Sackets Harbor of A Half Century Ago
Manuel Jeffrey, Now 82, Drove Stage From Lake Port to Watertown During the Civil War--Big Freight and Passenger Business at the Lake in the 50's and 60's.
Sackets Harbor, Feb. 8. -- Memories of Sackets Harbor of the days of the middle of the nineteenth century, when side-wheeled vessels plied the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario and this village was considerable of a trade and passenger center, were recalled today by Manuel Jeffrey, 82 years old, who has resided in this vicinity since he was six years old, and who in the Civil war days drove a stage between Sackets Harbor and Watertown.
Mr. Jeffrey was born near London, England, in 1837. When six years old he came to this country with his parents, and the first soil he set foot on after leaving his homeland was at Sackets Harbor. He came across on an ocean liner and transferred immediately to a river boat at Montreal, which brought him here. He made his home with relatives until he was 14, when he hired out at $5 a month. When he was 18 he came to Sackets Harbor.
"In those days there was ten times as much business in Sackets Harbor as there is now," said Mr. Jeffrey. "I can remember driving my four horse coach down on that dock," he conti nued, pointing out of the window of his apartment to the dock by the station, "and seeing it covered with people. I have seen from 400 to 600 baskets of peaches put off there in one morning.
"A line of sidewheel vessels ran on the river and the lake then. I recall there were four boats which used to stop here. They were the Cataract, the Niagara, the Ontario, and a Canadian boat the name of which I cannot recall. The Canadian boat had a broom set out from each side of the bow, to signify that she swept the lake, or was the fastest boat in operation on the river.
"The boats all stopped at Sackets Harbor and there was a big trade. There was one boat going each way each day and they used to meet here. They would zigzag back and forth between the United States and Canada, the law requiring that they should not stop at two ports in either country in succession.
"In a gale of wind the boats could go down but could not go up, and sometimes one of them would be held up here. I recall an incident which happened back in Œ64. It really was a case of smuggling, but it happened so far back that I guess I won't be arrested for it now. Henry Crandall, ŒWalt' McDowell and I went to Kingston and we bought two or three pieces of cotton cloth. It was about half as cheap in Canada as it was here. We got the cloth all right, but when we came back we found the other boat at the dock. Our boat had to pass that and land right in front of the customs office. It was a puzzle how to get that cotton cloth off. Finally we told the purser not to hurry putting our baggage off, and in the afternoon when everything was quiet we sent ŒCoon' Dunbar around with a push cart and took the baggage to my rooms."
Mr. Jeffrey started driving the stage in 1859 over the old plank road between Sackets Harbor and Watertown, and he recalls some interesting incidents in connection with his work. For the first two years he drove by the month for Luther Barrows, but he finally bought the business from Mr. Barrows and operated it himself.
"In Watertown I used to stay at the Jackman House, a hotel run by Benjamin Jackman where the Otis block now stands. Watertown was then only a village. Watertown was made a city when it had less than 8,000 inhabitants, although that was against the law then. A special act was passed permitting Watertown to become a city with less than the required number of people."
He continued the stage line until 1865, after the close of the war, when he conducted a livery business for a while. He drove the stage all during the war, and remembers distinctly many of the events of that day.
The 94th regiment was raised at Madison Barracks from northern New York men. The day they left Madison Barracks to march to Watertown to entrain Mr. Jeffrey drove his stage the length of the column.
"I came upon the regiment just as the end of the column was wheeling from the garrison into the road to Watertown," he said. "The column was taking up the whole road, marching from fence to fence. They opened up for me, and I never let my four horses get out of a trot. I did not catch up with the head of that column until I got within three miles of Watertown."
On one occasion the soldiers of the 94th became a bit unruly at the garrison and were bent on giving trouble, but the trouble was quickly squelched by a company of the 7th which had been paroled.
"One company of the 7th regiment was sent here," he said. "They had been prisoners and could not be used again in battle, so they were sent here for a rest. They came into Sackets Harbor one Sunday morning over the old Sackets Harbor & Ellisburg railroad, one of the last things that road was used for, and they camped in the square.
"The 94th regiment was here then. They were new recruits and they didn't know much about war and discipline. They came down to where the men of the 7th were cooking their breakfast and hung around, making fun of them. The 7th took it in good part but they said, "You'll know more of this war before it is over." They did, too, for the 94th was as badly cut up as any regiment that ever went out of here.
"A little later the men of the 94th kicked up a rumpus and started to break into some of the shacks set up here by Watertown business places. They called out the 7th with their shiny bayonets and the 94th quieted down pretty quickly when they saw those bayonets."
Mr. Jeffrey conducted the livery only a short time when he sold out. In 1874, in partnership with a cousin, Albert Lane, he started a general store, known as Jeffrey & Lane, which ran for several months. Mr. Lane left Sackets Harbor some time after, and is now a wealthy banker and cattle owner in Lander, Wyo. He is also president of a bank in that place.
Mr. Jeffrey later opened a general store of his own in the block which he owned. The block was burned Aug. 29, 1889, and in the next year Mr. Jeffrey built the present Jeffrey block, a two story brick structure near the railroad station.
After he burned out Mr. Jeffrey did not again enter business for himself but worked for others. For a time he worked in the fish market of Clarke & Elmer, run by C. M. Clarke and William Elmer. This firm was really the beginning of the A. Booth & Co. of Cape Vincent, which does a large fish business now.
Mr. Clarke and Mr. Williams ran a fish market in the basement of the Eveleigh store. Mr. Elmer left the firm and took in W. G. Robbins, the firm becoming Clarke & Robbins. They moved to larger quarters near the station, and built a refrigerator. The business continued to grow until the firm was shipping a carload of fish from here daily.
The firm then consolidated with two others, one at Oswego and one at Chaumont, and became the Lake Ontario Fish Company. They moved to Cape Vincent and were taken over later by the A. Booth & Company.