Burton Stagecoach's Heritage
Runs Deep In Wayne County
Old Burnside-Monticello Stagecoach Now On Display At Wells Fargo Bank In Southern California
Editor's Note: Diann Pondela of Ripon, California, has been researching the city of Burnside in Pulaski County, Kentucky. Her parents, Leroy Branscum (1893-1976) and Lela Mae Corander Branscum (1905-1981), were both born in Burnside, and now Dianne is very interested in the history of her parent's hometown. Recently, she has been researching the Burnside-Monticello stageline, which was owned by the Burton Stageline. The Burton stagecoach was a Concord, which was famed for its use in the cross-country stagecoach travel and built by the Abbot-Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire. Each coach had a number and the Burnside-Monticello (Burton stagecoach) was #599, built in 1895. The following article, which is courtesy of the Wayne County Outlook Newspaper, submitted by Diann, gives a look at the history of the stagecoach and where it is located today.
Diann Pondella - 2003
Wayne County Outlook
The Burton stagecoach was in use from 1896 until 1915 on the route from Monticello (Wayne County) to Burnside (Pulaski County) and was the last operating stageline east of the Mississippi River.
Stagecoaches were introduced into Wayne County during the latter half of the 19th century. Taking advantage of an improved road, which had been built to Burnside, and to help cover the demand for transportation and delivery of mail to and from the railroad station there, public transportation by stagecoach was established. Prior to the stage route, persons traveling to and from Monticello had to arrange their own conveyances. They walked, rode horses, hitched a ride on someone's buggy or a farm wagon, or they would ride with a wagon train of five or six covered wagons that regularly delivered freight to Monticello. These wagon trains continued well into the 20th century.
There were three coaches used along the Monticello-Burnside route during its existence. One of the earliest drivers was Larkin Edge, who was employed by J. W. Hall and Son. In 1884-1885 this advertisement appeared in the local weekly newspaper, The Monticello Signal: "Monticello and Burnside Mail Stage Line leaves Monticello daily at 6:00 a.m. and arrives at Burnside at 11:00 a.m. Return: Leaves Burnside at 1:30 p.m. and arrives at Monticello at 7:00 a.m."
Burnside is located on the north side of the Cumberland River in Pulaski County, a few miles south of Somerset. The stagecoach crossed over the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River at Burnside on a ferry. On its return the stage would pull up the steep hill away from the river and head along the dusty or muddy pike toward Monticello, where it would arrive three to five hours later, depending upon the weather. Several stops were made at tollgates and post offices along the way. Besides several tollgates on the improved pike, there was a stop at a rest station near Frazer, 11 miles from Monticello, about halfway in the trip, where the horses were exchanged for fresh ones.
John Hockersmith wrote an excellent article in September 1969 for the Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground Magazine, detailing one of the stagecoach trips:
"The stage met the train at the Burnside Depot in Pulaski County. There were only five miles of route in this county, but this was the most hazardous part of the trip. After paying $1.50 fare the passengers and the mail were loaded onto the coach. There was room for nine passengers inside and approximately five on top, plus the driver. Baggage was carried on the rear of the coach, covered by a huge, oiled leather flap. Glassless windows allowed the passengers a view of the countryside. In case of rain oiled leather flaps were rolled from the tops of the windows and fastened at the bottom, keeping the occupants snug and dry.
"With a snap of his whip, the driver (usually Charles Burton or his aide, John Huffman) started the four horses (or mules) forward. Carefully, he drove down the steep hill to the Cumberland River, then drove onto a ferry which carried them across. Under 2,300 pounds of burden the horses pulled upward from the river and headed westward toward Monticello. Atop the hill the road leveled off, but curved for the remainder of the journey.
"Approximately four hours later, having reached its destination, the stage jolted to a halt. It is said that a group of boys usually gathered around asking the driver, in sincere admiration, questions concerning the trip. To be a stage driver required men with great physical strength and a so-called devil-may-care attitude, which was very appealing to youngsters of the time.
"Often the 20 miles between the two towns seemed like a hundred. Rains swelled the river, creating a hazardous ferry crossing and the dusty roads turned to mud, slowing the stage to almost a crawl. Winter meant cold traveling, deep snow, and slick roads. It is recorded that during one hard winter the river froze solid, immobilizing the ferry boat. With a strong feeling that the mail-must-go-through, the driver daringly and successfully drove across the ice and on to Monticello."
On the route across the pike, tolls were paid to the road's stockholding company at five tollgates. At one point during the first decade of this century, this toll would have been 55 cents for each five miles of travel. At least that is the rate fixed by the toll company for each stagecoach having seats within for nine passengers. Smaller, six-seat coaches got by for less at 35 cents per five miles.
Charles H. Burton originally purchased the stagecoach for $900 in 1898. The entire coach was dark red with lanterns near the front to help while driving in the dark. There was room for nine passengers inside with five on top, plus the driver. Baggage was carried on the rear, covered by an oiled leather flap. A pouch also hung on the back saying, "U. S. Mail."
After Mr. J. W. Hall and Son ran the coach, Mack Burton operated the stage for a few years, with Charles Burton taking over in 1896. The first run under his management was made on July 1st of that year. He purchased the third and last coach to operate the route in 1898. The late John Stephens, who operated a blacksmith shop in Steubenville until his death, recalled when he was a kid that he would go down to the old Steubenville store, where his daddy ran a blacksmith shop. About stagecoach time he got out where he could run alongside the road and see the coach. Stephens said, "Wayne County was in the midst of an oil boom at the time and traffic along the route was great. Sometimes Burton wouldn't have enough room in one of the old stages to hold all of the passengers from Burnside. I've seen that old stagecoach when they were hanging on it like a bunch of rats. The post office here at Steubenville was a center place then, because we were surrounded by oil leases." (John W. Stephens was born June 1896 in Mill Springs, son of Absalom Stephens, born March 1856 in Kentucky. Absalom married about 1876 to Abbie G. ?, born June 1860 in North Carolina. In 1920 Absalom's mother, Edith Robinson, age 92, born in Tennessee, was a widow living in his house. (From 1900, 1910, 1920 Census of Wayne County).
The stagecoach continued to operate until the final run in November 1915. It was supplemented by motor-powered vehicles. Charles Burton, owner of the stageline, bought two Ford automobiles in 1912 and placed them into service along with the stage on the Burnside route. It cost $2 to make the trip by automobile taxi, as opposed to the $1.50 stage fee.
The first motor-powered freight service started in Monticello about the same time. T. J. Alexander, T. M. Ragan, and Martin Back formed a company and operated a three-ton Garfield truck. They made daily trips to and from Burnside, carrying 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of cargo in less than three hours.
John C. Burton inherited the coach from his father, Charles H. Burton. John had a tiny stone garage (in 1920 John was listed as an automobile mechanic) on North Main Street, where he displayed the actual stagecoach. John kept it in excellent condition, insulating it from shocks, kept it oiled and polished, and rarely allowed visitors to touch it. It could easily have been placed into service had time reversed and the tranquil-happy days of horse-power returned.
The problem with keeping the historic relic in Wayne County developed in 1973 with the death of John C. Burton. After a family argument over the actual ownership of the coach, it was taken to Falmouth, Kentucky, where it was kept for three years by a family member. To settle the estate, it was placed at public auction by court order and was sold on the Wayne County Courthouse lawn on the July 29, 1978, to the highest bidder. Kenneth Ballou, a Burkesville, Kentucky, undertaker, outbid several others; including family members, at the price of $38,750.
The stage made its longest trip a few months later when Ballou sold the historic stage to the multi-billion dollar Wells Fargo Bank of California for an unprecedented $85,000 and was said to be the highest price ever paid for a Concord stage.
Wells Fargo was interested in the coach because it is the same model used by the Wells Fargo stagelines in the Old West. Back then the company had purchased 30 coaches almost identical to the Burton coach from the Abbott and Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire. The Old Burton Stagecoach is now on display in a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Southern California, a long way from its heritage in Wayne County.
Charles H. Burton was born May 1863 and died 1923 and was buried in Elk Spring Cemetery, Section No. 5 in Monticello. He married Anna L. Tate, who was born in 1869 and died in 1955. She was buried next to Charles.
According to Wayne County, Kentucky, census records, in 1900 Charles Burton was age 37 and was living in Monticello, Precinct No. 1 (house #8). He stated his occupation was a mail carrier. He had been married 11 years to Anna, age 31. Their son, Johnnie, was age eight and sister, Carra/Carrie, was seven.
In 1910 Charles H. Burton was age 48, living on North Main Street in Monticello as a mail contractor and livery man. He had been married for 21 years to Anna L. who was age 41. Their son, John C., was 18, and their daughter, Carrie, age 17. A black cook was living in the house named Sallie Redman, age 25.
In 1920 precinct No. 1 (#135), Charles H. Burton was the manager of a mail service. Charles and Anna's parents were born in Kentucky. Living in house with the Burtons was a nephew named John M. Burton, age 7.
John Charles Burton was born June 2, 1891, in Monticello, Wayne County, Kentucky, and died May 6, 1973. He was buried next to his parents. John married Nannie A. Bartleson on October 22, 1919. Nannie was born in 1893 in Monticello and died in 1965. In 1920 John was listed on the census as an automobile mechanic (#143), age 28, and Nannie was age 26.
(Courtesy of Wayne County Outlook Newspaper).
Mrs. Diann Pondela, 1357 Elena Drive, Ripon, CA 95366, shares this article with our readers.