Last week I wrote about my adventures on the Long Beach Peninsula in southwest Washington where I spent the month of November. Even though it was off-season with plenty to do and see, I decided to leave the peninsula three times for other nearby adventures. And I’m so glad I did because I found some real gems in the area. I visited two museums as well as a wildlife refuge that included an art walk. Today’s post is about the most unique museum I’ve been to so far. A museum of horse-drawn carriages. While researching things to do in the Long Beach area, I came across the Northwest Carriage Museum. It sparked my interest, intrigued by the idea of a museum all about a single item.
But, the fact that it’s in Raymond, Washington, an hour’s drive from Long Beach, made me ask myself just how intrigued I was. Intrigued enough to justify the long round-trip drive? On the one hand, it was just carriages. How interesting could it be? On the other hand, it was just carriages. How interesting could it be!
In the end, I decided to go and it was well worth the effort. Not only was it a pretty drive, it truly was an interesting museum with knowledgeable friendly staff and simply stunning carriages. The bonus turned out to be Raymond is also home to a 2.8 mile art walk with over 200 metal sculptures. And, along the way, I passed the Willapa Wildlife Refuge which turned into another off-the-peninsula adventure. I’ll share that amazing place next week.
How Does a Carriage Museum Start?
Like so many narrowly-focused museums, it started as a hobby then turned into a great passion. Their interest in 19th century horse-drawn carriages inspired local residents Gary and Cec Dennis to purchase and restore several. Over the years, their collection grew. They dreamed of sharing their love of this era of transportation history with others.
And in 2002 as a result of their donation, the Northwest Carriage Museum opened its doors. Since then, the collection has more than doubled to 52 carriages. Actually, I found 51 when I visited. But I saw on their website recently that they just acquired a new one. So, I think that means I’ll have to get back sometime to see the new addition.
The carriages date between 1850 and 1910 but the sweet spot is 1890. Therefore, 1890 is also the year the educational displays focus on.
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t given carriages much thought. But one of the things I learned (and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense) was that carriages, like cars, can be categorized. There are working carriages, everyday carriages, fancy carriages, specific-purpose carriages. You get the idea.
The museum organizes its carriage by type of carriage. I cannot say that I had a favorite section. Instead, I found favorite carriages sprinkled in each section. Let me share a few.
The carriage used as the feature image of this post was built in Stockton, California. Purchased by the Fat Jones’ movie ranch, it was featured in the movie Virginia City. When I think of travel in the old west, I think of this carriage. And, turns out, it was a main mode of transportation in the west.
You wouldn’t know it based on the movies, but the stage coach seats nine people, not including the driver. Where do they all sit? Three ride face-forward. Three ride backwards. And the last three sit in the middle. How? Because a middle bench can be added to the coach.
The chuck wagon certainly doesn’t have the beauty and elegance of most of the carriages, but I have to say, it was my favorite in the entire museum. I loved the practical nature of it and all of the ways it uses space. Hmm, maybe I loved it because I flashed on my own small space.
The modern equivalent of the chuck wagon, to my mind, is a food truck.
After the Civil War, beef demands increased. To get cattle from the range to market, cowpokes drove cows to the destination. (Think the movie City Slickers.) To keep the cowboys well-fed on the trail, a rancher named Charles Goodnight invented the chuck wagon.
I assumed the wagon was named because he went by Chuck, but his Wikipedia page says he went by Charlie. So maybe the name came from chuck meat. It’s the only think I can think of. The chuck wagon was used from the 1860s to the early 1900s. By the way, Charles Goodnight was a fascinating man and outstanding rancher. If you get a minute, read his bio on Wikipedia.
The feature I loved was found under the wagon. A piece of hide hung like a hammock underneath. Any guesses why you’d want a hide hammock on the open range? It’s where Cookie—as the cook was referred to—would carry fire wood. I thought it clever. It was a backup plan in case he couldn’t find wood on the trail. Maybe it’s the RV equivalent to an extra tank of propane?
The Landau Carriage
A Landau is, basically, a convertible carriage. It’s one with a falling top, as it’s called. The Executive Director told me it was the Cadillac of its day and the carriage you took when you wanted to be seen. The Landau was the most difficult carriage to build because of the falling top. Not the top itself, but because of what it took to support the closed top. Many inventions tried to address the challenge.
Historians aren’t sure of its origin but think it came into use in the late 1500s and it was popular until the early 1900s.
The Most Famous Carriage at the Carriage Museum
If you are a movie buff, you’ll love seeing the Shelburne Landau carriage that graced the big screen in Gone with the Wind and Jezebel. Yes, it’s the actual carriage used in those movies. And, yes, it’s a convertible but the top is up. After its life in the movies, the carriage was discarded and left to deteriorate. Purchased and restored by the Dennis’s, it was among the donations that started the museum.
This is a fun one. And my second favorite. Obviously, this carriage is the predecessor to the modern-day taxi-cab. Joseph Hansom invented the carriage in 1834.
You cannot tell by the photo, but the driver controlled the doors, not the passenger. This design feature ensured payment changed hands. No riding and running allowed. The driver opened the door only after he received payment. There’s a little trap door on the top (can you see it opened?) where the passenger handed the money up. It was also a way for driver and passenger to communicate on the ride.
The design of the cab combined speed with safety. However, women didn’t like it because their dresses often brushed the huge muddy wheel as they got in. This won’t be a surprise but it was considered improper for a woman to take a cab alone because it was too fast. Literally fast, not euphemistically fast.
The Hansom Cab restored and featured at the Carriage Museum worked the New York City streets.
Random Cool Tidbits
If you think of carriages as the cars of the day, it makes sense that when cars came into use that features from the carriages carried over to cars. For example, carriages had red glass at the back which translated to a car’s brake lights.
Additionally, many early car manufactures started as carriage makers. At the museum, I saw a Deere and Webber sleigh (Deere, as in John Deere) as well as a Studebaker buggy.
At a Dubuque museum, I learned where the expression “sleep tight” comes from. At the Carriage Museum, I learned where the expression “keeping a person on ice” comes from.
We use the idiom today to mean to make someone wait or to hold them off. Before embalming, bodies decomposed quickly. The Hearst carriages had a pull-out tray underneath the bed of the carriage. So the coffin was placed on the bed and the tray below filled with ice to keep the body cool and slow the decomposition process. The ice “held off” the smelly process of the corpse breaking down.
Yep, the deceased were “kept on ice.”
Most Surprising Thing at the Carriage Museum
When I think of a museum of carriages, I think it might not be a museum for kids. The carriages are not behind glass or a velvet rope so it’s on the honor system when it comes to not touching things.
So the most surprising thing is not only does the museum welcome kids, they have exhibits designed just for them. There is the period clothing for dress up (they have adult clothes too). And then there’s the wagon to sit on while you’re dressed up so you can snap a photo.
You can pick up the reigns and steer a horse, complete with sound effects. There is a carriage with numbers attached to it and an educational board that explains the parts of the carriage and how they work. You’ll find a wheelwright/blacksmith shop.
But my absolute favorite educational exhibit was the 1890 school room. The Executive Director told me that when school groups come, the kids sit at the desk while they learn about the period. The funniest and saddest (both at the same time) part is the sample switches teachers used to discipline the kids and a chart indicating how many lashes a kid got for a particular crime. Curious? Telling a lie or doing any mischief would get you seven lashes. Coming to school with dirty face and hands or long fingernails would get you two lashes. Scuffling, wrestling or gambling would get you four lashes. And the worst offense, playing cards at school would get you 10 lashes.
The other document that I also found funny and sad was the list of rules the teachers had to abide by. I simply must share the Rules for Teachers in its entirety.
Rules for Teachers
You will not marry during term of contract.
You are not keep company with men.
You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless at a school function.
You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.
You may not travel beyond city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the school board.
You may not ride in carriages or automobiles with any man except your father or brothers.
You may not smoke cigarettes.
You may not wear bright colors.
You may under no circumstance dye your hair.
You must wear at least two petticoats.
Your dress may not be shorter than two inches above the ankle.
To keep the classroom neat and class, you must sweep the floor once a day, scrub the floor with soapy water, clean the black boards once a day and start the fire at 7 a.m. to have the school warm by 8 a.m. when the scholars arrive.
I found it tough to read though I know it’s on par with the time period. Also, it sure made me wonder what was going on in those ice cream stores. On the same wall was an original letter from 1938 to a teacher following her marriage. Yep, a letter terminating her.
The NW Carriage Museum, as I said, is in the town of Raymond. Raymond became a booming lumber mill town around 1913 with a population of 6,000. Today, the population is less than half that. The brochure described the goal of the project: “to wake people up and say here is Raymond.” In the same brochure one of the promoters is quoted, “We wanted to change the image of the town for the driving public.”
I would have loved to walk the entire trail . But I arrived at the Carriage Museum in the afternoon and didn’t want to drive back to Long Beach in the dark. In other words, I just ran out of time. But I got to see a few of the pieces that were near the museum and others that were along my drive through town.
Have you been to a narrowly-focused museum like the NW Carriage Museum? Would love to hear about others.
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