Old Stagecoach Days


Glimpses Of The Old Stage Days.


Ashur Spencer and His Enterprises--Anecdotes of One of Brattleboro's Strong Men--Charles Wood, Ben Davis, and Other Drivers of Those Times.

[Letter in the Sunday Republican.]


Sixty years ago, the name of Ashur Spencer, the old-time stage proprietor and postmaster, was as familiar to the people of the valley as that of Chester W Chapin, his life-long friend and collaborator. Both were prominently identified with the stage line between Brattleboro and Hartford which was an important link to the "Telegraph," so called, a line running from Canada to New Haven thence by boat to New York, the trip being made with relays of four and six fleet horses, in about 20 hours travelling night and day. Mr Spencer was born in Westminster August 8, 1802; at the age of 20 he left the farm and went to Greenfield, where he began his stage driving career with the late Isaac Newton. He ran from Greenfield to Athol seven or eight years and finally succeeded to the proprietorship which included the route to Brattleboro. In 1841 he moved here and formed a copartnership with Daniel Kingsley, under the firm name of Spencer & Kingsley. They at once established an extensive livery in the rear of the old Brattleboro house and proceeded to buy out Lovell Farr's stage route between Brattleboro and Walpole. They also secured the route on the east side of the Connecticut to Montague by the way of Hinsdale, Northfield and Grout's Corners.


Some of the most expert reinsmen were employed, among them Charles Wood, now a resident of this town, whose superior horsemanship gave him wide fame, and favored him with the privilege of purchasing horses for Barnum, Forepaugh and other noted exhibitors, also bringing him profit in the care and supervision of such famous studs. In this old time coterie of noted drivers were the following named horsemen who stood par excellence in their profession: Harvey Gill, Amos Pond, Sidney Morse, B F Davis, A U Chase, Thomas Miner and Medad Squares. It was customary in those days for the townspeople to flock to the old stage-house to see the mail come in. The coaches were very showy for the times, and it is even related that the cracking of the whip on a clear day could be heard nearly a mile. Spencer & Kingsley's establishment was the most extensive north of Springfield, about 200 horses being required. "Uncle" Ashur, as he was familiarly known, bought the Judge Whitney place on Main street, and was the first to open Walnut street to public use, the whole territory in that vicinity at that time being part of his estate and was used for pasturage.


Bridge & Weeks owned the line from Brattleboro to Bennington which connected with the Baker & Walker system for Troy and Albany. The old Bridge Tavern, four miles east of Wilmington, was then a popular hostelry, where a good meal was to be had while changing horses. The old building, remodeled, is now a comfortable tenement house on Pearl street, brought here by the late Dea Estey. Mr Spencer was not only a good contractor, but he was also a valued citizen whose rugged honesty and fidelity to his many friends coupled with his quiet demeanor and natural aversion for anything like notoriety was everywhere recognized. He had a stern, rather cold face, but his smile was always pleasant and a more sunny dispositioned man according to his friends never lived. "I don't think he had an enemy in the world," was the expression of one of his old associates today, who related an amusing story of a little accident for which "Uncle" Ashur was responsible. It seems it was the habit of the stage drivers to go about the town picking up their passengers before starting out on a trip. One day the proprietor himself mounted the box and started off at full speed to "collect." Just as he rounded a sharp turn near the common the coach flopped bottom up. Little damage was done, however, and as the good natured proprietor crawled out from the confusion of cushions and straps, he coolly remarked that none but a skilled reinsman could cut such a flop without losing his head. It is said that in later years Mr Spencer always got out of the wagon in going down a hill to prevent any possible accident.


While living in Greenfield he bought of the late Francis Goodhue, grandfather of the Col Frank Goodhue of this town, a pair of blooded bays for his livery. Soon after, having occasion to send Charles Wood to Bernardston with an "extra," he selected those horses for the trip. Among the passengers was a relative of the proprietor who rode on the seat with the driver, and fortunately was able to assist the young man in his unsuccessful efforts to keep the nervous animals on their feet. On the return trip the team ran nearly the whole distance, in spite of the driver's persistent pulling. The following day Mr Spencer was admiring the sleek team as it stood in stable and after a little concluded to give them a little exercise about the village. No sooner was he seated in the wagon than the favorite steeds broke into a dead run and pointing Shelburneward, they were out of sight in a trice. After an absence of an hour or so and just as his friends were planning to search for him, he was seen leading the horses back into town completely winded. "Wood," said he, after he had time to catch his breath, "How in the d---l did you hold those horses to Bernardston and back?" "I didn't hold 'em," replied Wood, "I held the lines and let 'em run just as you did."


Mr Spencer was appointed postmaster here, after his staging days, June 3, 1858, his appointment being secured by the late Chester W Chapin. He held the office about three years and was succeeded by George Kellogg. This was the only public office Mr Spencer would accept. He was an associate of Landlord Paul Chase, Charles Chapin, W H Rockwell, Hugh Henry and Madison Stoat, not one of whom are living. He died September 4, 1873. His two sons are Porter C, the well known steward of the Vermont retreat, and Isaac Newton Spencer, a Keene, N H, merchant.


Brattleboro Reformer, December 30, 1892.


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