Welcome to Staatsburgh State Historic Site's blog! Learn more about the Gilded Age home of Ruth and Ogden Mills!

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Giddy Up! - Notes on Staatsburgh's Carriage Collection

Dick Lahey amongst the 

 In May 2023, Staatsburgh State Historic Site staff toured our off-site storage facility with local carriage collector, Dick Lahey. 

A board member of the Carriage Association of America and a former educator with decades of expertise in Hudson Valley-made vehicles, Mr. Lahey was able to share with us insights into our unique carriage collection - everything from the Mills' high-end Brewster "Brougham" carriage and farm yard "spring wagons" to elegant bob-sleds for wintertime fun - noting that all of the carriages and sleighs were in outstanding original condition. 

The notes below are taken from our conversation with Dick.

Spring Wagon


This c.1890s wagon was a utilitarian vehicle. A middle-class family might use a wagon like this to go to church on Sunday, for example. The drop tailgate and removable rear seat underscore the utilitarian use of this wagon on farms. Yet the patent leather dashboard adds a feeling of richness. The leather covered seats were stuffed with straw or hay. 

Sturdy iron tires are attached to the wagon. 

Bob Sled


Notice the rare
side screens on 
either side
This 4-passenger bob sled has four runners, not two. The two in front steer independently of the rear runners!

With its original red paint in remarkable condition, Lahey noted it was a high-class sled. On either side it was complete with rare side screens to shield the driver and passengers from flying snow. The original corduroy upholstery, stuffed with horse hair, was warmer and better than leather upholstery for cold weather driving. 

As with the spring wagon, the bob sled has removable back seats for carrying goods. 

Brewster Brougham


Passenger's door with 
embroidered window pull

A very high-class vehicle in mint original condition. This Brewster-made Brougham is an example of a "city brougham" meaning it is narrower in the front wheels than in the rear wheels for greater maneuverability. 

Leather-covered window
The carriage interior is outfitted with Moroccan leather and embroidered "arm rest" straps. On each window is an embroidered window-pull to raise the privacy curtain. In addition to the glass, there are extraordinary screens, similar to a storm shutter, for each window; leather on one side, wood on the other, with decorative carving. On the floor of the carriage is a tiny foot pad for ringing a bell for the driver. The bell - surprisingly large - is underneath the driver's seat. 

The exterior of the brougham includes fancy, original striped paint on the wheels. One interesting design feature is the ice and snow protector on the carriage step - so passengers don't slip while stepping into the carriage!

Included on the driver's seat is a "driving wedge" cushion. This triangular cushion kept the driver sitting upright and gave him more leverage when puling on the reins.

Mint condition interior
of the Brougham
Driver's seat, complete
with "driving wedge"

Side-Bar Runabout


Notice the red "side-bar" - part of the wagon's suspension - 
that gives the wagon its name

More compact than a spring wagon, a "runabout" is usually a 2-seater used for short trips. If it was a four-seater, it would be called a "surrey" wagon.

Yet, this example is extra-long for a runabout. Stored alongside the wagon is an extra bench seat that appears to attach into the back - suggesting this could actually be a 4-seater.

Canopy Top Spindle Seat Surrey


Note the canvas sheet is not the original canopy, but
a modern canvas dust cover

This c. 1890s surrey is a nice vehicle for family outings, such as going to church. Outfitted with rubberized tires for crushed-stone (macadam) roads, the wheels are not the highest-class wheels for a vehicle like this surrey. There is a clever device - similar to a small rolling pin strategically placed on the wagon's side - to protect the body from the spinning wheels when making sharp turns.

Lahey commented that it is almost impossible to find a surrey with the original canopy like this one. 

Spring Wagon


Dick Lahey showing a member of staff
the interior of a carriage

Similar to the other spring wagon, except no drop tailgate on this example. There is hardware in the rear, however, for attaching a second-row rear bench seat.

This spring wagon has a shaft for hitching to a single horse as well as two 'whiffletrees' attached for driving with two horses!

Single Runner Box-Cutter Sleigh


Notice the single runner on each side, as opposed
to the independent steering of the bob sled

Unlike the earlier bob sled, this "box cutter" sleigh has a single runner and thus no independent front steering. Despite not having a drop tailgate like other vehicles, this is a very utilitarian winter-time farm sleigh. Lahey speculated that in the 1890s or early 1900s, someone could buy a sleigh like this from a  Sears Roebuck catalogue for $25!

Thank you, again, to Dick Lahey for his time and enthusiasm for history!

If YOU have more information about any of these carriages or sleighs, leave us a comment below. We would love to hear from you.

No comments:

Post a Comment