Over the river and through the woods: Stagecoach travel in Monroe County

PHOTO: 1852 advertisement for stagecoach services offered by proprietor and driver William Dean

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

Long before railroad or automobile travel, Monroe County citizens used their own horses, mules, or even oxen to travel between destinations. At times, neighbors and friends would offer rides to each other, and it seems like a natural evolution from sharing rides and offering a little space in a wagon to charging customers for hauling freight or for passenger seats on a stagecoach. In such a way, stagecoach rides became a major part of the early travel industry.

The first four-horse-team stagecoach came to Monroe County in 1846. Mr. John Ward, an enterprising young businessman, operated a stagecoach service between Stanhope and Newark, N.J. Encouraged by his friends, he branched out to include a stop in Monroe County. The first trip was 12-hours long; the coach left from Stroudsburg and included a stop in Delaware Water Gap before crossing the river to stop in Columbia, Blairstown, Johnsonburg, Stanhope, and Morristown. At Morristown, passengers were able to board the rail line and continue onto New York City. From New York, travelers could go anywhere in the world.

Theodore Schoch, publisher of the Stroudsburg newspaper, Jeffersonian Republican, praised this new transportation service. He said it was “a great personal convenience and a cheap, direct, and rapid mode of transit to our great national emporium (New York).”

Not only did this new service provide greater opportunity for travel, it also established an improved system for information. Ward’s stagecoach would return to Stroudsburg not only with passengers, but also with New York newspapers and information.

Schoch also commented that, “Mr. Ward has kindly supplied us with the Daily Tribune and other papers for which we tender him our thanks for putting us on the direct communication with one of the most important points in our country.” In fact, the Daily Tribute was delivered to Stroudsburg the very same day that it was printed and available on newsstands in New York City, a feat unthinkable before the stagecoach.

As travel by stagecoach began to grow in popularity, so too did competition between stagecoach companies. Stroudsburg resident J.J. Posten managed the Washington Hotel. He joined with Robert C. Sleath to have a stagecoach line run between his hotel and the Conner’s American Hotel in Easton, naturally with overnight accommodations. The Posten-Sleath proprietors charged $1.25 for the six-hour trip that departed Stroudsburg every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The return trip would arrive on Tuesday and Thursday.

Later, J.J. Posten became the operator of the Indian Queen Hotel and further developed the business of stagecoach travel, expanding his hotel as a transit center for the region.

Posten partnered with stagecoach proprietors Stauffer and Ostrander to increase the transportation system from Stroudsburg to points north, west and south. The northbound coaches departed Stroudsburg at 7 a.m. and took passengers to Port Jervis, N.Y., via Bushkill, Dingmans and Milford. The westbound coaches also departed the Indian Queen at 7 a.m. and traveled to Brodheadsville, to White Haven and then onto Wilkes-Barre.

An unusually early stagecoach departed the Indian Queen Hotel at 1 a.m. and headed to Bartonsville and Tannersville to catch another stagecoach that was bound for Honesdale and Scranton; in Scranton, passengers could board the Erie Railroad. This stagecoach line traveled every day except Sundays.

By 1853, William Dean, a local and independent stagecoach proprietor and driver, joined Stauffer and Ostrander. The stagecoach industry wanted to demonstrate that stagecoaches and railroads could co-exist and that both industries needed each other to thrive.

In 1854, Stauffer and Ostrander (together with Dean) added rail connections and met trains in Easton, a hub for New York and Philadelphia travelers. This was before the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad had services in Monroe County.

Advertisement for the stagecoach line not only provided details about departure and arrival times, but also promoted the route to “pass through sections of the country which are as magnificent and picturesque as any in the Union.” Travelers could also expect “excellent coaches, good horses, and careful drivers.” Including stops, the travel time from Easton to Stroudsburg was 5.5 hours, and the fee was $2.87.

The federal government did aid some stagecoach lines by awarding postal contracts, so that in addition to passengers, mail would be delivered to towns. In 1857, stagecoach service was extended from Mauch Chunk (present day Jim Thorpe) to Stroudsburg for mail delivery. The stops for this particular stagecoach line left Stroudsburg at 7 a.m. and included Sciota, Brodheadsville, Kresgeville, Weissport and Lehighton.

Because of Stroudsburg’s geographical location and size, the town was a busy hub of stagecoach travel during the mid 1800s. Eventually, travel by stagecoach gave way as towns developed and rail lines increased – and automobiles were invented.