The Cicero Stage Coach

The Last Coach on the Last Plank Road





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McGrath Genealogy  |  Upperchurch Connections  |       Old Mattydale          |  What's New  |  Contact

















The Cicero Stage Coach


On Monday, August 31, 1908, in the center of what would become Mattydale, there existed a collection of various modes of transportation that would not coexist for much longer. The electric Trolley, after many false starts and delays, had just inaugurated its service from Syracuse to Oneida Lake on the previous day. For about two miles, after leaving the city, the trolley ran parallel to the first plank road built in the United States. On the plank road were the farm vehicles, for which it was intended, and on a daily basis the farmers were battling the growing presence of the automobile, or "machines," as they were called then. Still holding its own was a relic from the past - The Cicero Stage Coach. The oldest operating stage coach in the country was running every weekday on what would be the last plank road in the county and perhaps in the whole country.


This transportation overlap only lasted six months. The last stage coach rolled down the Cicero Plank Road on Saturday, February 27, 1909.


The following three pictures are all taken from the edition of the Syracuse Herald shown below. Below the pictures are the is a transcription of the article from The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Sunday, November 1, 1908.






This is a picture of the 70 year-old stage coach that had been in a recent accident with a trolley in the city of Syracuse and was taken out of service.




This stage coach was almost as old as the above coach. It had been a back up and was pressed into service when the old coach was damaged in an accident.




In winter this sleigh coach replaced the horse pulled coach.


“Reminder Of Old Stage Coach Days,”

The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Sunday, November 1, 1908

Sole survivor in all the United States of all the old-time stage coaches whose bugles used to ring out clearly on the highways is a coach which every weekday in the year still makes regular trips to and from Syracuse.

Full half a century old, its sides worn and battered by time, but still retaining some of the faded glories one sees depicted in the old colored coaching prints, the Cicero stage still bowls along the old plank road, two horses draw it, instead of four as in days of yore, and the bugle with which the driver used to wake the echoes is now silent.

One of the oddest of contrasts is presented almost every day in the city streets when the old Cicero stage coach halts beside the railroad tracks to let a train pass. From the upholstered seats of the Pullman cars the passengers can look out and see a vehicle like those few have seen outside of picture books – its rounded, weather –beaten body hung on high wheels, the top laden with merchandise and in the rear its old-fashioned “boot.” And if the shades of passengers who used to bowl along in the Cicero stage coach occasionally take a ride in it again – as one can imagine they may – they must stand amazed to see the modern stage coaches, drawn by monster locomotives and with passengers dining luxuriously from liner covered tables or taking their ease in leather seats. Even more striking is the contrast that the old stage presents by the side of one of the big “limiteds” that speed along the third rail Oneida electric road.

A Stage Seventy Years Old.

But in the face of all these modern ways of conveyance the driver of the Cicero stage clings to the old vehicle and does a good business. The present owner and driver is D(aniel). D. Van Alstyne, who has had the route only three years. A year ago, while driving a stage even older than the one now in use, his turnout was struck at North Salina and Willow streets by a Rapid Transit car and so badly damaged that it had to be retired from service. Van Alstyne got three broken ribs and damages from the company.

In a barn in Cicero now lies this old stage coach, which is at least seventy years old. The one now in use had been used as a substitute, and when the old one was disabled it was put on as th regular stage. A relic that some historical society should have is the old stage which is reposing in the Cicero barn, covered with cob webs and dust. For seventy years – not missing a weekday save in winter, when its place was taken by a sleigh stage – it plodded along the plank road until one year ago. All that it needs now is a few repairs to put it into condition for active service, and it may be brought out some day to complete at least a century on the highway.

Runs Errands for Patrons

A Sunday Herald man found Van Alstyne at a livery stable in Willow street, where the old stage is stored while in the city. Without much of the old-time flourish that used to attend the daily arrival of a stage, the coach had drawn up after its morning trip from Cicero and North Syracuse. The stable itself looks old-fashioned enough to be a fitting storage place for the stage. It seems to be mostly patronized by farmers who come to town on business, and their democrat wagons were packed around in the little court yard.

“Yes. I have a lot of errands to attend to,” said the driver, as he busied himself in removing packages from the top and the boot.

He drew a roll of bills from a box on top.

“There’s $300 given me to bank,” he said. “I bank money and do all sorts of things for the folks along my route, but I’ve never been in a ‘hold-up’ yet.”

Indeed, the driver is known to every man, woman and child along the way and they trust him with all sorts of errands. He carries their packages and delivers them to all parts of the city. He even does shopping for his patrons. Cicero thinks him an adept in matching shades of ribbons. He brings milk to town and he carries groceries, machinery and merchandise.

The Old-Time Drivers

Asked for information about the history of the stage route, the driver proved that he knows something about it, even though he bought the route and the old stages only three years ago. His predecessor as driver and owner, he said, was C. H. Bonsted, who now runs a livery stable in this city. William Herrick, who after quitting the service, was an Assemblyman and a Supervisor and is now in charge of a toll house on the Cicero plank road, was Bonsted’s predecessor. Before Herrick the owner and driver was William Petrie. By dint of faithful service in rain and sunshine Petrie had saved about $1,000 earned with the old stage coach. About seventeen years ago the bank in which he kept it failed, and afterward the driver got only 27 cents on the dollar.

The succession of owners and drivers before these Driver Van Alstyne does not know. The man who started the line seventy years ago was a Mr. Hanchette he believed.   

In those days the Cicero stage arrived and departed from Central Square, running as far as Brewerton, and its coming and going was an event. Four horses drew it then – spanking horses that were admired all the way from Syracuse to Brewerton – and the progress of the coach was marked by bugle notes. Previous to the building of the canals and railroads stage coaches furnished the only mode of conveyance hereabouts. With their horns blowing and laden with passengers, they bowled along the Onondaga county turnpike, sometimes fifty or sixty of them traversing a single one of the main highways in a day. For years the mails were carried by the coaches between Albany and Buffalo. When there was a heavy load of passengers the coaches sometimes used six horses.

Driver a Man of Consequences

Not the least of these coaches was the Cicero stage, now retired, and a little later the one now in use. The drive was a man of consequence, as much looked up to by small boys and even grown-ups as the captain of an ocean lines is to-day. The four horses were urged with cracking whip to their best speed, and on most stages running through this county, they were changed at frequent intervals. Because of the comparatively short distance traversed by the Cicero coach it is probable that changes were not made on the road.

Since that time without interruption one or the other of the old coaches has made the daily trip. Until about a year ago it used to carry the United States mails, but this service has been discontinued. The stage recently retired used sometimes to carry thirty-five or forty passengers, but the largest number the one now used has ever accommodated is twenty-one.

“And a good many passengers travel with me still,” said the driver. “Business is pretty good.”

Mr. Van Alstyne announced that he has long thought of taking the old stage coach on a trip across the country.

“If I go,” he said, “I shall use three horses instead two and take the whole family along. This is the only old-time stage coach in active service now in America, so far as I know, and I believe that besides having a fine trip I would be able to sell enough pictures of the stage along the way to pay expenses.”

Looks Like a Western Coach

The coach now runs only from Cicero, leaving at 8 o’clock in the morning and reaching Syracuse about 10 o’clock. Returning, it leaves the Onondaga hotel in North Salina street at 8 o’clock P.M. The vehicle much resembles the old western stage coaches that Buffalo Bill carries to be held up at each performance by yelling Indians. The drab, light yellow and black paint on the outside has almost disappeared with the wear of time. Within the coach there are cross seats for passengers and the sides are covered with carpet. In front is a bell and with this, passengers, by pulling a cord that runs along the roof, signal the driver when they wish to alight. “Cicero and Syracuse – United States Mail” is lettered in black on the outside. The boot in the rear is covered with a faded canvas to protect the freight carried there from the rain and snow.

Pictures of the present stage, of the seventy-year-old stage retired a year ago, and of the sleigh stage used when snow covers the ground are presented on this page.

Stage lines still connect many of the nearby smaller towns with Syracuse, but the Cicero stage is the only old-timer now in use. Modern covered wagons are employed on the other lines.

The Last Cicero Stage Coach Ran on February 27, 1909

Just four months after the long article on the Cicero Stage Coach, transcribed above, Van Alstyne decided to discontinue his stage coach service and retire to his farm at Bridgeport, NY. [1909-02-26]



[1908-11-01] – “Reminder Of Old Stage Coach Days,” The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Sunday, November 1, 1908.

[1909-02-26] - "Stage Discontinues Trip," The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Friday, February 26, 1909.