1850: Thomas Gold Alvord to William Case

Thomas G. Alvord

Thomas G. Alvord

This interesting letter was penned by Thomas Gold Alvord (1810-1897) — often referred to as “Old Salt” — who was an American lawyer, merchant, and politician. Thomas the son of Elisha Lord (1773-1846) and Helen Lansing (1788-1826) of Onondaga, New York. He graduated from Yale College in 1828, was admitted to the bar in 1832, and commenced his practice at Salina, New York soon afterward. In 1846, he became a lumber merchant. Her served in the New York Assembly for many years and was the Lieut. Governor of New York from 1865-1866.

Alvord wrote the letter to William Case (1818-1862). Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Case received his education locally at Rev. Colley Foster’s school and privately (1836-38) with Franklin K. Backus, who urged him to attend Yale University; but Case chose to attend to business activities in Cleveland. However, he was also ambitious in other areas: natural history, architectural research, horticultural experiments, politics, and founding library and educational institutions.

William Case

William Case

Case helped form and was first president (1846) of the Cleveland Library Association; founded Cleveland University (1850); and chaired the national meeting in Cleveland of the American Assoc. of the Advancement of Education (1851). Case was president of the Cleveland, Painesville, & Ashtabula Railroad, securing the financing allowing the line to complete its Chicago-to-Buffalo route (1852). He was president of Lake Shore Railroad (1855-57), was elected to city council (1846), and served as an alderman (1847-49). He was the first Cleveland-born citizen to become mayor (1850-52), and organized the city workhouse, poorhouse, and house of refuge, as well as the city finances. His large real-estate holdings combined with his horticultural interests in a tree-planting campaign (1852), similar to his father’s in the 1820s, firmly established Cleveland’s reputation as the “Forest City.”

We learn from this letter that Case sought Alvord’s expert onion on a proposal to construct plank roads on the main thoroughfare in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter


Addressed to William Case, Esq., Cleveland, Ohio

Salina [New York]
January 14, 1850

William Case, Esq.
Dear Sir,

I received your letter under date of 8th January inst. on Saturday and with much pleasure to hasten to answer it, though so far as advice is concerned, there is no need of it for I cannot see how I can in any way better your truly magnificent plan for improving your Main Street, If you carry out your idea in its construction, you will have one of the most beautiful and at the same time the best thoroughfares in the country. The only thing which suggested itself to me to propose was that you make your plank 32 feet long instead of 16 and so occasion the necessity of only one joint and that on the center sill, but upon reflection I do not know as you will be able to get so long plank without a vast increase of expense. Pin your plank ends where they square together. Spikes will rust out themselves and rot out the timber while a tight treenail will be part of the plank itself for all purposes of shedding water. Your gutter 3 feet wide & ½ foot deep is ample, provided the track (as such a track should be) is kept clean. the idea of a side track of hammer dressed stone between sidewalk and gutter for standing teams is admirable and will add much to the utility of your road and to the comfort of your pedestrians.

Our Common Council have just made a contract to lay a double 8 ft. track of hard wood plank from this to old Syracuse — a distance of 1¼ miles — to be finished in the coming July. They are going to lay the tracks by taking up the stone wide enough to receive the plank, the tracks to be 7 feet apart. I endeavored to get them to lay it by bringing the tracks together and in other respects adding to the stability and duration of the roads, but a difference of about $1,000 in estimated expense has made them, I am afraid, “Penny wise and Pound foolish.”

I am pleased to hear that your Plank Road is doing well. Will you not find that your road which churns has not been laid with a view to perfect drainage. Upon the plan which I informed you we had adopted, we have relaid some 7 miles of our road, which has not in any spot become in the least loose, and a road finished since you were here of 12 miles is as stable as if laid yesterday.

There is no hold up in our State to Plank Roads. In truth, I think the excitement will cause many to be built, which will never pay. Our own County will build 100 additional miles the coming season and our State over 1,000. I judge this from the projects already known to me as nearly in a form to take the shape of incorporations.

I should be pleased to hear, sir, occasionally from you such suggestions and improvements as your future experience may teach you & will be most happy to give you any information in my power in relation to Plank Roads.

Respectfully, — Thomas G. Alvord

P.S. Your last question in reference to thickness of stringers I omitted to answer above. I agree perfectly with ou and that is my experience. There is not enough of substance to a 2 inch stringer, the very thinnest to be profitable should be 3 inches and not less than 6 inches wide. — T. G. A.


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