Background Information

(Excerpted from miscellaneous articles in the Transportation and Road files at the Warren County Historical Society)


               In the early nineteenth century, transportation over land in Warren County was slow and difficult.  Horses and oxen could make use of the roads and paths which were available, but ruts, mud, dust, deep snow, and other physical objects could make travel difficult or even impossible.  A prominent Warren citizen traveling in 1859 had this to say, “Between here and Kinzua we found the roads about as bad as bad management could make them…It is positively damaging to our county that a road so much traveled should be continually in such miserable condition."

               In spring, rain turned unpaved roads to muddy ruts.  In the summer, ruts hardened, creating very uneven roads that sent up clouds of dust when traveled.  In winter, heavy snows could close roads. Winter, however, was a good time to travel, as snow might pack down to a nice bed for sledding and frozen rivers and streams could be crossed in the cold weather. 

               Early roads often followed trails which had been used by Seneca and other Native American groups for centuries. Many of the modern paved roads which run through the county today are old trails and roads which were graded, widened, and improved over time. Dirt roads were the most common in the nineteenth century, but there were many ways to improve roads. Adding gravel, laying down cut logs side by side (called a corduroy road), laying down wood boards side by side (called a plank road), or paving with stones or bricks were all ways people attempted to improve roads. 

In the nineteenth century, the creation and maintenance of roads and bridges which might be publicly or privately owned, required both labor and money. In order to pay for these, as well as make a profit for investors, it was not uncommon to pay a toll or fee for using a bridge, a ferry, or a road.  People in the county might also have to work several days each year to fix up publicly owned roads. This was called a “road tax."

Horses and oxen not only transported people, but many of the products of early industry. They hauled oil barrels, farm produce, lumber, and more across the country. However, transportation over land was much more difficult, expensive, and time consuming than transportation on rivers and streams.

For over 75 years, stagecoaches were used in Warren County to take people and mail from town to town. A stagecoach is an enclosed, four-wheeled vehicle drawn by a team of horses.  Just as you might buy a bus or plane ticket today, in the past, people would buy tickets on a stagecoach to travel from place to place. The first stagecoaches in the county began running in 1826 between Dunkirk and Warren, and into the twentieth century, stagecoaches continued to run between Sugar Grove and Jamestown.

Today, gas stations, garages, and parking lots serve to fuel, repair, and house automobiles.  In the past, liveries, hitching posts, public drinking troughs, wagon shops, and blacksmiths served to house, feed, outfit, and repair both horses and the vehicles that they pulled.


Additional Resources:

Early Land Transportation Vocabulary


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society