Friday, November 26, 2010

What's So 'Royal' About That?

Script No, 548 March 1, 2008

(c) 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Leaving Batavia, New York, mid-afternoon on August 28th, 1830, John Fowler's coach passes through Pembroke, stopping several miles beyond for a meal at a combination farmhouse and tavern. Fowler doesn't mention the landlord by name - possibly by this time he'd reached the Corfu area - but he was impressed with the "very comfortable repast", served up fairly swiftly, without being unduly rushed. Unlike most of the tavern meals he'd experienced, he had time to finish eating and set down his knife and fork before all the chairs were pushed away from the table and the diners scrambled back on their coach.

Back on the road again, they pass through Alden. The landscape begins to change, and not for the better. Fowler describes the scene. "The soil of these woods has no consistency beyond that of decomposed, or half decomposed, vegetable matter, wholly inadequate to sustain the weight of carriages at any time, and in the wet season, mere bog." The solution usually forced upon road builders had been in use for the past 4,000 years. The log surface, called a corduroy road because of its resemblance to corde-du-roi (kings cord) a ribbed material, was made out of logs laid perpendicular to the road's path over the soupy land, more or less floating on top of it when the surface was very wet. Often a more permanent surface would one day be laid down over the corduroy but, unfortunately for Fowler, this time he was a man ahead of his time.

If he had felt uncomfortable crossing the North Cayuga bridge a few days earlier, he wasn't any happier now. The problem was, vehicles using the road would be going across the grain, so to speak, rather than with it. ". . . nothing can be conceived more direfully hostile to the comfort of either man or beast, or the safety of the vehicle." He was glad the driver was tender-hearted and slowed the coach down to two miles an hour over most of the way. When he occasionally went twice the speed, ". . . why, then, good bye to description, and to seats of honor, and to all other seats; 'twas rather too much for a joke: the reader's imagination, if tolerably fertile, will best help me out."

He's later told that labor's way too expensive on the frontier for any more elegant solutions. He can't know it, but corduroy roads will continue to be used - during the American Civil War, on World War II's Eastern Front and during the building of the Alaska Highway.

Finally, as the day begins to wear away, they enter Buffalo, make their way into the village and pull up in front of their destination, the Buffalo House. This inn, run by E. Powell, Jr., sat near today's Main and Church streets, close to St. Paul's Episcopal Church and just opposite the site where the offices of the newly-chartered Bank of Buffalo will be erected the following year.

Not waiting for his baggage to be off-loaded, he heads off the terrace of land his hostelry sits on and descends to the shore of Lake Erie. ". . . which I found my way into and enjoyed the luxury of a moonlight dip in its refreshing waters." He doesn't say what he did for a bathing costume. Presumably he had the place all to himself at this hour. We'll discretely turn our heads.

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