The history of New England’s post roads and their stagecoach stops mirror the history of the country. The roads date back to the Pequots who used the trails that grew into the post roads for generations. The same trails carried John Winthrop on his journeys from Boston to Springfield.
Traffic on the roads shrank as King Philip’s War turned them into dangerous gauntlets. They expanded again as the war ended and horses made travel more enticing and the mails more efficient.
The heyday of the stagecoaches in the 1800s really drove a blossoming of the post roads. They grew from the first Upper Post Road into a maze of roads that wound their way into every corner of New England.
These stagecoaches created economic booms wherever they went, bringing commerce as well as jobs. Stagecoach stops, needed every 12 to 20 miles or so, were essential, especially in the early days of the stagecoach era. These inns provided income to their owners, and many others: drivers, ticket agents, coach makers, blacksmiths, stable hands and farmers.
Today, the vestiges of the stagecoach era remain with us. Many of the roads New Englanders travel today were once used by the stagecoaches. And along those roads, some of the old stagecoach stops still serve up food, drink and comfort to the weary traveler.
Here are six still open to the public today, one in each New England state:
Old Riverton Inn
Several years before the American Revolution, stagecoaches and stagecoach stops appeared on the Upper Post Road from New York to Boston, and from Hartford to Norwich and Providence. The war interrupted service, but resumed when it wound down. Stagecoach service expanded quickly on the new turnpike roads and postal routes.
Levi Pease began a stage service between New York and Boston on the Upper Post Road. He got the mail contract for all of New England from the U.S. Congress in 1789. Then he expanded his business into Northern New England and to Albany.
By 1827 Connecticut had 26 stage routes. By then it took only 36 hours to travel between New York and Boston vs. the previous six days. Taverns were generally 12 to 18 miles apart. Drivers announced their arrival at stagecoach stops by blowing on a trumpet.
During the early part of the 19th century, Connecticut developed the most complex network of toll roads in New England. The state had few centers of wealth like Providence or Boston, and market towns competed fiercely for the trade of the back country. Between 1792 and 1839, 1,600 miles of turnpike road were created in Connecticut. The Talcott Mountain Turnpike was a key part of the route from Hartford to Albany.
Jess Ives opened the Ives Tavern or Ives Hotel in 1796 along the Hartford-to-Albany Route in Riverton, Conn. Today it’s known as the Old Riverton Inn and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It overlooks a wild and scenic section of the Farmington River.
The artist who painted murals on the walls of the Hobby Horse Bar also painted murals for the 1936 New York World’s Fair. The inn features bar stools made of saddles on kegs.
For more information about the Old Riverton Inn, click here.
Coach Stop Inn
Stagecoach lines began regular service between Maine towns after the Revolutionary War. The first stages ran between Portland and Portsmouth, N.H., a journey that took three days in 1787. By 1825, a stage could make the journey between Bangor and Portland in 36 hours.
The Coach Stop Inn in Bar Harbor was built in 1804 for newcomers who came to build homes, farms and ships on Mount Desert Island. Known as the Halfway Tavern, it often hosted sailors in the early days. Patrons would arrive by sea and take a stagecoach from the tavern into Maine’s interior towns.
Wealthy patrons charmed by fresh air, beautiful scenery and hiking trails made Bar Harbor a fashionable summer resort during the Gilded Age. In 1947, a fire that burned much of Maine also destroyed some of Bar Harbor’s hotels and mansions. The oldest hotel to survive the fire is now the Coach Stop Inn, a luxurious bed and breakfast.
For more information, click here.
Longfellow’s Wayside Inn
The Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Mass., boasts that it’s the oldest operating inn in the United States. It has accommodated travelers along the Boston Post Road since 1716. Just a few miles down the road from historic Minuteman National Historical Park in Concord, it began life 300 years ago as Howe’s Tavern. David Howe ran it as an extension of his own home.
David handed the property to his son Ezekial – a soldier in Sudbury’s militia during the American Revolution. The Howe family continued to operate and expand the inn until 1861, serving traffic between Worcester and Boston.
The inn stopped operating as a traditional inn in 1861. The owners converted it into something more like a boarding house and dance hall.
But in 1862, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sealed the inn’s place in history. Longfellow visited the building and published his now-famous Tales of the Wayside Inn in 1863. From that time on, the inn was the destination of tourists and literary pilgrims who wanted to see first-hand the inspiration for Longfellow’s book.
In 1923, the inn took another important step into immortality when automobile magnate Henry Ford bought the property. Ford then began the restoration and expansion that gave shape to the inn’s current configuration.
For more information, click here.
Coach Stop Restaurant & Tavern
In 1786 the legislature in New Hampshire expanded the system of post roads to travel to four sections of the state. Though the earlier post roads moved mail and people between Portsmouth and some points west and north, only later did the routes reach deep into the western portion of the state.
One such line ran from Portsmouth across the state’s southern tier over to Amherst and back, creating the need for taverns and inns along the way.
Londonderry’s Coach Stop Restaurant & Tavern began life in 1810 as the home of the town’s doctor. Later in the 1800s it was maintained as Plummer’s Tavern, located at the junction of two post roads. One carried coaches east and west to Nashua and the other carried traffic north and south to Manchester and Concord. For a map of all stagecoach lines operating in New Hampshire in 1833, click here.
Today the restaurant and inn maintains much of its historical charm, with signs of the original elements of its days as a coach stop remaining intact.
For more information, click here.
Stagecoach House Inn
Settlers first came to Wyoming, a historic village in Richmond, Rhode Island, in 1757. Wyoming grew and prospered when the Brand’s Iron Works was founded across the Wood River in Hopkinton in 1787. Sometime around 1800, an inn was built at a strategic crossroads in Wyoming.
Textile mills sprang up in the area, and in 1815 the New London Turnpike opened right past the inn. The new road brought stagecoach riders between Richmond and New London, Connecticut
By 1835, the New London Turnpike – now Route 3 – connected Providence and New London. It proved to be faster and more direct than the Old Post Road, which followed the coastal route. The village thrived, and for many years an inn once known as Dawley Tavern continued as a stagecoach stop.
By the 20th century, industry began to founder along the Wood River. That, however, allowed Hopkinton and Wyoming to retain much of their historic 19th century character. The National Register of Historic Places lists almost a square mile of the two villages as the Wyoming Village Historic District. It includes the old ironworks, Greek Revival, Late Victorian, and Federal architecture in both Wyoming and Hopkinton.
Today the Dawley Tavern is called the Stagecoach House Inn at 1136 Main Street.
For more information, click here.
At the start of the 19th century, ancient footpaths connected Burlington and Montpelier in Vermont. In 1805, the 36-mile Winooski Turnpike along the Winooski River was chartered to connect the two major towns.
The old Winooski Turnpike turned into U.S. Route 2, the main highway connecting the White Mountains to the Adirondacks. It cuts through Waterbury, the town where Ben and Jerry’s make their ice cream.
In 1826 either a Mr. Parmalee or a lawyer named Dan Carpenter had a structure built on the corner of the Winooski Turnpike and what is now Route 100. The building served as a tavern and inn for travelers and as a meeting place for locals.
By the mid-1800s, a farming family named the Henrys owned the inn. Their eccentric daughter Nettie married an Ohio rubber baron, Albert Spencer. Nettie smoked cigarettes, chewed tobacco and wore a celluloid eyeshade. She expanded and improved the old family house in Queen Anne Style.
Nettie Spencer died in 1947. The home was later run as a rooming house and fell into disrepair. A young couple from Boston bought the property in 1985 and rebuilt the house. Today it’s the Old Stagecoach Inn, a historic bed-and-breakfast in the center of downtown Waterbury.
For more information about the Stagecoach Inn click here.
This story about New England stagecoach stops was updated in 2021. If you enjoyed this story, you may also want to read about six Revolutionary taverns here.
Read about John Jay and his visits to the taverns and inns operated by the Phelps family in Connecticut. https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/jayprint/
The Old Riverton Inn was right beside our “Barkhamsted Lighthouse Village” My people was named the “Barkhamstwd Lighthouse” due to stagecoaches using our village as a marker to next stop – Jess Ives played a big part in the life of Lighthouse People – you can view more on our Barkhamsted Lighthouse research at http://www.conidubois.wordpress.com
Treadwell’s Inn in Ipswich MA (later known as the Agawam House) was an important stagecoach stop between Boston and Portland. For over one hundred years it was the town’s first-class hotel. President Monroe was a guest, and Daniel Webster often stayed there while in town for sessions of the local court. The most famous guest was the Marquis de LaFayette, who was entertained for several hours on Aug. 31, 1824 before continuing on his day’s journey to Newburyport. John Adams visited Ipswich frequently during the 1770’s in his capacity as a lawyer and always stopped at Captain Nathaniel Treadwell’s inn. The building sits across from the North Green but is unrecognizable. Its porches are long gone, and the exterior is wrapped in fading aluminum siding. Go to https://storiesfromipswich.org/agawam-house-26-north-main-street/
I love learning about 18th and 19th century history, but I haven’t heard much about these stagecoach stops and would like to visit a few of them in the future. I especially like the idea of going to the one in Richmond, R.I. as it is now a bed and breakfast. However, it looks pretty modern, and so do you know how much of the building is actually from 1796?
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[…] I took that course, I received an email from the New England Historical Society (NEHS) with an article about six historical stagecoach stops in New England that still exist and can be visited (one from […]
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