail flyers"
annihilate distance and deliver a letter at our doors almost before the
ink is dry.
The first old taverns that dotted the road were
built of logs, but these, later, gave way to more pretentious ones of wood
and stone, with commodious wagon yards and sheds for horses and cattle.
They had the most pretentious names, such as "Temple of Juno",
"The Sign of the Green Tree," "The Lion and the Eagle,"
and so on. The signs that swung at the doors creaked in the wind and were
often elaborately decorated by the backwoods artist.
"Billy Werden's Tavern," in Springfield, was well known to
the early settlers of this county. There were hilarious times in the celebrated
taverns of the National Road, buildings which long ago crumbled away as
the traffic of the thoroughfare sought other channels. Whiskey cost a "Flippenny
bit" at the old bars and there was no adulteration, as nowadays. In
some of the best taverns mulled wine, toddy and cider were dispensed.
Such, in outline, was this famous thoroughfare of early times. First
came the buffalo trail, then the Indian paths, to be followed by the National
Road, and later by our splendid system of turnpikes, steam, and electric
lines. Over the National Road passed some of the most distinguished men
our country has ever produced - Jackson, Monroe, Polk, Harrison, Tyler,
Clay, Benton, and Lafayette. The old stages are things of the past, and
such practiced drivers as Jim Reynolds, Billy Armour, and Davy Gordon have
been gathered to their fathers, but the famous pike, though shorn of its
pristine glory, still exists, and today the farmers of Miami County haul
their grain to market over the same thorough fare which in its day was
considered, as indeed it was, one of the wonders of the United States.
The forests and sparse clearings that fringed its line have become fertile
farms or teeming cities. In many places its eighty feet of road bed has
been encroached upon by property owners.
An act passed by the Ohio Legislature in 1870 cites that "the proper
limits of the road are hereby defined to be a space of eighty feet in width,
forty feet on each side of the center of the graded roadway." Notwithstanding
this, in some places ten feet of the ground of the National Road has been
included within the fences, but since the State does not, or can not, show
quit claim deeds for the land, the present holders are not molested.
For years prior to the opening of the National Road,
freighting on the Miami was a source of considerable income for many of
our people, and became quite an industry. The river was navigable both
above and below Dayton during the greater part of the year for keel boats
that were built like canal boats, only slighter and sharper- as well as
for flat boats, till about 1820. These boats were often loaded with produce
taken in exchange for goods, work, or even for lots and houses; for business
men, instead of having money to deposit, or invest, were frequently obliged
to send cargoes received in place of cash south or north for sale. Cherry
and walnut logs were frequently sent down the Miami on flat boats. The
trip to New Orleans was frequently made and the boat was sold in that city,
its owner returning on horseback.
As early as 1819, Fielding Loury conceived the idea
of opening up a river trade with the southern cities. Loury was one of
the first settlers of the county. Eager to put his plans into effect, he
loaded three boats with desirable cargoes for the times. One of these boats
was commanded by Capt. Gahagan, a well known citizen of early Troy. It
was then a long and perilous voyage to New Orleans. There were dangers
by river and not a few by land. Some distance below Troy was a place called
the "Ninety-nine Islands" where the flat boats were likely to
ground. Ill luck would have it that Capt. Gahagan's boat should meet with
just such a fate at this spot. When Gahagan was in these straits, the second
boat, commanded by Capt. Hunter (it was great to be a boat captain those
days) came along, and in trying to avoid the first boat, ran into her,
inflicting such damage that she sank quickly, with all her cargo. One can
imagine the exciting scene thus witnessed by the two captains. Capt. Hamlet's
boat, the third one, safely landed. The screams of the women on the first
boat and the emphatic language of the men made up perfect Bedlam, but all
were rescued, though much of the cargo was lost. It took three days to
save that part of the loads taken out, and the whole, thoroughly drenched,
had to be spread out on the floors of neighboring barns to dry.
Captain Gahagan's unlucky boat was repaired, after which the voyage
was resumed. On one of the boats was Mrs. Loury, wife of the owner of the
cargoes, with her two young daughters. The voyage was painfully slow. When
the little Miami fleet floated into the broad waters of the Mississippi,
Mrs. Loury was taken sick and, despite the care of her companions, died.
The scene was an unusually sad one. Far from home, in the midst of a region
comparatively unknown and amid strangers, the little Loury girls were bereft
of a good mother and were obliged to see her buried in a rude coffin on
the bank of the great river. Loury's trading adventure proved disastrous,
for not only had it cost him his wife, but the cargo was spoiled by the
accident in the Miami and he found himself practically bankrupt. For six
months he did not learn of the death of his wife.
The late G. Volney Dorsey of, Piqua, has left on
record some interesting notes of flat-boating on the Miami, from which
I make a few extracts: "After the development of the country about
Piqua," says Dr. Dorsey, "when exportation became a necessity
in order to get the sight of a little money, flat boats were constructed
and loaded with flour, bacon, corn in the ear, cherry lumber, furniture
and other products. The boats were built at Piqua on the bank of the Miami
River, with two parallel gunwales, from sixty to seventy feet in length,
and the boat about twelve feet wide. They were built bottom side up, the
plank in the bottom running crosswise and spiked to the gunwales, with
the ends imbedded in a rabbet, cut to the gunwales deeper than the thickness
of the boards, so as to secure the bottom from catching when floating over
"Some of the men engaged in this river commerce were Joseph Bennett,
a cabinet maker, and one Tinkham, of the same trade, who would ship by
this means bedsteads in large quantities, and coast along the Mississippi,
retailing out to people along the river whatever was in demand. The risk
in navigating the Miami required great skill and presence of mind, especially
in passing over mill dams and following the channel of the river through
the "Ninety- nine Islands," as they were called, located a few
miles below Troy. The pilot of notoriety was Robert Logan, a very large
man, and when in command of one of these boats about to start on its journey,
and standing upon the deck disciplining his boatmen to use the oars, he
was looked upon with as much consideration as the greatest admiral who
ever commanded a fleet. To see one of these boats pass through the channel
of the river at these islands was indeed a most thrilling sight and it
required the most consummate skill and quickness of action to wind the
unwieldy craft through its tortuous route to a safe passage. After passing
into the Ohio, the pilot and other men not wanted to coast were discharged.
Along the banks of the Mississippi are frequently found eddies, or whirlpools,
into which the boat is liable to be drawn, and when once fairly in the
circuit it was difficult to cross the circuit and reach the straight current.
An anecdote is told of one of these early eddies in the Mississippi. On
one occasion a green hand was called to watch in the darkness of the night,
and shortly after taking his position on deck the boat, without his observation
was drawn into one of these eddies, opposite to which, on the bank of the
river stood a brick church, and the boat continued making a circuit during
the whole of his watch. When his turn was up he awoke the man to take his
place on deck, and upon being asked how he got along, replied, "First
rate, but it is the darndest place for brick churches I ever saw in my
"In connection with this history of flatboating," our narrator
continued "it was common for boatmen returning from New Orleans to
walk all the way home, passing through the wilderness north of that place
and through what was called the Indian Nations, Choctaws and Chickasaws.
Jacob Landis and David Hunter, both of whom died at Piqua after a long
residence, made this journey on foot. Another fact in connection with this
primitive commerce was the building of a large keel-boat by John Chatham
on the public square in Piqua, directly west of Orr & Leonard's warehouse.
This boat was built (the hull) and hauled to St. Mary's, the bow resting
on the wheels of a wagon, and the stern on sled runners, with eight horses,
two teams belonging to James Johnston and John Campbell. It was launched
in the St. Mary's River and was used on that stream to freight to Fort
Wayne and on the Maumee River. It was about eight feet wide by fifty-five
or sixty feet in length." Flat-boating on the Miami continued for
some years. It was attended with a good many risks, but there were those
who were willing to take them for the profits promised by the ventures.
The journey to New Orleans was considered a long one, as indeed it was,
and the return trip oftentimes afoot was not without its perils. As the
county opened up and other methods of transportation came into vogue, flatboating
was abandoned and eventually disappeared. It was superseded by the canal.
It is not generally known that George Washington was among the first to
advocate canal building. He conceived the idea of linking the Ohio with
the Potomac by a canal, and for this he received the thanks of the Virginia
House of Burgesses.
The famous Erie Canal, upon which the initiatory
work was begun in 1819,was the predecessor of the canal which runs through
Miami County. It was opened through to the lake in 1825. During the period
of settlement in the Northwest, roads, such as we know them now, were quite
as little known to the widely separated communities in Ohio as were railroads.
With very few exceptions the roads were only widened bridle paths, improved
in swampy places by patches of corduroy construction but well neigh impassable
in the spring and fall. Thus, in the absence of roads, overland transportationfor
trade was impracticable and productions of any kind were of no value so
long as they could not be shipped cheaply to the consumer by water. The
need of cheaper communication was keenly realized from the time ofthe first
settlements west of the great barrier, the Alleghenies, and most keenly
by those situated some distance from any river or stream, and thus cut
off from the usual modes of transportation by canoe , flatboat, "keel-boat,
The beginning of canal agitation in Ohio, which culminated in the building
of the artificial waterway through the county, was contemporaneous with
that in New York state. In 1817 the first resolution relating to Ohio canals
was introduced into the State Assembly, and the friends of the project
entered actively into the fall campaign to elect men pledged to vote for
internal improvements, and not without, success. Governor Brown in 1818
referred in his inaugural address to the necessity of providing cheaper
ways to the market for the Ohio farmers.
As the years went by interest in the canals increased. In 1830 the questionwas
debated in Congress when that body was asked to grant government lands
in Ohio for canal purposes. Not all the states could view this internal
improvement in Ohio as one of national interest. In the "great debate"of
that year the Senate discussed the value of a canal in Ohio to the nation.
Webster in his famous reply to Hayne declared "this very question,
"what interest has South Carolina in a canal in Ohio?" is full
of significance".This discussion took place nineteen months after
Congress had granted the lands to aid the Ohio and Indiana canals a fact
which shows the continued interest of the nation.
In 1831 the Miami and Erie Canal was completed to Dayton, which place
remained as the head of navigation six years, when the canal was completedto
Piqua. This afforded cheap transportation to Cincinnati. It was found to
be the very thing the people needed and they were not slow to take advantage
of it. The cost of the Miami and Erie Canal - 250 miles, and 32 miles offeeders
was $6,762,458.00 - a large sum but the benefits arising from this waterway
have been incalculable.
It was not until after the completion of the reservoirs or feeders that
the canal entered upon the era of its greatest prosperity. For many years
it was the means of transportation and travel. At every lock there was
always a string of boats above and below, patiently waiting their turns
to reach the other level. The sonorous and far reaching blast of the boat
horns and the " Lo-o-ow bridge" calls echoed continually from
the river to the lake. Hundreds of sixty and eighty ton boats plied up
and down between all points, while regular passenger packets, accommodating
forty to sixty passengers, connected with the stage and steamboat lines.
Not being affected by the bad roads, bad weather or breakdowns of the old
stage, nor by the wind, high or low water of the steamboats, the canal
packets were seldom delayed.
The packets which at the time of their greatest popularity were much
used by the people, are often described as the Pullman cars of the 50's.
They bore more resemblance to the limited train, as each packet was "diner,sleeper,"
"smoker," "parlor car," " baggage"and "mail
coach" combined. They created a good deal of excitement in the adjacent
country as they passed up and down the canal. The worth of the canal was
soon apparent to everyone. Shortly after it was put inoperation wheat advanced
in price. Firearms, cloth, shoes, coffee, tea, chocolate, rum, salt, gypsum
and sugar came south from the lake ports, while wheat, corn, flour, butter,
beef, cheese, tobacco, and whiskey found their way more easily to the eastern
markets. In 1829 merchandise was brought from New York City to Dayton by
the all-water route of 1,100 miles in twenty days at a cost of $17.25 per
ton. The route followed the Erie Canal to Buffalo, the lake to Cleveland,
the Ohio Canal to Portsmouth, the Ohio River to Cincinnati, and the Miami
Canal to Dayton. The "Canal Counties"at once took the lead in
industrial and agricultural growth, a lead they never lost, as today these
thirty of the eighty-eight counties contain fifty-two per cent of the state's
population. The speed of the canal packets was never great. They seldom
exceeded a four mile per hour schedule. Leaving Piqua at 8 a.m. they would
reach Cincinnati the following morning in time for breakfast. This was
considered a wonderful feat in those days. The captain of a packet was
considered a person of distinction. His word was law on his boat and passengers
who became familiar with him were called"lucky fellows." The
menus of these boats was something worth discussing in a gastronomic sense,
for the tables were supplied with the fat of the land and the meals were
enjoyed to the full.
In 1844 the Miami and Erie Canal was opened to the lake for business
and this gave a new impetus to commercial enterprise in the county. Piqua
then had nearly five thousand inhabitants and Troy was no inconsiderable
place. The county owes much to Messrs. Stephen Johnston, W.J. Jackson and
J.F.McKinney, of Piqua, who as a committee contended with the unfriendly
legislation aimed at the canal and who in a great measure were instrumental
in securing its successful operation. Piqua was at the head of navigation
from 1837to 1845, which gave it great impetus. It was intended originally
to take a feeder out of Bosson's dam above town (Troy), but that failed,
the Messrs. Bossoll demanding more for the privilege than the commissioners
would give, and by that failure the head of navigation was transferred
from Troy to Piqua, a circumstance fatal to the prosperity of Troy and
a godsend to her northern rival.
The transportation of the mails in the early days
of Miami County was poor and primitive. When one considers the mail service
of the present day, the fast mail trains, the free rural delivery, the
commodious postoffices and other mail facilities enjoyed by the people,
the mere mention of the old mail service provokes a smile. There was but
little correspondence before the introduction of steam, and letters were
far and few between. It required days to get a letter to a friend in another
state and then there was a long wait for the answer. Postage stamps had
not came in to use, but the amount of postage due was written on the outside
of the letter. Envelopes then were unknown, nor had the day arrived for
the sweetly-scented doux and the delicate linen paper. Steel pins had not
yet came from the inventive brain of Gillot and the old-fashioned quill
held sway. Nearly all the social letters began, "I take my pen in
hand to inform you that we are all well and hope that you are enjoying
the same blessing,"- a style which is still extant in some parts of
the Union and among certain classes.
When the writer of a letter had finished his task the sheet was simply
folded and addressed on the blank page. This done a stick of red sealingwax
was held over the flame of a candle and a bit of the heated substance dropped
upon the fold and allowed to cool. Now and then a writer, if she were a
young lady, would stamp the impression of her ring in the wax, if she possessed
one, and the letter was ready for the post. Mucilage then was unknown.
I have seen a number of these old letters, the ink of which is as dark
as the day when it flowed from the nib of the quill.
In 1816 the rates of postage were fixed as follows:
Thirty-six miles, six cents; eighty miles, ten cents; over one hundred
fifty miles, eighteen and three-fourths cents; over five hundred miles,
twenty-five cents. The blowing of a horn announced to the people of the
neighborhood the arrival of the mail, which was carried on horseback. The
mail bag was never filled to over flowing and the few recipients of its
contents were indeed the lucky ones.
Not until 1811 was a post office established at Piqua
and then the weekly post route was extended from Dayton.
In a copy of the Miami Reporter published at Troy in 1828 I find the
following advertisement of the postmaster:
The mail arrives from Dayton by the direct route on Tuesday and returns
on Friday. It arrives from Dayton by Milton on Saturday and returns on
Monday. The mail also arrives from Columbus by Urbana and Piqua on Saturday
morning and passes directly on to Columbus and Urbana. It arrives from
New Carlisle on Tuesday morning and returns on Wednesday morning.
..........Levi HART , P.M.
Now and then one of these old time postmasters
trusted his patrons, sometimes, no doubt, to his own sorrow, and he was
called upon to nag them up a little by inserting in the newspapers a "call
to delinquents" which read something like this:
"The postmaster, having been in the habit of giving unlimited
credit theretofore, finds it his duty to adhere strictly to the instructions
of the postmaster general. He hopes, therefore, that his friends will not
take it amiss when he assures them that no distinction will be made. No
letters will be delivered in future without pay, nor papers without the
postage being paid quarterly in advance."
Now that postage for all distances is equal and very low we can now
send a letter to the Philippines for two cents - we can hardly realize
the burden and inconvenience the high and uncertain postage rates imposed
upon the pioneers. Money was very scarce and difficult to obtain; and to
pay twenty-five cents in cash for a letter was no easy matter and worked
a hardship on the writer. Nor was the transmission of the early mails,
no matter how they were carried, conducted in safety. The mail robber was
abroad in the land then as now. Some of the mails brought to this country
seventy-five years ago came by post riders to Wheeling, and thence down
the river, to Cincinnati in mail boats, built like whaling craft, each
manned with four oarsmen and a coxswain, who were often armed, thence by
postroads to the Miami region. The voyage from Wheeling to Cincinnati occupied
six days and the return trip up stream in twelve days.
The early post offices of the county were generally log structures,
but they answered the needs of the times well enough. The postmaster was
frequently merchant, cabinet-maker and government official all in one.
His salary was not large and he never retired with a competence. Old records
in the Post Office Department show that he was never a defaulter and he
always squared up with the Government to a penny. When there were floods
or heavy snows the mails were delayed and the patrons of the office waited
till the toot of the postman's horn announced that he had overcome the
A story is told of one of the early mail routes
in the county, which will bear repeating to show the dangers that beset
the mail carrier of nearly a century ago. This carrier, one of the very
first who brought the mails into this locality, was riding through a belt
of timber when he heard a wild cry which seemed to chill his blood. Looking
up he spied a female wild cat squatted on a limb with blazing eyes and
vicious mien. His horse seemed paralyzed with terror and appeared to have
lost his senses for the moment. Before the horrified postman could collect
himself, the ferocious animal leaped downward upon him, landing squarely
upon his shoulders and burying tooth and claw in his flesh. At this moment
the horse plunged forward,carrying his double burden away at breakneck
speed, snorting out his terrorat every bound. In vain for a time did the
post rider attempt to relieve him of his determined foe. The wild cat clung
to her victim with the tenacity of death, biting deeper and deeper all
the time, while the unfortunate man was in constant agony.
At last, in passing under a limb, the rider ducked and the bough loosened
the grip of the ferocious beast, tearing her loose and throwing her to
the ground stunned. As soon as the man could check the speed of his horse
he hastened back and with a heavy stick belabored the wild cat till life
was extinct, then, half faint from loss of blood, the carrier threw the
carcass over the saddle before him and resumed his journey. When he reached
the post Office he fell from his saddle unconscious, and the old postmaster,
adjusting his spectacles, picked the wildcat up with th remark: "I
guess there is no postage due on this package."
I have tried to give in this chapter a brief account of early transportation
with in the limits of the county. The reader can compare it with the splendid
facilities we have today. In looking down the vistas of a century, backthrough
the mists of past we can observe our progress and wonder at it. The glories
of the National Road have faded before the steam and electric lines that
belt the county, and in the shadow of the handsome and commodious post
offices that dot the county today can, with little stretch of the imagination,
see the log ones which received and tributed the primitive mails. The people
trudged miles to send and receive their scanty mails, but now well-dressed
servants of the government deliver mails at their very doors, no matter
how isolated they are, and the daily newspaper is one of the burdens of
the faithful "rural router."
"From the old letter with its waxen seal we
have advanced to the convenient stamp and the fashionable letter paper,
and the postmaster no longer calls upon his patrons to settle for little
accommodations of trust. If some of the old keel boats that cut the limpid
waters of the Miami could be resurrected they would become the greatest
curiosities imaginable and the calls of the ancient boatmen would make
unique records for the modern phonograph. One must remember that within
the space of one hundred years this country has developed from the primitive
into the modern stage of its existence making a progress that is little
short of the marvelous.
For instance, when Cornelius Westfall, who kept the first Troy postoffice
when much of this country as a howling wilderness, and when, in 1811, Arthur
Brandon received from President Madison his commission as postmaster at
Piqua, little was thought of the future of our great commonwealth. Yet
from these early experiences in transportation spring the civilization
now enjoyed by the country, though, as has been said, it is difficult to
realize the advance that has been made. It has been remarked that if theold
pioneer could revisit the scenes of his abode he would be as much astonishedat
the progress of the country as are its citizens of the present day.
End Chapter 5
Harbaugh's 1909 History of Miami County Ohio