10 Dec 2012

Lost Capitol Hill: Getting here from there in 1802 (pt 2)

Last week, I introduced the “Traveller’s Directory, or a Pocket Companion Shewing the Course of the Main Road From Philadelphia to New York and From Philadelphia to Washington with Descriptions of the Places Through Which It Passes, and the Intersections of the Cross Roads,” and promised to look more closely at the route described therein. Today, we’ll look at the first part of the trip, from New York City to Philadelphia.

Leaving New York, “situated on the southern extremity of an island, originally called Manhattan,” required a boat across the Hudson River, which left you in Paulus Hook, New Jersey. If you’re interested, you can still take a ferry to NYC from here: It will take less than 10 minutes.

From here, the 1802 traveler would continue west, to the Hackinsack (yes, that’s how it was written back then) River, which was crossed on a bridge, and required a 7 cent toll – for a horse and rider. Coaches were quite a bit more expensive. On the other side of the bridge, and leading to the Passaic River bridge, was a three mile long causeway that kept the traveler out of a cedar swamp. Today, this route is the Lincoln Highway, otherwise known as Route 1.

In fact, Route 1 follows the path shown in our Traveller’s Directory quite closely: through Newark and Elizabeth Town (it has today lost the latter part of its name) and on through Rahway, Woodbridge, Bonham Town, and Piscataway. It was here that the book began earning its keep, describing exactly where to ford the river to get to New Brunswick, since “its bed declines from a level so rapidly, that, at a little distance lower down, a large vessel may ride with safety.” In other words: Pick your spot well, or you’ll be swimming.

From New Brunswick, it was an easy trip to Princeton. Though the area through which had once earned its name Rockey Hill, it had “received its share of improvements.” From Princeton, the traveler continued on to Trenton, on the banks of the Delaware River. Once again, a ferry was needed, and one that cost considerably more than the New York ferry: 18 cents for a horse and rider to be taken across to Morrisville.

It’s hard to imagine today, but back then most of the route was over empty countryside. Today, you basically don’t leave the city from one end to the other. This is what Philadelphia shows up as. (Princeton Library)

At this point, the traveler also crossed into Pennsylvania, and was now in striking distance from Philadelphia. Only the Neshaminy Creek, with its “indifferent floating bridge” and Poquessing Creek, with its stone bridge and remarkable lack of toll, stand in the way of a successful journey into Philadelphia.

Messrs. Moore and Jones write that the distance from Philadelphia to Paulus Hook is 93 and a half miles. They make no estimates as to how long the journey would take. Today, the same journey, made via Route 1, would be just under 90 miles, and take about 2 hours, with no tolls, ferries, or fords.

Next week, we’ll finish up with the 139 miles to Washington DC.

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