An Account of Stagecoaches Stranded in Snow in 1860s

Submitted by Shannon Spencer Burkle, who found this narrative in her father’s grandparents’ house, who moved to Middletown from Higganum.

From the estate of Marion Harvey via Mary Newton, we have this account of early stage travel in and around Durham [and Haddam and Killingworth] and how a snowstorm affected same about 1860.

Edwin Harvey owned the house about half a mile east of the Haddam and Durham town line. It was on the Harvey Road 400 or 500 feet east of the Middletown/Killingworth Turnpike and about a mile north of the Durham/Haddam Turnpike.

At that time, three stages went each way daily between Haddam and Durham and five each way daily between Middletown and Killingworth. People were in the habit of stopping there if anything happened, such as a stormy, rainy night or a sick horse. It was a common occurrence for two or three stages to put up there in bad weather.

The house was built in the so-called saltbox style prior to 1787. It was 35’x40′ on the ground. It had two large front rooms 16′ square with a fireplace in each. Between these two rooms was the big stone chimney with hall and staircase in front. Back of these was a kitchen 14’x24′ in the middle with bedroom at one end and pantry at the other. Upstairs were two bedrooms about 16′ square with two bedsteads in each room. There was himself, wife, three children and a hired man in the family.

Early in the winter, a big storm came from the North east starting in the morning and lasting three days. Then the wind shifted into the Northwest drifting everything full faster than they could shovel it out. At the time, Eunice Sanderson was visiting the daughter, Olive. As people were in the habit of stopping so much, the horse barn had been added to until there was room for 70 horses. There was also a sheep barn, a cow barn, and ox barn on the place.

Soon after noon, Henry Francis and wife were coming from Middletown. As they tried to get through a drift near the sheep barn, the pole broke off their sled. Mr. Harvey and hired man worked with Mr. Francis putting on a new pole. At this time a Tin peddler came along. He couldn’t get through the drift either so his horses were put in the sheep barn where Mr. Francis’ horses were. About 4 o’clock, the hired man went up to feed the oxen at Ed’s ox barn which was West of the turnpike about four or five hundred feet; a half mile from the house.

At the top of the hill, near the barn, he found three stages bound from Middletown to Killingworth stuck in the drift that always formed in a storm. On that account, there was a wood road from opposite the ox barn which went east through pastures to a lane leading to the cow barn. The hired man led these stages through this road and Lane past the cow barn to the horse barn located twenty feet east of the Harvey house. Each stage had four horses and several passengers.

About a mile south of the Harvey four-corners was another four corners where John Hickey lived. At this corner there were thirteen stages stuck. Six of them had been traveling on the Haddam/Durham Turnpike and seven on the Middletown/Killingworth Turnpike. About dusk, John Hickey led these stages through the woods and lots to the Harvey house and horse barns. This made sixteen four-horse stages, two two-horse stages — 68 horses in all. After all had arrived there were 80 people. The women and children took turns occupying the chairs and beds. The men and boys found chunks of wood to sit on or lay on the floor to sleep.

Ed had turnips, potatoes, onions, apples, cider and wine stored in the cellar. He had recently butchered four year-old hogs, dressing off over 300 pounds each and a big Durham bull three or four years old that dressed off at 640 pounds. They had made about twenty gallons of mincemeat. This was their winter’s supply of food. For the animals, plenty of hay and grain [was] stored in the barns.

The drivers and passengers made the most of Ed’s food and the tin peddlers’ pie plates. Everyone went to work; the women cooking and the men taking care of the animals and cutting wood. The ladies pared apples making about 20 pies; apple and mince every day. Add to that bread, doughnuts, baked beans and Indian pudding. Huge kettles of soups and stews simmered while the pies baked in the ovens. All the fresh pork and half the beef disappeared during the week following the storm. After the guests had all departed, there was no hay left at the horse and cow barn. As soon as the roads were open, Mr. Harvey had to hunt around to buy hay for his cows and horses.

To prepare for another storm, he went to Mr. Henry Francis and bought five barrels of cider and some wine. He went to his sister Cynthia’s, bought a steer, fatted and butchered it. After the crowd had been gone about six months, he managed to collect $50 from the two stage companies. That was all the compensation received for taking care of 80 people and 68 horses for a week.

Another rainstorm came about six months after the snow, making roads impassable and washing out bridges. As of this storm, the stage companies had paid nothing so Ed Harvey told them there was no place at his house and barn for horses or passengers. That is why the stage companies coughed up the $50 referred to earlier.

Note: The tin ware man referred to in the beginning of this story carried bed pans, steel knives and forks, spoons, tin cups, tin plates. How’s that for being prepared?

Photo not of Higganum. Stock photo off internet of stagecoach in snow.

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