Monday, October 19, 2009

Nice Accommodations

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Leaving Syracuse and passing through the outlying settlement of Salina, John Fowler’s coach heads southwest, passing through Marcellus and heading into Skaneateles, at the northern end of the lake of the same name, the town formed back in February from the aforementioned Town of Marcellus. The village itself, which Fowler calls pleasantly situated, will be incorporated three year from now. He’s impressed with its “several genteel residences” and mentions its Friends (or Quaker) boarding school. He may also have passed by a brick Baptist Church and Solomon Earll’s gristmill, both built this year. He probably also went past the Sherwood Tavern, built in 1807. It’s still there now - considerably enlarged - in the twenty-first century.

Continuing on they reach the Cayuga County village of Auburn around 8:30 in the evening. Fowler is fairly satisfied with that day’s progress, seventy miles in twelve-and-a-half hours, “which, taking into account the state of the roads, the heat of the day &c. is by no means to be complained of.” There they check into the American Hotel.

The Sherwood tavern he’d passed back in Skaneateles had been built by Isaac Sherwood. Auburn’s American Hotel where Fowler will spend the night, was completed this year by stagecoach magnate John M. Sherwood, son of Isaac. Fowler is impressed.

“ . . . an establishment upon a very extended scale . . . of freestone, five stories high, with piazzas, twenty feet or more in width, up to the third story. Many of the apartments are large and elegantly furnished, and I am informed they can, if requisite, make up 250 or 300 beds. It has been recently erected, and, excepting at New York, is quite the best inn I have seen in the State . . .” It probably should go without saying, that as passengers on the “Old Line” of coaches, also owned by Sherwood, they were expected to stay at the American.

There was competition. Directly across Genesee Street stood the Western Exchange hotel, now owned by the rival Pioneer Line. Richard F. Palmer’s [yes, our Dick Palmer] 1977 book The “Old Line Mail”: Stagecoach Days in Upstate New York”, contains illustrations of the two buildings. It’s obvious the two were attempting to one-up each other, with their multiple columns, chimneys, balconies and cupolas. The American won out as far as entrances are concerned – it had two. But the Exchange did win out on tradition. Lafayette had stayed here on his 1826 American journey.

Fowler’s certainly impressed enough with the American. “. . . so much has it pleased me, in fact, that I am tempted to forego my half resolve, not to make trial of a public dormitory again in the country. I shall adventure this once upon the credit of fair promise and will report progress in the morning.” Any bets?

You’re probably betting the bugs would once again drive him bonkers. You lose. “For once appearances have not been deceitful. I have slept undisturbed, excepting that I was aroused at a pretty early hour this morning by the loud pealing of thunder . . .” At least he can’t blame that on an innkeeper.

There was one special Auburn institution that Fowler wanted to see. Temporarily, of course. Next time.


Received the following amplification on the recent Hamilton College script - "88 in the Shade" - from listener/reader, Civil War historian, and James S. Wadsworth biographer, Wayne Mahood, a graduate of the college – long after Fowler passed through, of course.

“For what it's worth, Philopeuthian was considered by the Phoenicians the lesser of the two societies, for its members came from less wealthy and established families. But the origin of its name? Who knows?

And, for what it's worth, the college was recovering from a bitter fight between the board of trustees, including abolitionist and alumnus Gerrit Smith, and the president.

Even worse, not too long before this, when James S. Wadsworth may have been a student there, some students hauled a Revolutionary War cannon up the hill from Clinton, then up some two or three flights to fire at a detested tutor. The tutor escaped harm, but not his coat. The miscreants were dismissed, then returned after their parents protested the dismissal.

Young Wadsworth's father may have had his young son return home after this incident, though I can't prove it.”

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