A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York 1856 Part I

Boston to New York

We left Boston at half-past two, by what is called the Boston and New York Express line, an arrangement between four railways for running certain trains rapidly over their roads direct from Boston to New York. In taking this route, we pass forty-four miles westward over the Boston and Worcester railway, to the town of Worcester; thence fifty-six miles, still westward, over a portion of the Western railway of Massachusetts to Springfield, on the Connecticut river. From Springfield, the direction changes to south for sixty-two miles, by the Hartford and Newhaven railway, till we reach Newhaven, on the north shore of Long Island Sound; and the remaining seventy-four miles is by the New York and Newhaven railway, along the coast till New York is reached. The whole distance is two hundred and thirty-six miles, which was accomplished in nine hours, and the fare was $5, or 1 sterling, a little over one penny per mile. We became acquainted on this journey with some arrangements which afterwards were made very familiar, and add much to the convenience of traveling in America. Thus, on arriving at the station of departure, tickets, with a number and our destination, were attached to each piece of luggage, and a duplicate number given to us. The baggage was then put into a van; and the traveler gives himself no more trouble about it. As the end of the journey is approached, a duly authorized baggage-agent comes into the cars and receives your check ticket, for which he gives his receipt. You tell him your destination, and he sees your traps safely delivered; so on arrival, you have no trouble in looking after your baggage, but are free to betake yourself at once to your abode, and soon after you get there your trunks follow you.

The route from Boston to Springfield is through a very rough, wild country, hilly and barren, and very stony. The railway, throughout nearly its whole distance, winds along the sides of the hills by means of heavy cuttings in the granite and trap-rocks, interspersed with embankments and long bridges. We saw little, cultivation. The woods were new and interesting--hemlock pines, and an underwood of sumac, with its bunches of red fruit. There is not much forest on the immediate line of the road, and no finely developed wood, the trees being tall and taper, from growing close together. There were many small towns and villages on the route, and many small lakes interspersed among the rocky hills. The afternoon was such a fresh, clear, frosty day as is hardly known in England; and this, with the constant succession of new objects claiming attention, gave to this, our first journey in America, an interest and excitement beyond what the country passed through would have of itself inspired. At Springfield the broad waters of the Connecticut river are spanned by a long bridge, from which we anticipated having a fine view, a hope doomed on this occasion, and very often afterwards, to disappointment; for this bridge, as well as most others in America, is roofed and encased in wooden walls. Usually these bridges are formed of wood; and the roofing and covering in is considered by the majority of engineers a protection against the weather. Others, with whom I conversed on the subject, hold equally strong views on the other side, and think that timber well painted stands better exposed. One thing is very certain, these covered bridges are very ugly features in the landscape, and sources of continual annoyance to the tourist, who, just as he is straining to catch a glance up or down some pretty stream, or over some lake-like river, finds himself whirled through a musty, close-smelling, dusty box; and ere he has recovered his equanimity, on issuing from it, the picturesque spot he wished to gaze upon is far behind.

The train stopped twenty minutes at Springfield for an early supper. Bodily refreshment is never lost sight of in the arrangements of American traveling. Almost immediately after leaving, night fell, with little or no twilight, but with a fine sunset. We were running along the eastern bank of the Connecticut river, which at Springfield is of considerable breadth. The opposite bank is wooded. Beyond, the hills rise, but not to any great height, and they also are clothed with wood. Behind the indefinite outline of the leafless trees, was the glow of a sun-setting, lighting up all the sky with a rich saffron, and tinting the clouds with a deep red.

The scenery becomes very interesting when the shores of the Sound are reached, but long before then it was quite dark. The seats in the cars of this line are the least disagreeable I met with in America; the backs are sufficiently high to form an easy rest for the head, and the footboard adjusts itself to give your legs repose; and the result of all this, especially after supper, and in the dark, which is only partially dispelled by the carriage-lamps, is, that most people fall asleep. So the last part of the journey was quiet enough.

In the outskirts of New York, the locomotives leave us. The rails are laid in the middle of Fourth Avenue, and Bowery to Canal Street, and locomotives are not permitted to pass through these. So at an outer station the train was broken up, and each car drawn into town by horses with bells on their harness. Those who knew the city, got down in the street at the point nearest their destination. We, who did not know the localities, were carried on to the station in Canal Street, and found afterwards that we had passed the door of the hotel at which we ultimately put up, and had gone, I suppose, two miles further than we need have done.

Our baggage having gone on, we were unencumbered, and preferred walking. A few steps brought us into Broadway. But can this be Broadway? we asked each other. It was a street of ordinary width, and rather mean-looking houses, and did not at all come up to my ideas of what the great street of New York should have been, as I had pictured it to myself from some of Willis's descriptions. There was the name, however, on the corner, so there could be no mistake. Before we got housed for the night, we altered our opinion of Broadway, and continued to alter it day by day afterwards. The St Nicholas hotel, said to accommodate 1000 people, was full, and it had the appearance of it, as we walked up the marble-paved hall, thronged with crowds of people, and lumbered with piles of baggage. Rooms we could not have. They would "put us in" with somebody. This we declined; and walked off to the Metropolitan, another large hotel. Here, however, we fared no better, for this house was full too. We then made for the Clarendon, a house "up form." To reach it, we passed along the upper part of Broadway, and through Union Square, and that walk effectually removed the impression of insignificance which our first sight of Broadway had left. The upper part of the street is lined with trees, between the pavement and the roadway. It is broad, with fine houses. Before reaching Union Square, it makes a slight bend, and in the angle stands Grace Church, a very beautiful ecclesiastical structure. The parsonage house is beside the church, a little back from the street, Gothic, as is the church, and they are connected by a cloister. The whole scene--the deserted and now quiet street, the calm-looking church and parsonage, as seen by moonlight in this dear atmosphere, was rendered more striking by its occurring in the middle of the busiest street of busy New York.

It was past midnight before we got fairly settled at the Clarendon; still, late as it was, we met with a friend who had just been making a round of the hotels to see if we had come, and found us at last in the one where he is staying. So even our late arrival was not without a hearty welcome, a foretaste of what awaited us at all times, and everywhere, throughout the States.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York Pre: 1856 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: America by river and rail; or, Notes by the way on the New World and its people. By Wiliam Ferguson, F.L.S.London, J. Nisbet and co., 1856.
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