STEPHENSON, ELEAZER WILLIAMS, stagecoach line operator and hotel proprietor; b. 1798 at Springfield, Mass.; m. in 1826 or 1827 Clarissa Chapin of Buffalo, N.Y., and they had one daughter; d. 28 April 1867 at St Catharines, Canada West.
Eleazer Williams Stephenson immigrated to St Catharines in April 1826, and opened a livery stable connected with Luther Dyer’s hotel, the St Catharines House, previously William Hamilton Merritt’s residence. The following year his place of business was the Mechanics’ Exchange building. Stephenson soon expanded his commercial interests. In May 1828 he joined four other businessmen from the Buffalo and Niagara River area in advertising daily stages connecting Buffalo and Niagara via Niagara Falls, with branch lines to St Catharines and Lockport, N.Y. In July 1828 Stephenson, John Burtis of Sandwich (Windsor, Ont.), and others advertised the first line of mail and passenger stages, to run three times a week, between Niagara and Sandwich via St Catharines, Ancaster, and Brantford. Connections were guaranteed with the Niagara-Buffalo line and with a line from Buffalo to Rochester, and a travelling time of five days between Rochester and Detroit was claimed. Passengers from Buffalo crossed the Niagara River by ferry linking Black Rock, N.Y., and Waterloo, a hamlet near Fort Erie. Rochester passengers crossed at Lewiston-Queenston. In June 1829 Stephenson and others advertised a semi-weekly stage between York (Toronto) and Niagara which completed the distance in 24 hours. Stephenson inaugurated a daily line of mail stages between Niagara and Hamilton in 1831 and made available livery service.
When railways made all but local stage lines obsolete in the early 1850s, Stephenson turned to the hotel business. For a time he ran the St Catharines House, where he had started in business. He acquired the St Catharines salt wells, first developed by W. H. Merritt, with the idea of establishing a health spa; he built the Stephenson House Hotel, opened in 1855, and in association with Dr Theophilus Mack* also built the Springbank Sanitarium in the mid 1850s. This health and resort complex became well known throughout Canada and the United States.
In January 1851 Stephenson had been elected to represent St Thomas ward on the town council and it then elected him mayor. He did not run in 1852. He belonged to many St Catharines societies, being steward of the St Andrew’s Society in 1836, and was a member of the Independent Order of Foresters and the St George’s Masonic Lodge. Though he was called “colonel” in many contemporary sources no evidence has been found to suggest that it was more than the customary title of stage-coach proprietors. Nineteenth century biographical works have associated him with the Welland Canal, but there is no evidence that he was involved with the company.
A contemporary wrote of Stephenson in 1856 that he “stands to-day as one of our most promising fellow-townsmen, enterprising citizens, and successful business men.” He died in 1867 as a result of injuries received when a fractious team ran away with the carriage in which he was driving his nephew, Rufus Stephenson, mayor of Chatham, and a St Catharines municipal official.
Evening Journal (St Catharines, [Ont.]), 29–30 April, 2 May 1867. Farmer’s Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer (St Catharines, [Ont.]), 21 May, 9, 30 July, 6 Aug. 1828. Junius [Seymour Phelps], St. Catharines A to Z by Junius, 1856 ([St Catharines, Ont.], 1967). (This volume reprints articles published in the St. Catharines Journal during 1856 under the title “A walk around town” by Junius.) Canadian biographical dictionary, I, 189. Cyclopaedia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1886), 645. J. P. Merritt, Biography of the Hon. W. H. Merritt . . . (St Catharines, Ont., 1875).