Stagecoach Days

The first stage coach between Lexington and Cincinnati ran on May 6, 1818.  Abner Gaines, who maintained a tavern in Williamstown, operated it.  Gaines' home is still standing just north of Walton. Southbound stages left Cincinnati on Wednesdays at 8 a.m. and arrived in Lexington on Thursdays at 6 pm.  Two days.  Northbound left Lexington at 2 pm, on Friday, and arrived at Cincinnati at 8 am Monday.  The fare was ten cents a mile, or about $9 for the trip, which followed roughly what we now know as US 25. 

 It was hot and dusty in the summer, and muddy in the winter.  On one incident in Williamstown, I'll quote Coleman directly:  “Among other things of major importance to the stagecoach owners was the health and condition of the horses.  This sometimes proved a serious problem, often involving great expense.  In 1855, there broke out an epidemic of “glanders” among the horses of Thomas H. Irvine, on the Lexington-Cincinnati route, at Williamstown.  This was one of the most dreaded and fatal diseases of the stage horses, and drastic measures were taken to prevent its spreading.  In the words of Irvine, 'There were fourteen good long-legged horses there and they had to be shot and the barn with all the contents destroyed by fire to stamp out the disease.  Mules you know don't get the glanders, so I rode up there [from Lexington] on a mule with a horse pistol to do the shooting.  We had to wait for three days until there was no wind to spread a fire.  Then I had a Negro hostler lead the horses one at a time to the center of the barn and shoot them through the heart, so that they all died together.  Then we pulled a great pile of dry hay out of the loft to cover up the carcasses, stuffing hay around them.  A big crowd of people had congregated because of the shooting.  Then I set fire to the bard… I was working two hundred head of horses at the time, and we had to get rid of the glanders.  All of the other horses on that route were taken to my farm on the Versailles Pike and turned out to graze for twelve weeks.  None of them developed the glanders.'” 

Glanders, by the way, has recently become a disease considered a biological weapon.

Coleman notes that Irvine's farm was on the site now occupied by the Calumet Farm.

The stage coach lines pretty much gave up competing with the railroads by 1855, but stayed to serve as feeders from the railroads to other points.   


Compiled from J. Winston Coleman's Stage-Coach Days in the Bluegrass, still in print, and worth your attention.