Departure for the mountains in the Stage — Scenery of the Alleghany — Haggerstown
The weather was bleak and disagreeable during the two days we were obliged to remain at Wheeling. I had got heartily tired of my gifted friend; we had walked up every side of the rugged hill, and I set off on my journey towards the mountains with more pleasure than is generally felt in quitting a pillow before daylight, for a cold corner in a rumbling stage-coach.
This was the first time we had got into an American stage, though we had traversed above two thousand miles of the country, and we had all the satisfaction in it, which could be derived from the conviction that we were travelling in a foreign land. This vehicle had no step, and we climbed into it by a ladder; when that was removed I remembered, with some dismay, that the females at least were much in the predicament of sailors, who, “in danger have no door to creep out,” but when a misfortune is absolutely inevitable, we are apt to bear it remarkably well; who would utter that constant petition of ladies on rough roads, “let me get out,” when compliance would oblige the pleader to make a step of five feet before she could touch the ground?
The coach had three rows of seats, each calculated to hold three persons, and as we were only six, we had, in the phrase of Milton, to “inhabit lax” this exalted abode, and, accordingly, we were for some miles tossed about like a few potatoes in a wheelbarrow. Our knees, elbows, and heads required too much care for their protection to allow us leisure to look out of the windows; but at length the road became smoother, and we became more skilful in the art of balancing ourselves, so as to meet the concussion with less danger of dislocation.
We then found that we were travelling through a very beautiful country, essentially different in its features from what we had been accustomed to round Cincinnati: it is true we had left “la belle riviere” behind us, but the many limpid and rapid little streams that danced through the landscape to join it, more than atoned for its loss.
The country already wore an air of more careful husbandry, and the very circumstance of a wide and costly road (though not a very smooth one), which in theory might be supposed to injure picturesque effect, was beautiful to us, who, since we had entered the muddy mouth of the Mississippi, had never seen any thing except a steam-boat and the levee professing to have so noble an object as public accommodation. Through the whole of the vast region we had passed, excepting at New Orleans itself, every trace of the art of man appeared to be confined to the individual effort of “getting along,” which, in western phrase, means contriving to live with as small a portion of the incumbrances of civilized society as possible.
This road was made at the expense of the government as far as Cumberland, a town situated among the Alleghany mountains, and, from the nature of the ground, must have been a work of great cost. I regretted not having counted the number of bridges between Wheeling and Little Washington, a distance of thirty-four miles; over one stream only there are twenty-five, all passed by the road. They frequently occurred within a hundred yards of each other, so serpentine is its course; they are built of stone, and sometimes very neatly finished.
Little Washington is in Pennsylvania, across a corner of which the road runs. This is a free state, but we were still waited upon by Negroes, hired from the neighbouring state of Virginia. We arrived at night, and set off again at four in the morning; all, therefore, that we saw of Little Washington was its hotel, which was clean and comfortable. The first part of the next day’s journey was through a country much less interesting: its character was unvaried for nearly thirty miles, consisting of an uninterrupted succession of forest-covered hills. As soon as we had wearily dragged to the top of one of these, we began to rumble down the other side as rapidly as our four horses could trot; and no sooner arrived at the bottom than we began to crawl up again; the trees constantly so thick and so high as to preclude the possibility of seeing fifty yards in any direction.
The latter part of the day, however, amply repaid us. At four o’clock we began to ascend the Alleghany mountains: the first ridge on the western side is called Laurel Hill, and takes its name from the profuse quantity of evergreens with which it is covered; not any among them, however, being the shrub to which we give the name of laurel.
The whole of this mountain region, through ninety miles of which the road passes, is a garden. The almost incredible variety of plants, and the lavish profusion of their growth, produce an effect perfectly enchanting. I really can hardly conceive a higher enjoyment than a botanical tour among the Alleghany mountains, to any one who had science enough to profit by it.
The magnificent rhododendron first caught our eyes; it fringes every cliff, nestles beneath every rock, and blooms around every tree. The azalia, the shumac, and every variety of that beautiful mischief, the kalmia, are in equal profusion. Cedars of every size and form were above, around, and underneath us; firs more beautiful and more various than I had ever seen, were in equal abundance, but I know not whether they were really such as I had never seen in Europe, or only in infinitely greater splendour and perfection of growth; the species called the hemlock is, I think, second to the cedar only, in magnificence. Oak and beech, with innumerable roses and wild vines, hanging in beautiful confusion among their branches, were in many places scattered among the evergreens. The earth was carpeted with various mosses and creeping plants, and though still in the month of March, not a trace of the nakedness of winter could be seen. Such was the scenery that shewed us we were indeed among the far-famed Alleghany mountains.
As our noble terrace-road, the Semplon of America, rose higher and higher, all that is noblest in nature was joined to all that is sweetest. The blue tops of the higher ridges formed the outline; huge masses of rock rose above us on the left, half hid at intervals by the bright green shrubs, while to the right we looked down upon the tops of the pines and cedars which clothed the bottom.
I had no idea of the endless variety of mountain scenery. My notions had been of rocks and precipices, of torrents and of forest trees, but I little expected that the first spot which should recall the garden scenery of our beautiful England would be found among the moutains: yet so it was. From the time I entered America I had never seen the slightest approach to what we call pleasure-grounds; a few very worthless and scentless flowers were all the specimens of gardening I had seen in Ohio; no attempt at garden scenery was ever dreamed of, and it was with the sort of delight with which one meets an old friend, that we looked on the lovely mixture of trees, shrubs, and flowers, that now continually met our eyes. Often, on descending into the narrow vallies, we found a little spot of cultivation, a garden or a field, hedged round with shumacs, rhododendrons, and azalias, and a cottage covered with roses. These vallies are spots of great beauty; a clear stream is always found running through them, which is generally converted to the use of the miller, at some point not far from the road; and here, as on the heights, great beauty of colouring is given to the landscape, by the bright hue of the vegetation, and the sober grey of the rocks.
The first night we passed among the mountains recalled us painfully from the enjoyment of nature to all the petty miseries of personal discomfort. Arrived at our inn, a forlorn parlour, filled with the blended fumes of tobacco and whiskey, received us; and chilled, as we began to feel ourselves with the mountain air, we preferred going to our cold bedrooms rather than sup in such an atmosphere. We found linen on the beds which they assured us had only been used a few nights; every kind of refreshment we asked for we were answered, “We do not happen to have that article.” We were still in Pennsylvania, and no longer waited upon by slaves; it was, therefore, with great difficulty that we procured a fire in our bedrooms from the surly-looking young lady who condescended to officiate as chambermaid, and with much more, that we extorted clean linen for our beds; that done, we patiently crept into them supperless, while she made her exit muttering about the difficulty of “fixing English folks.”
The next morning cheered our spirits again; we now enjoyed a new kind of alpine witchery; the clouds were floating around, and below us, and the distant peaks were indistinctly visible as through a white gauze veil, which was gradually lifted up, till the sun arose, and again let in upon us the full glory of these interminable heights.
We were told before we began the ascent, that we should find snow four inches deep on the road; but as yet we had seen none, and indeed it was with difficulty we persuaded ourselves that we were not travelling in the midst of summer. As we proceeded, however, we found the northern declivities still covered with it, and at length, towards the summit, the road itself had the promised four inches. The extreme mildness of the air, and the brilliant hue of the evergreens, contrasted strangely with this appearance of winter; it was difficult to understand how the snow could help melting in such an atmosphere.
Again and again we enjoyed all the exhilarating sensations that such scenes must necessarily inspire, but in attempting a continued description of our progress over these beautiful mountains, I could only tell again of rocks, cedars, laurels, and running streams, of blue heights, and green vallies, yet the continually varying combinations of these objects afforded us unceasing pleasure. From one point, pre-eminently above any neighbouring ridge, we looked back upon the enormous valley of the West. It is a stupendous view; but having gazed upon it for some moments, we turned to pursue our course, and the certainty that we should see it no more, raised no sigh of regret.
We dined, on the second day, at a beautiful spot, which we were told was the highest point on the road, being 2,846 feet above the level of the sea. We were regaled luxuriously on wild turkey and mountain venison; which latter is infinitely superior to any furnished by the forests of the Mississippi, or the Ohio. The vegetables also were extremely fine, and we were told by a pretty girl, who superintended the slaves that waited on us, (for we were again in Virginia), that the vegetables of the Alleghany were reckoned the finest in America. She told us also, that wild strawberries were profusely abundant, and very fine; that their cows found for themselves, during the summer, plenty of flowery food, which produced a copious supply of milk; that their spring gave them the purest water, of icy coldness in the warmest seasons; and that the climate was the most delicious in the world, for though the thermometer sometimes stood at ninety, their cool breeze never failed them. What a spot to turn hermit in for a summer! My eloquent mountaineer gave me some specimens of ground plants, far unlike any thing I had ever seen. One particularly, which she called the ground pine, is peculiar as she told me, to the Alleghany, and in some places runs over whole acres of ground; it is extremely beautiful. The rooms were very prettily decorated with this elegant plant, hung round it in festoons.
In many places the clearing has been considerable; the road passes through several fine farms, situated in the sheltered hollows; we were told that the wolves continue to annoy them severely, but that panthers, the terror of the West, are never seen, and bears very rarely. Of snakes, they confessed they had abundance, but very few that were considered dangerous.
In the afternoon we came in sight of the Monongehala river; and its banks gave us for several miles a beautiful succession of wild and domestic scenery. In some points, the black rock rises perpendicularly from its margin, like those at Chepstow; at others, a mill, with its owner’s cottage, its corn-plat, and its poultry, present a delightful image of industry and comfort.
Brownsville is a busy looking little town built upon the banks of this river; it would be pretty, were it not stained by the hue of coal. I do not remember in England to have seen any spot, however near a coal mine, so dyed in black as Wheeling and Brownsville. At this place we crossed the Monongehala, in a flat ferry-boat, which very commodiously received our huge coach and four horses.
On leaving the black little town, we were again cheered by abundance of evergreens, reflected in the stream, with fantastic piles of rock, half visible through the pines and cedars above, giving often the idea of a vast gothic castle. It was a folly, I confess, but I often lamented they were not such; the travelling for thousands of miles, without meeting any nobler trace of the ages that are passed, than a mass of rotten leaves, or a fragment of fallen rock, produces a heavy, earthly matter-of-fact effect upon the imagination, which can hardly be described, and for which the greatest beauty of scenery can furnish only an occasional and transitory remedy.
Our second night in the mountains was past at a solitary house of rather forlorn appearance; but we fared much better than the night before, for they gave us clean sheets, a good fire, and no scolding. We again started at four o’clock in the morning, and eagerly watched for the first gleam of light that should show the same lovely spectacle we had seen the day before; nor were we disappointed, though the show was somewhat different. The vapours caught the morning ray, as it first darted over the mountain top, and passing it to the scene below, we seemed enveloped in a rainbow.
We had now but one ridge left to pass over, and as we reached the top, and looked down on the new world before us, I hardly knew whether most to rejoice that
“All the toil of the long-pass’d way”
was over, or to regret that our mountain journey was drawing to a close.
The novelty of my enjoyment had doubtless added much to its keenness. I have never been familiar with mountain scenery. Wales has shewn me all I ever saw, and the region of the Alleghany Alps in no way resembles it. It is a world of mountains rising around you in every direction, and in every form; savage, vast, and wild; yet almost at every step, some lovely spot meets your eye, green, bright and blooming, as the most cherished nook belonging to some noble Flora in our own beautiful land. It is a ride of ninety miles through kalmies, rhododendrons, azalias, vines and roses; sheltered from every blast that blows by vast masses of various coloured rocks, on which
“Tall pines and cedars wave their dark green crests.”
While in every direction you have a background of blue mountain tops, that play at bo-peep with you in the clouds.
After descending the last ridge we reached Haggerstown, a small neat place, between a town and a village; and here by the piety of the Presbyterian coach-masters, we were doomed to pass an entire day, and two nights, “as the accommodation line must not run on the sabbath.”
I must, however, mention, that this day of enforced rest was not Sunday. Saturday evening we had taken in at Cumberland a portly passenger, whom we soon discovered to be one of the proprietors of the coach. He asked us, with great politeness, if we should wish to travel on the sabbath, or to delay our journey. We answered that we would rather proceed; “The coach, then, shall go on tomorrow,” replied the liberal coach-master, with the greatest courtesy; and accordingly we travelled all Sunday, and arrived at Haggerstown on Sunday night. At the door of the inn our civil proprietor left us; but when we enquired of the waiter at what hour we were to start on the morrow, he told us that we should be obliged to pass the whole of Monday there, as the coach which was to convey us forward would not arrive from the east, till Tuesday morning.
Thus we discovered that the waiving the sabbath-keeping by the proprietor, was for his own convenience, and not for ours, and that we were to be tied by the leg for four-and-twenty hours notwithstanding. This was quite a Yankee trick.
Luckily for us, the inn at Haggerstown was one of the most comfortable I ever entered. It was there that we became fully aware that we had left Western America behind us. Instead of being scolded, as we literally were at Cincinnati, for asking for a private sitting-room, we here had two, without asking at all. A waiter, quite comme il faut, summoned us to breakfast, dinner, and tea, which we found prepared with abundance, and even elegance. The master of the house met us at the door of the eating-room, and, after asking if we wished for any thing not on the table, retired. The charges were in no respect higher than at Cincinnati.
A considerable creek, called Conococheque Creek, runs near the town, and the valley through which it passes is said to be the most fertile in America.
On leaving Haggerstown we found, to our mortification, that we were not to be the sole occupants of the bulky accommodation, two ladies and two gentlemen appearing at the door ready to share it with us. We again started, at four o’clock, by the light of a bright moon, and rumbled and nodded through the roads considerably worse than those over the mountains.
As the light began to dawn we discovered our ladies to be an old woman and her pretty daughter.
Soon after daylight we found that our pace became much slower than usual, and that from time to time our driver addressed to his companion on the box many and vehement exclamations. The gentlemen put their heads out, to ask what was the matter, but could get no intelligence, till the mail overtook us, when both vehicles stopped, and an animated colloquy of imprecations took place between the coachmen. At length we learnt that one of our wheels was broken in such a manner as to render it impossible for us to proceed. Upon this the old lady immediately became a principal actor in the scene. She sprung to the window, and addressing the set of gentlemen who completely filled the mail, exclaimed “Gentlemen! can’t you make room for two? only me and my daughter?” The naive simplicity of this request set both the coaches into an uproar of laughter. It was impossible to doubt that she acted upon the same principle as the pious Catholic, who addressing heaven with a prayer for himself alone, added “pour ne pas fatiguer ta misericorde.” Our laugh, however, never daunted the old woman, or caused her for a moment to cease the reiteration of her request, “only for two of us, gentlemen! can’t you find room for two?”
Our situation was really very embarrassing, but not to laugh was impossible. After it was ascertained that our own vehicle could not convey us, and that the mail had not even room for two, we decided upon walking to the next village, a distance, fortunately, of only two miles, and awaiting there the repair of the wheel. We immediately set off, at the brisk pace that six o’clock and a frosty morning in March were likely to inspire, leaving our old lady and her pretty daughter considerably in the rear; our hearts having been rather hardened by the exclusive nature of her prayer for aid.
When we had again started upon our new wheel, the driver, to recover the time he had lost, drove rapidly over a very rough road, in consequence of which, our self-seeking old lady fell into a perfect agony of terror, and her cries of “we shall be over! oh, Lord! we shall be over! we must over! we shall be over!” lasted to the end of the stage which with laughing, walking, and shaking, was a most fatiguing one.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01