January 17, 2016

Description of Stagecoach Journey From Stanford to Somerset, 1871


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[July 30, 1871] -


Correspondent Cincinnati Commercial

SOMERSET, PULASKI CO., KY., July 30, 1871.


Big things have been going on at Stanford the past week. The County Fair was held and a newspaper started. This paper is called the Democrat, and is Democratic in politics, but it is not sufficiently impressed with the shortness of life, for it has this paragraph: "We publish today a letter from Hon. A. H. Stephens on the New Departure. It is worth reading." 

The fair being over, people naturally enough wanted to go home, and this crowded the Somerset stage[coach] to its utmost capacity. I got on top with three others and a nigger. It was a hot place. Even the nigger sweat great drops of perspiration, and said in his agony that he would never go to another fair. The heat suffocated us, the sun scorched us, and the dust choked us. It had not rained for weeks, and all things seemed to have conspired to make us miserable. Philosophy states that black draws heat, and philosophy is quite correct. The top of the stage was covered with black carpet bags, black bundles, and the nigger was a very black one. The only things on the stage not black were my boots. To make our condition still more desperate, if that was possible, an insane man put a black dog into a black box and put it upon the black coach for the black nigger to sit on. The dog would not accept the temperature of the situation, and howled, and clawed, and foamed at the mouth, and wanted to come out among the other passengers, which would have been pleasant, as the whole top of the coach was no longer than the top of an ordinary cooking stove, and about as hot as one while a 4th of July dinner is being cooked.

Then the road was a dear piece of human ingenuity. During war times the Government had laid ten or twelve miles of it with corduroy, ever which the coach jolted about as it would over cross ties, laid far enough apart to let in the wheels a comfortable jolting distance.

But every time I looked into the coach I had reason to be thankful that I was on top. The condition of the miserable creatures inside was enough to draw tears of sympathy from a grindstone. They caught all the dust, for it seemed to blow in at both sides with savage delight. Then the sun went right in upon them, for if they shut it out they deprived themselves of air, and would have died suddenly, instead of by degrees. In my comparative comfortable condition on top, with the dog and nigger, I could hear the sighs and groans from the infernal regions below, "Oh, Lordy!" "Oh, my soul!" "Oh, my shins!" "Oh, my band box!" were a few of the expressions of the miserables in their misery. If they had been members of the Legislature of the sort who don't want any railroads in Kentucky, I should have taken a fiendish delight in hearing them howl and swear. I should hope for their torment to still further increase and their heads knock together with such force as to cause them to fight and tear hair. Such things have happened in stage coaches, and I account for it upon grounds of the cat principle in human nature. Closely confine a dozen cats under circumstances of great personal discomfort, and they will fight with tremendous energy.

I asked my fellow traveler, the nigger, if he lived in this section. He said he did, "but," he continued, as a lunge of the front wheels threw him up some three feet, "but I am going West; this country lacks development."


Some seven miles this side of Stanford we passed through a long line of ridges, called the Knobs. A little distance to the east the line of survey of the road crosses, or rather goes through those knobs, requiring a tunnel two thousand feet long.

From the elevation a magnificent view is had of the entire Blue Grass region. There is nothing to shut out the view except its extensiveness. The blue dimness of distance is the only limit. The location of Lexington is very plain, and there are those who talk about seeing a cloud of smoke that hovers over Cincinnati. But, perhaps, it is smoke from Nicholasville, a large manufacturing city this side.

After crossing the Knobs the country becomes poorer, but presents much the same physical aspect. It is undulating, and as you pass on this undulation assumes larger proportions, and you find yourself among hills and hollows of disagreeable proportions, either for travel or railroad building.


This is a small place in Lincoln County, just before the Pulaski County line is reached. Here we found the usual number of loafers lounging around the hotels and groceries. Hotels and groceries are all there is of the place, and these are exceedingly disagreeable looking and dilapidated in appearance. Half a mile this side we stopped for dinner at a house by the road line, and were well entertained for the modest sum of fifty cents.

Refreshed by dinner, we resumed our several places in the dust covered coach. The sun shone out gloriously hot, and the dust vied with the sun in adding to the disagreeableness of the situation. The only relief we found was in steep hills, where we had an opportunity to get out and walk. The driver was the proprietor of the line, and did what he could to make us comfortable. But he could not control the sun's rays nor keep down the dust. Ten miles out from here we were met by a lady and her two children, whose vehicle had broken down, and who were desperately anxious to get home. But the driver could not make room for them, and we left them in the woods, to ponder over the beauties of locomotion in Kentucky, and return thanks that they had a Legislature with a deep veneration for the Constitution. Still, it was Saturday night, they had been from home a week, the old man would be looking for them with longing eyes, there was no other stage for forty-eight hours, and perhaps they would have preferred less veneration for the Constitution, and less probability of a camp in the wilderness. In wicked moments I sometimes wish that those of the Legislature who voted against the railroad were strung along the road from Stanford to Somerset, compelled to breathe all the dust that's kicked up, and hear all the curses that come from the lips of desperate passengers. I should want such one to be located where there was no shade, and about ten miles from water and an equal distance from any still-house. This last provision would be the cruelest of all, and the one most likely to bring them to terms.

About 7 o'clock we climbed a steep hill and found ourselves in 


The stage rolled up to the door of the Ingram House, and the passengers rolled out. From all parts of town crowds drifted toward us to see who had come. The advent of the stage into Somerset makes an interesting occasion. It comes but once a day, and is the only means of communication with the great world that roars and thunders away off at the other end of the line. Occasionally a Somerseter goes off into the world, and when he comes back, if he ever does, he is an object of deep veneration and interest. People flock about him to hear him give in his experience and tell what sights he saw and sounds he heard away off yonder in the world. And hope runs high that the world will some day be brought here, and the iron horse plunge and snort through these hills and hollows, only seven hours from Cincinnati.

"Walk into supper," said the cherry voice of the landlord, and we walked. A long table groaned under the load of chicken and biscuit. People asked of the newcomers how about the election, and how about the railroad. A late imported said that he didn't care a d--d about the election, but he thought the prospect that Somerset would get the road was pretty good. Somebody would get the road, for Congress would pass the charter this coming December as sure as the sun shines, and Somerset was on the most direct route. He thought we should be up and doing, and watch Danville with a critic's eye.

I learned that Captain W. C. Crozier, who has been surveying routes through Kentucky and Tennessee for about two years, was ten miles south of here doing some patch work in the line and fishing for the best point to cross Cumberland River. At 10 o'clock I heard someone shout: "Here come the railroad," and upon looking out saw Captain Crozier and party ride up. They all looked alike in the moonlight, and might have passed for Ku Klux. In fact, they are so sun-bronzed that they look pretty much alike in the daytime.

One of the surveying party is Professor Arnold, of Cornell University, New York, who is tramping through the mountains and living a camp life for the mere love of it. All he gets for his labor is his board, and that is not choice. This labor of love he calls taking his vacation. His intentions are, no doubt, good, but with the thermometer manifesting the partiality for point one hundred that it now does, there must be something the matter with his judgment.


The first county through which the survey passes is Kenton. This county contains wealth in the amount of some sixteen millions of dollars. Covington, however, holding the greater portion of it.


This county is not touched by the Central Road, but the survey of the Cincinnati Road passes through the center of it. It is one of the best counties in the State, containing taxable properties to the amount of about three millions of dollars. The surface is rolling and undulating, the upper end being rough. Wheat, corn, and oats are grown in great abundance, and there is no better county for fruit in the State. The timber is mostly white and black oak, poplar and walnut. Through this county the line of survey passes along the dividing ridge between the waters of the Kentucky and Licking Rivers. Williamstown is the county-seat, a town of about eight hundred inhabitants. Coming out of Grant, the survey passes through the corners of three counties, Owen, Scott, and Harrison, thence through 


Scott is a wealthy county, containing seven millions of dollars in taxable property, and having not a foot of railroad within her borders. It is one among the best counties in the State. Through it the survey still follows the dividing ridge between the waters of the Kentucky and Licking Rivers. Georgetown, the county seat, is a flourishing town of over two thousand inhabitants. That the Central road was not located through these counties is a matter of surprise, considering that the distance to Lexington is twenty miles shorter, and the country much better. There may have been some job work in it.


This is <i>the</i> county of the State, considered in the light of fertile soil and fine stock. Its taxable wealth is about sixteen millions of dollars, and its capital city is Lexington.


This is one of the smallest, and, in proportion to its size, one of the richest counties in the State. The average value of land is about thirty dollars an acre, and the taxable wealth of the county about four millions of dollars. It is a fine fruit, grain, stock, wine and people county. The surface is gently rolling, and Kentucky can boast no finer farming country than that of Jessamine.


South of Jessamine is Garrard, also a good county. Its taxable wealth is fully four millions of dollars. Lancaster, a town of about one thousand population, is the county seat. It is a finely timbered section, containing sugar maple, poplar, hickory, black walnut, white oak, black oak, &c.


This county contains much land that is good and much that is poor. But it is quite a wealthy county, containing taxable property to the amount of nearly five millions of dollars. Stanford is the county seat.


This is the second county in size in the State, being about seventy miles across it at the widest part. The survey of the Cincinnati road passes through the center. Its taxable property amounts to bout two millions and a quarter. But in minerals it is the richest county on the line of the proposed road in the State. It contains about eighty thousand acres of coal lands, affording a working vein full four feet thick. All the Cumberland coal that goes down the river to Nashville is from this country. Its timber is excellent, consisting of white and black oak, cedar, pine, poplar, chestnut and walnut.

The fact that there is so much coal in this region is but imperfectly understood at Lexington. They consider that their only relief from the monopoly of the Central road is to build the Big Sandy line. It is much nearer to the coal of this county than that in the direction of Big Sandy.

The coal trade of this county amounts to considerable; in fact, is is the only business bringing any money to the county at present, but it is very much circumscribed for the want of transportation facilities. The only outlet is down the Cumberland River, and then only during "high tides." It is shipped in barges, and the barges sold at Nashville for wood.

Never did the parched earth need rain more than this section of country needs a railroad. Everything that is sold out of the county has to go by dirt road, frequently almost impassable, and all supplies have to come in the same way.

Poor as this county is, it could afford to give a quarter of a million of dollars for the Cincinnati Southern road. Its coal could then be shipped at all times of the year, its produce would find a ready market, its real estate would enhance in value, and a new era of prosperity begin. It is the first coal county struck south of Cincinnati, and this would give it the advantage of a monopoly of the Lexington market.


Everywhere I hear Cincinnati praised as a good market. It is not subject to "gluts," like the Louisville market. A few dozen extra of eggs does not cause a decline. This makes the people anxious to send their supplies there, but those south of the Kentucky River are in a manner cut off from the Cincinnati market. They can ship to Louisville, by the Lebanon Branch, but not to Cincinnati, unless they cross the gulf of the Kentucky River. Nearly everything south of the river goes to Louisville, and where a man sells there he is most apt to buy. Indeed, at every turn we meet with a demand for the Southern road, and the question is, how long will Cincinnati suffer before she applies the remedy?


By the route I have followed to this place, it will be seen that the taxable value of property of the counties through which the road passes amounts to about fifty six millions of dollars. There are several counties touched which I have not enumerated, although they lie, for a greater or less distance, along the line of survey. Add these, and also the counties tributary, and we will have a taxable value of about one hundred millions of dollars! This is startling, but it is true. By the Danville route or the Richmond route the estimate will not be far out of the way. Whichever route the road takes, it will pass through a country of unsurpassed richness. It can not go through Kentucky without. I know that the main object of the Cincinnati road is to tap the Southern railroad system, but inducements by the wayside should not be lost sight of. At the lowest estimate, the road from the Ohio to the Tennessee border will draw the trade from a section the property of which is worth a hundred million of dollars. Even the Louisville and Nashville road has nothing like this, unless its branches be considered, and the Cincinnati road could have branches also, and would  have them.

H. V. R. [1]


[1] "The Route of the Railroad." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Cincinnati, OH. August 5, 1871. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.


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