Stages Over The Forest Line

 

During stage times in this vicinity, Dean Butterfield, a well known driver over the "Forest Line," used to relate the following anecdote to the "outside passengers" who rode with him. On those old coaches, it was always considered the most desirable place to ride on the outside, and there were often as many as six on the top of the coach with the driver. Two or three sat on the driver's seat, and three or four on the stage roof, with their feet hanging down back of those who were with the driver. There was always an iron railing around the side and rear of the coach that extended to the front edge of the driver's seat so there was little danger of any person, or thing, falling off that was once placed on the roof. It was possible to enjoy the scenery here, and not the least appreciated part was the entertaining stories told by most of the drivers.

Mr. Butterfield would inform any passengers who were timid at the coach being over crowded, that: "I once took 22 passengers safely from Bellows Falls into Boston, including one man who weighed 280 pounds, and he rode all the way on a trunk placed for him on the top of this very stage. It happened on that trip that John Quincy Adams and his wife were among the inside passengers. They had been visiting Saratoga Springs. Mr. Adams asked me on arriving at Nashua, the end of my route, to continue on to Boston, because he `felt perfectly safe with such a driver.' So I changed with the Lowell driver and went into Boston with my stage and 22 people all right. There was on the Forest Road at that time a very large amount of travel in the spring summer and fall-' people went to the Springs in the summer and to the Falls in the spring'--as the great Dodge used to say at his concerts. There were few mammoth trunks in those days and all baggage paid extra charges. In the winter the passengers were mostly business men going to and from Boston markets."

The "Forest Line" turnpike was an extension of the Green Mountain turnpike that came from Rutland, crossing the Connecticut River at South Charlestown, four miles north of Bellows Falls, and continuing via Alstead and Surry to Keene and Boston.

An advertisement in the Bellows Falls Gazette in 1839 gives information regarding the facilities of staging and railroad transportation between Bellows Falls and Boston in that year. The advertisement was surmounted by a large cut of an old-fashioned stage coach drawn by six prancing horses and was as follows:

"NEW ARRANGEMENTS

"Forest Line of Stages

"LEAVES Bellows Falls, Vermont, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 4 A. M. via Drewsville, N. H., Alstead, Marlow, Stoddard, Hancock, Greenfield, Lyndeboro, Wilton, Milford and arrives in Nashua in season for the 41/x, o'clock Train of Cars for Boston the same day.

"RETURNING, leaves Nashua on the arrival of the Morning Train of Cars from Boston Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and arrives at Bellows Falls at 9 o'clock P. M.

"STAGES LEAVE BELLOWS FALLS the next morning for Troy, Albany and Saratoga via Townshend and Stratton.

"For Montpelier via Charlestown and Woodstock-for Middlebury and Burlington, Chester and Rutland.

"This is considered the best route from the Connecticut River to Boston.

"BUSS, MORRISON & CO., Props. "Bellows Falls, June 1, 1839."

"TURNPIKES" USED IN VERMONT BETWEEN THE ERAS OF "POST-ROADS" AND "HIGHWAYS"

The era of "turnpikes" in this section of the Connecticut River Valley, which succeeded the years of the old post-road, and later became a part of the present highway system, was inaugurated during the very last years of the 18th century, and continued in this town and vicinity until about 1840. The name "turnpike" originated from the "gate on a road to obstruct passengers, in order to take toll-originally consisting of cross bars armed with pikes, and turning on a post or pin." A "turnpike road" was a "road made by individuals, or by a corporation, on which tolls were collected," and their construction was a popular mode of investment.

The first through this town was the "Green Mountain Turnpike," chartered by the legislature November 3, 1799. It extended from the east line of Clarendon to Bellows Falls. Among its first owners and incorporators were John Atkinson, the Englishman who invested his money in the building of the canal here and lost the most of it; Dr. William Page, the civil engineer who built the canal, father of the late Governor John B. Page, and the first postmaster of Bellows Falls; and Daniel Farrand, one of the first lawyers in this town, later judge of the Supreme Court.

There were to be four gates on the road, one near its east end in Rockingham, one in Cavendish, one in Ludlow and one in Shrewsbury. The tolls established by law varied from 30 cents for a single horse carriage or coach, to 56 cents if drawn by two horses, with a schedule of additions to be made for additional horses, and varying amounts for different animals. These rates were to be collected at each of the four gates. However, the charter provided that "no person shall be obliged to pay any toll at either of said gates who shall be going to or from public worship or to or from any grist mill or saw mill, or on any militia duty or on the ordinary duty of family concerns," which it might seem would cut out a material amount of the tolls. Among the other provisions of the charter, toll gatherers must not delay travelers, and the corporation should be liable for any damages because of the insufficiency of the road. If any person should turn out for the purpose of going around any gate, he should forfeit triple toll as a fine, and plain signs should be displayed at each gate showing the rates of toll.

A charter was granted in 1807 to a company for the building of a turnpike connecting with the Green Mountain Turnpike at Chester and continuing over the mountain to Manchester, Vt. This later became a part of the most popular stage route between Boston and Saratoga Springs, and one toll gate on the west side of the mountain has been kept in use collecting toll until within a very few years, being the last gate on a turnpike in Vermont.

Another charter was granted by the legislature of 1800 to the Connecticut River Turnpike Company to build a turnpike through 'Rockingham. It was empowered to build a road "from the new turnpike north of the bridge at Bellows Falls to the south line of Thetford, in such place or places as said corporation shall choose." There were to be four gates in the distance, and the rates were the same as those quoted for the Green Mountain Turnpike except that they began with 31 cents instead of 56, and all were correspondingly lower. It was provided, however, that "no one of the gates contemplated in this act shall be erected in the Town of Windsor."

These turnpikes were built and maintained by private capital for about forty years, after which the different towns through which they were laid arranged to purchase them and they became important parts of the present highway system of the state.

Older residents still refer to certain sections of road as "the turnpike."

 

Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.

 

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