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Traveling by stagecoach Iowa style

October 14, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Stages moved westward to Iowa to meet the need for mail delivery to western settlements. The first stagecoach line in Iowa began in 1838 and ran twice weekly from Burlington through Fort Madison and Montrose to St. Franceville, Mo. This was an 18 hour trip for 45 miles!

Equipped with seats for passengers, they became a popular means of travel The standard fare was ten cents per mile and a fence rail. The fence rail was used by the male passengers for helping get the coaches out of the mud! While the first stages were just modified horse dawn wagons, later stagecoaches (Made by the Downing and Abbot company) were equipped with seats for six to nine passengers inside, and up to a dozen riders on top. The coaches used two and four horse teams, traveling at 8 to 15 miles per hour.

Prior to the postal laws being enacted in 1845, the mail rate on the stage, for a folded single sheet, delivered more than 400 miles, was 25 cents.

The first stages were described as "wagons without springs, and with white muslin tops, drawn by two horses." Towns near stagecoach stops benefitted financially from the stagecoach stops in their towns, due to increased demands for lodging, meals, livery stables and blacksmith services.

Despite its popularity, there were many problems associated with travel by stage: mud and plank roads, winter blizzards, prairie fires and the threat of robbery added to discomfort and long delays. Plank roads in Iowa were authorized by the Second General Assembly and construction of the first initial project was to be 94 miles of graded toll road from Bloomington (Muscatine) in Muscatine County, to Tipton in Cedar County and on to the county seat of Benton County (later identified as Vinton). During the years of 1849-1850, the General Assembly authorized nearly 600 miles of plank roadway in the state, however no more than 50 miles was ever actually built. Failing to generate the expected revenue (the toll for a wagon drawn by two horses was 2 cents per mile). The era of the plank roads ended in 1860.

Stages gave way to the railroad (or the Iron Horse) when smaller communities received rail connections. The last coach of the Western Stage Company left Des Moines on July 1, 1870.



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