The photo above was likely taken in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The women depicted seem to be having fun in the “old stage coach.” One suspects that, even then, the stagecoach could evoke the “romance” of the old frontier.
Michigan Stage Routes
Christian Clemens established a weekly stagecoach route between Detroit and Mount Clemens (a town that Clemens founded) in 1822. In his article “On the Michigan Stage” (Michigan History magazine, Sept/Oct 2005), LeRoy Barnett cites Clemens’ 1822 route as “the first concrete evidence of a stagecoach running in Michigan.”
Detroit naturally became a hub for stagecoach lines. Several stagecoach routes began in 1826, connecting Detroit to Toledo, Ann Arbor and Pontiac. Service expanded to Niles around 1830 and to Chicago by 1833. A stage connected Detroit to Lansing (established as the capital in 1847) by 1852.
Grand Rapids served as a hub in the Western part of the state. It first became accessible by stage in 1833. Afterwards, service to and from Grand Rapids greatly expanded. By 1856, the city could boast eleven regular stage lines. (For more on stage routes in Michigan, see the aforementioned article by LeRoy Barnett.)
The Stagecoach and the Tavern
Taverns tended to spring up along roads traveled by stagecoaches. For a fee, tavern visitors could receive a bed and/or a meal. In Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State, Willis F. Dunbar notes that “accommodations were crude and often inadequate, but food was abundant and friendliness the rule.” The Walker Tavern, now part of the Michigan Historical Museum system, provides a connection to that era. Purchased by the Walker family in 1843, it proved a popular stop for stagecoach passengers traveling from Detroit to Chicago. For more information on Walker Tavern, click here: Walker Tavern Web Site
The End of the Era
Stagecoach service declined as railroad service became more readily available. Contrary to popular belief, however, stagecoaches did not completely disappear until the age of the automobile. LeRoy Barnett notes that thirty-seven stagecoach lines were listed in 1897 Michigan gazetteers and that four stagecoach lines were still running in Michigan as late as 1927.