Sumner Davis discovered a way to make money in the stagecoach business that didn’t involve passengers or mail – but it did involve discretion.
The undated photo above shows the stagecoach in front of the Elm House in Harrison, Maine, a small inland town west of Lewiston and south of Waterville. The stagecoach had left Norway and was on its way to Waterford.
During the early 19th century, travel from Maine’s Sebago Lakes Region to Portland was a challenge. There were few good inland roads. It was much easier to travel by boat along the coast.
At the outset of the War of 1812, William Sawin started a mail route between Waterford and Portland on horseback. By 1815, he used a stagecoach to take people to Portland, then the state capital.
Sumner Davis, Stagecoach Entrepreneur
Stagecoaches were at first slow and uncomfortable. Passengers were jolted as the wagon bounced on springs over rough roads. But as the population increased, the roads improved. In 1827, Lewis Downing began making the fabled Concord coach with leather straps that caused the wagon to sway. Mark Twain described it as like “a cradle on wheels.”
Eventually, Sumner Davis of Harrison ran stagecoach lines from Waterford to Portland, from Brownfield to Bridgton to Norway. At the peak of the business, he had several stagecoaches and 30 drivers.
Davis made money running errands for his customers, as well as carrying mail and passengers. He learned that discretion paid dividends. According to Ernest R. Ward, in his 1966 book My First 60 Years in Harrison:
One estimable lady in Bridgton, for instance, used to have a gallon of “tonic” delivered to her home each week for which she paid the usual charge and in addition, probably due to the discreet manner in which Mr. Davis took care of her, presented him with a Christmas present of one hundred dollars each year for several years.
This story updated in 2022.