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History Corner: Stagecoach Lines Enliven the Village

Photo by Don Hirsch.
Montpelier and other prominent towns were key spots on the pre-railroad stagecoach lines. There were, in the time between 1800 and 1830, six or seven different “daily, tri-weekly, or semi-weekly stages coming into this place,” according to “The History of Montpelier from 1765 to 1860” by Daniel P. Thompson. While stages were of varying levels of quality, Thompson describes how the stage on the thoroughfare from Boston to Burlington and Montreal was drawn by four or six “superb horses’’ that were “the finest ever known in New England.” 

Stages arrived every day loaded down with passengers from Boston and Burlington. Additionally, a stage from Barton, and another from Danville arrived in the village every other day, while stages from Johnson, Topsham, Chelsea, and Waitsfield arrived twice a week. Many passengers stayed overnight and dined in local establishments. Also according to Thompson, “These stages brought a large and constant influx of the more monied class of people who tarried at least long enough to leave considerable sums of money every week, not only with the local innkeepers, but also with the merchants and traders.” This made the village of Montpelier “far more prosperous than since the opening of the railroad, which she (Montpelier) had so drained herself in aiding to put into operation.”

Several travelers kept diaries of their stage line travels. According to the Autumn 1969 article, “Early Roads and Taverns of the Champlain Valley” by Allan S. Everest, the English traveler John Lambert wrote in the summer of 1800, “the road was so rocky rough that we did not arrive to town until noon. For most part the road lay through woods, where it required all the skill and dexterity of the driver to avoid deep ruts, huge stones, logs of wood, felled timber, stumps of trees. The road was very narrow, and these obstructions continually obliged us to run in a serpentine direction.” 

Many taverns had a public table where everyone dined together. Lambert wrote he found the meals excellent and varied. For breakfast he ate eggs, fried pork, beef steak, apple tart, pickles, cheese, cider, tea, and toast dipped in melted butter or milk. Taverns generally had one large room upstairs with half a dozen beds — usually affording each guest their own bed, which, at the time, was a recent departure from the previous practice of putting two to three in a bed.

“Travelers are not, therefore, liable to have a strange man step into their bed as was the case formerly,” Lambert wrote.