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Dear Sister...............A Travel Story

Submitted and Introduced by James W. Kelbaugh

Milestones Vol 32 No. 4

Suppose you were planning to visit family members at a distant place you've never seen before. In fact you've rarely been as far as 100 miles from home. Your destination is nearly 800 miles away and you'll be using public transportation. All sorts of questions must be running through your mind about the route to take, how to make the best connections, the cost involved, and what clothes and other items to take along. True as that might be today, imagine what it was like over a century ago ­ for two young women!
In late 1901 James and Agnes (Love) Holbrook, with their two small daughters in tow, moved from Monaca, PA to New Bedford, MA in search of better employment. Agnes, age 26 and reared in Monaca, had left behind her widowed mother and seven siblings who ranged from 14 to 31years of age. Several months later Agnes received a letter from her sister Elizabeth (age 27), saying that she and another sister (Christina, age 21) were making plans to journey from Monaca to New Bedford for a visit. The news prompted Agnes to write a letter to Elizabeth offering detailed advice on the best route and modes of travel and several recommendations on the clothing they should bring. Agnes's letter, recently rediscovered by Love family descendants, is reproduced here to illustrate the kinds of challenges faced by travelers in those days.
Some historical background that helped this reader understand Agnes's travel suggestions is offered here. By the late 19th century the Pennsylvania Railroad had already succeeded in providing through passenger service from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and beyond as far as Newark, NJ. However, it was not until 1910 that the railroad was able to tunnel beneath the Hudson River and build its grand new terminal in Manhattan. Prior to then other means of crossing the river were necessary, and ferryboats were the popular choices. Rail travel east of New York City was an even greater challenge. Between 1826 and the 1880s approximately 100 small and independent railroads were built in southern New England, but by 1898 a series of mergers and leases of track rights had given the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad a virtual monopoly of rail transport in that region. However, differences in the track gauges used by many of the original lines caused connection problems that would plague travelers for years to come. Meanwhile, steamship service offered by the Fall River Line on Long Island Sound from New York to Newport, RI and beyond to Fall River, MA had gained prominence and popular favor. With their gilded interiors that appealed not only to wealthy clientele en route to and from their Newport mansions but to middle-class passengers as well, the Fall River steamers were often referred to as "floating palaces".
Agnes Love Holbrook's letter to her sister Elizabeth, edited for clarification and reproduced below, refers to several other members of their family, including:
Jim ­ Agnes's husband, James Holbrook;
Tina ­ the Love family name for sister Christina;
Violet and Vera ­ daughters of Agnes and Jim, ages 4 and 2;
Mr. and Mrs. H. ­ Jabez Holbrook and wife, Jim's parents, living in Monaca at the time;
Ma ­ Christina (Mrs. Samuel F.) Love, widowed mother of Agnes and Elizabeth and six other children;
Mern ­ the family name for Marian (age 14), the youngest of the Love sisters.

Thompson St.
New Bedford , Mass

June 19, 1902

Dear Sister
I received your letter [and] was glad to hear from you and that you are coming. Jim says for you to go over to Rochester and ask the station agent what it will take to come to New B[edford] on right through for he says that cheap fare may only be from [Rochester] to New York and then the fare from there to Bedford the same as usual [H]e said to ask if they are having excursion rates and they can tell you [F]or if that excursion is only from there the agent here wont know about it. [A]nd Liz whatever you do come by the Fall River Line for you will have to stop in New York and get your baggage checked again and transferred to that other boat and they only come to Providence and it will take 50 cents for street cars to come here and all that riding [Y]ou can get your baggage checked in Rochester to New B[edford] straight through and you will never see it until you get here. it is the best way. for you see the R.road don't have any connexion [sic] with the F. River
They tell me if you come by rail all the way you go from N. Y. to Boston - and then it takes 3 hours riding from there to here [I]t takes longer They tell me that any person that is coming here don't come that way. They always come by boat and it is the cheapest in the end. don't come the way i did. [Y]ou take a first class ticket and you will have no trouble getting here. When the train puts you in New Jersey depot you come out and right across the street you will see in big letters De Morris St. Ferryboat. You take that. You don't pay any fare for that is on the ticket and it lands you in New York in the Penna. RR depot and you can see a big flag floating [O]n it is Fall River Line I think it is pier 28. [Y]ou can ask in the depot and they will tell you and it is not 2 minutes walk. If you come from Pitts[burgh] at 3 in the morning you are riding all day and you have only a few minutes to come from New Jersey to the boat [Y]ou will have to hurry to make it. You can leave Pittsburgh on the express at 10 o'clock at night and get there in the morning between 7 and 8 o'clock [T]here is only 25 minutes difference between it and the one I took at 7 o'clock in arriving there [W]e were only 25 minutes in the station when the express got in [W]e could have saved 3 hours riding by waiting for it until 10 o'clock in Pitts[burgh].
You can go to the boat and stay there all day [I]t gives you a chance to get a rest. You are allowed on the boat and can stay in the ladies cabin [I]t is all fixed up with parlor furniture. And [you] can go down stairs and get something to eat. [O]nly they don't let no one in the rooms until 5 o'clock [Y]our ticket calls for a berth but you take a stateroom [I]t will cost $1.00 more [Y]ou have to pay that on the boat [F]or if you take that berth they put you with 6 or 8 others and you won't like that [W]hen you have a state room you can leave your things in there and lock the door then you can go out on deck [T]here is a band on there, and that is where they all go in summer [I]f it is too bad at night they play inside It is nice on there [Y]ou will not know the boat is moving [I] didn't until late in the night, and then there was a storm come up [B]ut for all that it did not make me sick [Y]ou tell Tina that is the best part of the trip and it will not make her sick half as much as riding [I] was not 5 minutes out of Pitts[burgh] until I had to go out and vomit [I]was out three times. Violet and Vera were not sick until after we were here for 3 or 4 days [A]fter you get here is when you feel it [Y]ou feel as though you were going up and then down, as though the floor under you was moving. Tell Tina she will have all the Railr[oad] rides she wants [by the time] she gets in New York. she will be glad to be on the boat.
Liz you had better bring a heavy waist (1) for it gets cool here in the evening [T]hey are wearing heavy clothes here Jim wears his sweater at night [A]nd don't forget to bring your rainy day skirt (2) for they wear them a lot here. If you have a new hat you might bring your last summer hat along if it is not too much trouble [Y]ou had better wear it for things get dirty coming from Pitts[burgh] to N.Y. [B]ut on the boat they all wash and dress up before they come up on deck [T]hey are all nice and clean. They all have heavy skirts but have nice waists on. Jim says to be sure and bring your bathing suit [H]e says if you have a golf suit (3) and ping pong suit (4) not to forget them.
When the boat lands in Fall River you may have to wait a while but stay on the boat until they call your train [Y]ou step right off the gangplank onto the train and it brings you to Pearl St[reet] station. i'll be there to meet you [Y]ou have to show your ticket before you get off the boat. [D]on't be afraid to ask anything that you want to know.
On the road coming they told the men they were going to give them a week for the fourth [of July.] i expect they want to shut down on the 3rd and not start until a week the following Monday.
How is Mrs. and Mr. H[olbrook] getting along? And how is Ma and the rest of the Monaca people? I wish I had been home for Decoration (5) I would like to see that (6) girl [I]f I am better fixed when that wedding comes off i think I'll invite them here for their honeymoon.
Violet keeps asking me if you are going to bring Mern [S]he thinks it is funny for you to come and not Mern. Tell the people in the factory if they sack you you can get a job here in the mill [T]he lady upstairs earns 12 and 14 dollars a week. [A] lot of the men and their wives work and pay a girl to keep house.
Well, I will have to close hoping you are all well and that you will have no trouble in getting here. Liz, the fare at all times here is $14.80 for a first class ticket $1.00 extra for a stateroom. That makes it $31.60 for return so if you can get excurtion [sic] rates look how much you save. [M]ore than half fare. Write soon and let me know what they say.