Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 26, 2005

Born: 1829

Died: 1909

Married: Celesta (or Calista) R., born 1843

Children: John H., born 1875; Elizabeth A., born 1877; Carrey, born 1881; William A., born 1884; Milla A., born 1885

Alexander F. 'Fitch' O'Brien was the dean of Adirondack stage drivers and one of the greatest men with horses who ever lived. He was the first man to drive a coach and four horses over the Wilmington Notch road, according to The Old Philosopher.

His name was sometimes spelled Fitch, sometimes Fitz; sometimes O'Brien, sometimes O'Brian. In a scrapbook in the possession of the late John Duquette's family, Estella E. Martin noted next to Fitch's wife's obituary — where her name was spelled O'Brien — that it was incorrectly spelled, and should have been "O'Brian." Dr. Trudeau called him Fitz O'Brien.


He owned property at 6 1/2 St. Bernard Street and/or at 10 St. Bernard Street.

E. L. Trudeau wrote in his Autobiography that during the winter of 1876-77, "I raised a subscription to subsidize the two-horse stage to Ausable Forks, which Fitz O'Brien drove in those days, to run daily instead of three times a week, and in this way we got the mail regularly, except in the early spring when the roads were almost impassable and the stage ran somewhat irregularly." 1


Meanwhile, back in Saranac Lake, Fitch O'Brian, Meserve's former associate, was gaining quite a reputation in his own right. He, too, possessed a rare ability to handle horses.

A veteran of the Civil War, Fitch drove a stage over a 30 mile run between the Hudson River towns of Greenwich and Troy. In 1875 he came to Saranac Lake where he bought out the stage line formerly owned by Ensine Miller, grandson of Capt. Pliny Miller. During the second half of the 19th century the stage coach driver was the idol of the back woods. He not only brought passengers to the settlements but also carried baggage and the mail in his Concord coach. In addition to mail he brought the latest word of mouth news from the neighboring villages.

His coming was always met with great anticipation and an exuberant welcome. Men like Fitch O'Brian and George Meserve were highly respected members of the community as well as charismatic members of their picturesque occupation. Together with the famous guides they were the demigods of the Adirondacks. From the driver's seat they rode this crest of popularity until the coming of the railroad. 2


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Footnotes

1. E. L. Trudeau, An Autobiography, p. 123.
2. "Stages through the ages" by John Duquette, Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 6, 1988. See "Stagecoaches" page for full text.