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1857 - Robert Bulkeley's Rail Trip
Robert Bulkeley’s rail journey, September 1857

Robert Bulkeley lived in Brooklyn, NY, with his widowed mother and his half-sister. In 1857, he was 18 years old. He worked at an insurance agency, the Commercial Mutual Insurance Company, at 50 Wall Street, in Manhattan. He was a clerk there, along with several other young men. The following is Robert’s journal of the ten-day trip he made on his summer vacation. He was a young man of literary tastes and an aspiring journalist.

The journal comprises several sheets of paper. It is not signed but it is dated. The pages are folded in half to make a booklet; some of the pages are missing. The only complete date is on the last page, Friday September 11, 1857. I have tried to copy the capitalization of the original, although I could not always distinguish between a large letter and a capital letter. Uncertain readings are indicated by square brackets.

He left Brooklyn and traveled via the Erie Railroad to Elmira, on to Niagara Falls, and then to Wilkes-Barre. He was visiting relatives in Elmira and Wilkes-barre. They were all related through the Bulkeley family of Colchester, Connecticut. His great-grandfather was Col. Eliphalet Bulkeley. The Colonel had emigrated to Wilkesbarre in the early 1800s and several of his children moved there with him. Others left Colchester later, for Brooklyn and Alabama.

In Elmira, Robert visited the Gillet family. The Gillets had moved to Elmira around the same time that Robert’s father moved to Brooklyn, in the late 1820s. Solomon Gillet, his father’s former business partner, had married Robert’s father’s cousin, Mary Watrous. Their son Daniel Gillet was about ten years older than Robert. Daniel married Frances Augusta Brown in 1853. Other cousins were visiting Elmira at the same time Robert was there: his first cousin once-removed, Fanny Brundage, and his second cousin Fred Watrous.

The journal starts with Robert describing his departure. He set out from his home on Livingston Street in Brooklyn. He took the Fulton Ferry to Manhattan. There he was met by Nicholas, a handyman or janitor at the insurance company where Robert worked. Then he went to the New York & Erie depot at the foot of Duane Street, where a ferry would have taken him to Jersey City. The Erie railroad had been extended to Jersey City some time in the early 1850s.

Transcribed by Ann Bradshaw
Published by Joyce M. Tice 2009
Copyright Ann Bradshaw and Joyce M. Tice 2009

Here is a picture I just scanned, this is signed on the back “To Mother, from Daniel W. Gillet.”  It was taken at Baker & Record, Photographers, over Commercial Bank, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
I think he is the fellow on the right, based on the other picture I have.  I have no idea who the other men are, or the occasion for the picture.
Dan Gillett
Wednesday September [9/2/1857]

To insure plenty of time to dress myself and get to Duane St at my leisure, upon awaking at half past 3 o. c. I jumped out of bed, and began to clothe myself. Swallowed a cup of Coffee, and left the house, at a quarter of five (a.m.) with valise (very heavy) in hand, and walked to the Fulton Ferry. It was quite dark, more so, on account of being somewhat foggy, but it cleared up, while crossing the River, with promises of a fine day.

On the other side found Nicholas, who took my valise, and we walked over to Duane Street.

At ½ past 6, the train left Jersey City, and we were soon whirling through the cuts of Paphian Lotioned Rocks, and the Hackensack Meadows.1

A slightly difficulty occurred in the Cars, between a fat old Doctor, from the South, and a man, who intimated to him that an unoccupied seat by his side was engaged. Fat old Galen, furious, Other man passive, better half of the Corpulent ancient M.D. should have a seat, he didn’t care if it was engaged, etc, etc. but soon after the "Dr." with his troupe went to an other car. Before we got to Ramapo, my eyes were blinded with cinders, but managed to read the Times comfortably; and commence Charles Reades new novel, White Liesa very sensible romance.2 My neighbor conversed but little, except in Erie Rail Road interest bonds,3 but more agreeable to me his silence for with what silent enjoyment I took, as the Delaware’s dark waters revealed themselves at a curve on the road, while I was eighty or ninety feet above them, but soon we began to descend the Shaungunks and arrived at Port Jervis, on the Delaware, now a thriving town, coal and lumber being brought here by Canal – all the scenes on the road were new to me, though I passed over a year ago. The Forge at Ramapo, where the West Point Chain was wrought, Tom Mountain, the Canal and its picturesque views, my Island on the Susquehanna, Cascade Bridge, the Starucca Viaduct, Oquiga House, etc., etc., arrived at Elmira, 20 m. past 4 P.M.4

Walked to Mr. G’s – found him harnessing up, to go to Horseheads, Augusta home, but not seeable.5 Entertained myself the best way I could, walked up towards the Fair Ground to see the "Trot" but seeing the people coming home, and the clouds of dust, hardly penetrable, returned. Introduced to Brundage, Fannie B’s husband, who was visiting there—Retired about 10 p.m. Slept with Brundage, and conversed with him on matters and things in general. He is a nephew of Senator Brodhead – and a lawyer – So ends the day.

[There is an enormous curlicue at the bottom of the page.]

Thursday, September [9/3/1857]

The fogs in this town, unlike those of the "seaboard," are cold, and piercing, but do not moisten the pavements as our own muggy ones do. The Air was very dense when I left "mine couch," but by 8 o.c. it was clear and bright—

Spent the morning in reading, walking, writing, and looking at the locomotives, which I have as great a fascination for as a fancy man has for his horse. Brundage gave me invite to his house at Wilkesbarre, which I of course accepted-- The afternoon, tried in vain to see some pretty girls, but the town is devoid of them, even those who are ‘gay,’ and of an unchristian although Mohammedan calling are not at all seductive in their charms.

Went up to the Race Course, awful dusty, but well paid for my endeavors, though it was a pity to place such a vulgar spectacle as a horse race (i.e., excluding the horses, and referring to the spectators). The Fairgrounds are situated on the bank of the Chemung, and forming an ampitheatre, by the o’erhanging hills, from which afforded a fine view of everything going on.

Mammoth Fat Women, living skeletons, calfs with six legs, Medusa headed Women, Mammoth Pigs, sheep with 300 lbs of tallow on their narratives,6 Mrs. Cunningham and the B.B.B.; Napoleon in wax, and monkeys, rattlesnakes, afforded enjoyment in the intensest degree, to the Curious.

[There is a break in the text; the next page starts with the fragment below.]


Saw four attempts to get round the Course, but a break, every time – and not being particularly interested, left, for it was time for the 6 a.m. Express to arrive, at the Depot, and I wanted the morning papers. Sat under the arbor, and read them.

In the evening went to a concert, with several people, and supped with Dan and Brundage, on lager and raw oysters. So ends the day. Not much enjoyment.

Friday September

A hot day – What I have dreaded – Not much interesting – saw a parade of firemen, loafed with Dan, drank a lager, home, introduced to Fred Watrous, of Galveston, and a Junior at Yale Union College, at present at the Water Cure, where the poor fellow is all most dead, with starvation, douches, hips, packs, etc., etc. After dinner walked up the hill to the "Cure." Splendid view,
Buena Vista

of the valley – Sat with him a while, introduced to two or three fellows – Rolled ten pins, and home again. Up to the N.Y. Cure, saw the lovely B.R. and her sisters but didn’t see D.D.S. who I expect will pass thru here in a day or two.7 In the evening loafed – until F.W. [Fred Watrous] came in and then went [to] some street to see a torch light procession, miserable attempt at one it proved. Sauntering around with him, and talking with Augusta, made an engagement to go to Niagara with him tomorrow. Ret. abt. 11. p.m.

Sat. 5 Sept.

Feeling relieved, I walked to the rear platform, and their [sic] gave way to bursts of delight, at the beauty of Seneca lake, and the country around it, for it took me by surprise, as I had forgotten the Road ran by that way, as it did for thirty miles or more. The rain came down quite fast, and cooled the atmosphere considerable, passed through Penn Yann, Canandaigua, etc., at half past six or seven an accident happened.

We ran off the track.

Our Car did, the baggage one, forward truck, one wheel, and this wheel was to detain us two hours. Fred and I lit our cigars, and walked around, to see how they managed to entice the vagrant wheel back to its track, at last by dint of two locomotives, puffing, pulling & higging [?], piles of wood, and great deal of halloing, we were allowed to proceed on our journey. Went along nicely until we heard the whistle to break up, and stopped by a corn field, something wrong, -- ran into a hand car, with the probability of an Irish man, (ah only an Irishman), made into mincemeat, and lying round in fragments for a half a mile back, Men go back to see, nothing found, probability of no hurt, except the handcar, a perfect wreck. So we proceed, stopped about half past ten, at Honeoye Falls, for supper. Landlords Daughter very pretty, refined looking, can’t keep my eyes off her, and eat but little, on account of she being dear & the victuals too. Conductor of the train, no appetite, hand car took his away. F.W. eat [sic] ravenously, he being starved for a whole month. x x x x Off again, passing through numerous large towns, getting cold, walk out and hang off the rear car. At Batavia the moon broke forth in splendid majesty, and the air very cold. Every one asleep but me, I taking comfort.8

As we passed the Niagara River, it was like silver sheen, and at ½ before 3 o. clock A.M. we rode into the Depot at Niagara Village, 3 ½ hours behind time, and most frozen. Selected the Clarendon House, and by 3 o clock were sound asleep in bed.

Sunday September 6

Three hours refreshing slumber and I awoke, the Sun was just rising, and gilding with the carpet every object with it. (I don’t know what to say.) I awoke F and soon we were dressed, and down by the American Falls. Im/nimus [?] we took a general view of the arena of the Falls, my feelings then, I cannot write, but will ever remember. We went down the inclined plane steps some two hundred I should say, and clambered out, upon the rocks to the foot of the Amer. Fall., saw an artist sketching, very aggravating, the thought, I could not-- Up again, and back to "mine inn" for breakfast. Waitress of the feminine gender, fine looking, good coffee, and cigars (after breakfast). Down the Principal Street, hired a horse + buggy. F. drove, check rein unloose, out, I hold the reins, horse starts, won’t hoa! Fred can’t get in, etc., Man comes in the road, and F is in— The morning was clear and a delightful bracing air. Crossed the Suspension Bridge, passed well onto a dozen toll gates, tolls enormous. The Drive on the Canada side was superb, if the horse hadn’t threatened [?] to break the wagon, and my jaw bone every 5 m. Stopped to warm our hands – F goes in, I hold the horse, infuriated animal threatens to carry me, over the British Fall (a few Yards off.) Nolen volens, to my relief F comes out, and I go in, and indulge in a glass of PaleAle. Back to the U.S. same way, passed numerous pretty Canada damsels on their way to church, after dismissing our horse, go on a commonplace jaunt, i.e., the Barber. After a comfortable shave, and hair adorned, light our cigars, and cross the bridge to Goat Island – What a heavenly walk around that Isle, I never felt so holy on a Sunday before; made the whole circuit, stopped now and then to admire, and applaud.

Saw the rainbow, a complete circle, and we stood so near that I could almost thrust my hand in the exquisite prism – (memo.) How admirably Church succeeded in depicting it.9 Last year I did not see it, -- Our incense from delicious Conchas, rose in unison with that of Nature. Passed a number of people, a sprinkling of London Cockneys and Southerners. Lounged around the Island for about an hour, and then returned to the hotel for dinner. After despatching that meal, took a walk up the Main St. and back to Prospect Point, here we gave way to the dolce far niente state; lolled on benches, and saw the "glittering generalities" rushing madly over the brink.10

Resumption of Hotel Life: And a comfortable doze, sweet, and refreshing, for a three hours sleep, after a hundred and eighty mile last night, did not rest us much. Woke up about 5 p.m. and then off on another ramble. We followed the Niagara River along by the




Wiggling Rapids, and

took a great deal of happiness in the neighborhood of our ventricle. Walked up the banks of the River for abt a mile and nearly opposite…

the famous navy Island of 1814. note: -- Back, to our "hostelrie" to supper. Memo we were vulgar enough to eat--). And now comes the crowning glory of our day’s happiness.

A Walk on Goat Island at Sunset

We took the same circuit as the morning one – and the ‘solemn stillness of those woods, the grandeur of the booming roar, of the cataract, and the fading sunlight I never shall forget. We went this time, to the foot of the Fall, near the Cave of Winds, and down a circular stairway. Walked slowly home, or at least to the "International" & Cataract House’s Reading Room, and sat an hour or two, waiting for the moon to rise, but that lunar gentleman was in no hurry, and we were fane to see once more and last, the Falls by starlight, as it was piercing cold; and taking a farewell look, returning to the Clarendon. Retired at 9. and dreamed.

Monday Sept. 9

Awoke abt 5 a.m. and jumped out of bed in a hurry, dressed in a hurry and we went down stairs; Rejoiced to find our Bills so light. Walked over to the N.Y. Central Depot, and warmed ourselves, till we heard our train, thundering over the Suspension Bridge—

Slept a good part of the time, until we came to Seneca Lake, and then renewed the pleasures of Saturday – Very growly, crowded car, Fat Old Farmer, one side of, Methodist looking gent the other, smell of bad tobacco, said these cars descended a grade of eight miles, aggravated me more to hear him talk – Pretty girl on the other side of the car, his head in the way, after wards caught a glimpse, saw pretty girl, take a very large bite out of a very large apple, romance all gone. At Port Jefferson [sic, must be Port Jervis] stopped some time, no appearance of the member from the Commercial member of the Board of Underwriters. Saw

[The page ended there. There is a gap--Tuesday and Wednesday are missing.]

Retired early, as we go to Wilkesbarre at 4.30 a.m. tomorrow.

Thursday Sept. 10

Dan’s loud voice awoke me and tore me from the enchanting embraces of Morpheus this morning, and I speedily dressed, crammed dirty shirts, collars, etc., in my valise, and was ready for the cars, but alas Dan and his encumbrances, wife and child, were not. The train not on time, an hour behind, but at last it came and we rode seventy miles to Great Bend, the only town in Pensylvania the Erie R.R. goes through.11 Here we had to wait over an hour; Now commences my first traveling in Pensylvania, a delightful ride it was, all combined, the scenery wild, and mostly wooded views, Augusta & Dan very agreeable, Louis ditto, awful homely girl in the cars, spoils the charm, smiles, molars as large as a horse. Crossed the Lehigh Valley, and saw my first Coal Mine, I saw. Lovely day, and such fine scenery I never dreamt of amethyst and emerald woods, sapphire sky, and a brilliant topaz set in it. Changed cars at Scranton, a large manufacturing, & coal town. Took Cars for Wilkes-barre, on the platform of the rear car, most of the way, eighteen miles. Looked out for the Monument, but didn’t see it, left the cars, at Kingstone, and took an Omnibus, so do two miles, and crossed the Susquehanna over a very fine, tho old bridge, and arrived at B’s about ½ p 1. P.M.

Saw my Bulkeley cousins in Pennsylvania, for the first time. Frances, B’s wife very handsome, fit, rather pretty, looks like Abbie C. [Corbin]. Took dinner at Bs; he lives in [a] neat cottage on the Banks of the Susquehanna.

Went over to Uncle Jonathan’s where I’m to stay. He is a fine old man, eighty years old, and a clear Bulkeley blue eye. Spent the afternoon, in walking around the town with him, introduced to Judge Collins and my –

[The writer breaks off and starts the next line, evidently interrupted or interrupt-ing himself.]

Wilkesbarre is an old town + U.J. one of its oldest inhabitants, recollects New York in 1800, was a midshipman with Com. Jewett. The River st. (called River St., in stead of being built up with stores, and old workings [?], as is generally the Case, is faced with mansions, and leaving a grassy bank to the Susquehanna.

Spent the evening at Bs, felt miserable, as my cold had increased, most sick abed. Introduced to the Revd. Charlie Collins, a nice fellow, for a minister.12 Two very pretty, and low necked bare-armed, much jewelried, loud voiced young ladies called, introduced came in two [sic] uncomfortable to say anything, and as I can write, without vanity, called, as they said to see me. Brundage had spoken of my coming, but had spoiled all by saying I was only about 15 or 16! Their names T.R. and U.W., the latter young damsel daughter of my – [sentence broke off]

Retired miserable, snuffling, awful impoetic state for this romantic Vale, Wet towel wrapt round my neck.

Friday September 11, 1857

1. Phalon’s Paphian Lotion was a beauty product which was advertised on the rocks of the Palisades. The author of a letter to the editor of the New York Times wrote in June 1855, "What right has he [Phalon] to make the beautiful Hudson hideous by his ugly Lotions and Hair Dyes? Why should he…be permitted to profane the noble Highlands with his sign boards and notices?"

2. Charles Reade is the author of the better known Cloister and the Hearth. "White Lies" was being serialized in the London Journal during 1857 (July – December). Robert read a number of literary magazines, including the Cornhill and Vanity Fair. He must have been able to buy it in New York.

3. The "Erie railroad interest bonds" probably related in some way to the bonds issued by the State of New York for the railroad construction.

4. Oquiga House was probably a place in Owego, New York, which is near Elmira.

5. Mr. G. is Solomon Gillett, Augusta his daughter-in-law. Horseheads is a village near Elmira.

6. Pun for tails [tales]. He is describing fat-tailed sheep, not common in the U.S. but common in the Middle East.

7. DDS is Daniel Drake Smith, his employer, president of the Commercial Mutual Insurance Company.

8. He may mean he was smoking a cigar.

9. Edwin Church was famous for, among other things, his painting of Niagara Falls.

10. Dolce far niente, roughly, "How sweet it is to do nothing."

11. This detour into Pennsylvania required enabling legislation in two states. It was made to avoid the Shawangunk Mountains. Otherwise, the engineering would have been nearly impossible.

12. Rev. Collins was another Bulkeley cousin, he was Robert’s 3rd cousin.


There are several things in this I identified thanks to your website.  Probably the most conspicuous were the marriages of Dan Gillet and Augusta Brown, and Asa Brundage and Fanny Bulkeley, both reported in the Elmira Republican.

I also found the biographical materials on Solomon Gillet, some Gillet burials, some Gillet directory entries, etc.

Some day I will get to the Elmira area and see some of what Robert saw.

I have a picture of Dan Gillett and Augusta Gillet, now that I think of it.  I can send them, but they are at home.

If anyone ever identifies Frances Augusta Brown’s antecedents, I would love to know, I cannot find her ancestry.

Again, thank you for all of your hard work.

Ann Bradburd
Potsdam, NY 13676

Here is the text of the last two letters that Robert’s older brother, Charles E. Bulkeley, Jr., wrote (that I have!)—he goes to Elmira from McDonough.  There are a couple of earlier letters from McDonough.  I have not given you the whole spiel about who he is visiting – Cousin Abby Corbin is a Taintor cousin who lives in McDonough.  The second letter mentions Augusta Gillett.  Charlie died May 1, 1856 of tuberculosis.  If you think you can use these, let me know.  I can give you a little more background if you would like it.   Charlie has something of the same sense of fun that Robert has, but he is sicker, and he hated writing letters.

Ann Bradburd 

Letter from Charlie, 6/18/1855

McDonough June 18th/55

Monday 7 ¾ AM

Dear Mother,

I suppose you are at the Breakfast table now & I wish I was there with you.  I should like some nice beefsteak & green peas hashed up together, golly wouldn’t I lay into ‘em.  We have nothing here but salt beef, pork & ham, no potatoes as they have used all theirs up & no one has any for sale, plenty of rye & Indian meal bread & some wheat and as much milk as you want.

I am better than when I last wrote, raised no more blood & have no pains.  I sleep with the wet cloth on my chest & wash & rub like everything in the morning.  You must be particular in your directions about the medicine whether I am to take it when I get it or wait till I spit more.

Cousin Abby says now that I have got out of medicine I had better let her doctor me on botanic principles but I shall not meddle with any of them.  I have had enough of herbs etc.  I weighed when I arrived here 101 lbs & now I will stop & go and see how much I have lost.

Well, I now weigh pretty near 102 so I have not lost any.  I want to leave here a week from tomorrow but Cousin Abby says I must go to Mrs. Wells & Aunt Daniels before I leave here.  Mrs. Wells lives 6 miles from here in Preston & Aunt Daniels 20 miles in Earlville but I don’t care much to go to either place. 1

We went to Oxford to church yesterday.  I did not get yours of the 11th till Saturday night & yesterday at noon got the one of the 14th & paper.  We don’t have a chance to send every day.  I wish we did.

I have got to go for a load of Firkins this afternoon or as soon as the horse gets through churning.  5 miles & I don’t know a foot of the way except on the map, part is through the woods on a path, but I don’t believe I shall get lost.  If I should meet any “injuns” I will give them Rob’s message.  I have not called on R. J. Baldwin yet, but saw him in church yesterday.  He is a pretty nice looking chap.2

As I shall see Mr. Morse when I go for the Firkins I will tell him to hurry up matters.

Give my love to all the boarders & to all friends & tell Bruce I should like a letter from him.

No more till I get a chance to send

Your affectionate son

PS Don’t forget the candy.

Tuesday 6 ¾ AM

As no one went to Oxford yesterday I could not send my letter.  I am about the same as yesterday.  Every night I have a pain in my right side which gets better when I get up.

Nancy is going to Ox. today but as it looks like rain I shan’t go.  My chances of seeing Baldwin grow less & less.

I went for the Firkins yesterday at 8 & got back at 7, did not get lost.

Don’t you think I had better leave here as soon as the 27th.  I do.  If I get your box this week I can, if not I will have to wait longer.  I don’t want to be here July 4th at any rate.  There is to be a picnic in the woods about 2 miles off, to which all the Corbin family will go.  But I must be where there is some noise.  I wish I had a pistol, don’t you.

Yrs, etc.

C E Bulkeley Jr.

1 Mrs. Wells is Cousin Abby’s sister, Mary Taintor Wells.  She and her husband had three or four young children.  Abigail Taintor and Mary Taintor were daughters of Newhall Taintor, so they were Charlie’s father’s first cousins.  Aunt Daniels was Sophia Taintor, his grandmother’s sister.

2R. J. Baldwin is probably Rufus Judd Baldwin.  His mother was from Norfolk, CT.  His father Rufus Baldwin moved to Guilford, Chenango County from Connecticut, and from there to Oxford in about 1836 where he opened a store.  R. J. graduated from Union College in 1846.  After a brief trip to Kentucky, he returned to Oxford where he studied law.  In 1850, he married the daughter of the lawyer with whom he worked.  In 1853, he was the youngest member of the New York State Assembly.  For reasons of health and wealth, in 1857, Rufus had moved to Minneapolis, where he became a banker.  (from a History of the City of Minneapolis)

Charlie probably did not spend the 4th of July with the Corbins in McDonough, New York.  He went from there to visit the Gillet family in Elmira.  Elmira is about 86 miles away; Charlie probably got back to the Erie railroad and went on from there.

The Gillets are Bulkeley connections.  Solomon Gillet had been a business partner of Charlie’s father in the early years of the 19th century (see the Worthington letters).  Solomon Gillet married Charlie’s father’s cousin, Mary Watrous.  They were both originally from Colchester.  Solomon and Mary had a son Daniel (1829-1878) so there were people closer to Charlie’s age in Elmira than in McDonough.  Dan married Augusta Brown in October 1853.

Elmira, July 24, 1855

Dear Mother, 

I [feel] some better than when I last wrote although I have the diarrhea & sour stomach.  Dr. Sayles was in yesterday & advised or rather said that Saratoga would be a good place for me.  He said he would go if he had time & someone would pay his expenses, I told him I would go on the same conditions.  He said I was well enough to go home alone so on Wednesday at 1.03 I shall leave here for Port Jervis & sleep there & in the morning leave @ 6.23 for N.Y. & arrive at 10.10 am when R.J.B. had better be at the Duane St. wharf (if he knows what’s good for himself).

If I should not come on Wednesday you must not be alarmed for something might turn up to prevent my starting as I expect.

Augusta has been very sick indeed, they did not think she would live at one time but now she is some better & they think she will get along.

I guess I have written enuf, you [should] not say anything to anybody at all about my coming home. 

To R.J.B.

Thursday @ 10 A.M. be at the ERR Depot foot of Duane St., if you ain’t there, I’ll lick yer. 

If you can’t tell who this is from I will sign my name when I get home.

Your eldest son

(not R.J.B. esq) [this is probably a joking reference to R.J. Baldwin, esquire—see the footnote above.]

Frances Augusta BROWN wife of Dan Gillett
Chemung County NY
Published On 1 JAN 2009
By Joyce M. Tice