WA-List » Carriage Returns: Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond

Carriage Returns: Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Transportation

“Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry
When I take you out in the surrey,
When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!”
–From Oklahoma! by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1943


Who wouldn’t want to go for a ride in a surrey? Or zip across town in a Hansom cab? Or ride in style in a C-Spring?

Carriages are nostalgic in this age of automobiles; the stuff of Sherlock Holmes movies and old black & white photos. We’re more than a century removed from the heyday of horse-drawn carriages and we seldom see them — even at pioneer fairs or parades. Imagine our surprise, then, when we stumbled upon an entire museum of carriages in the Pacific County city of Raymond. If that wasn’t astonishing enough, the carriages on display were not worn-out buckboards showing their age. One hundred fifty years old? These look like they are still in a dealer’s showroom. Did they have carriage showrooms in the 19th century? Maybe you should ask when you visit.

This unlikely but remarkable museum grew from the collection of Raymond residents Gary and Cec Dennis. They had been collecting and restoring antique carriages on their property for years. Credit them (and NWCM curator Jerry Bowman) for the selection and condition of many of the vehicles. Some retain their original upholstery!

In 1999, the Dennises offered to donate the carriages to the city if it would build a museum to house them. The city agreed and the Northwest Carriage Museum opened in Raymond in 2002. The restored carriages are things of beauty and the museum’s displays and lighting are top-notch.

As we strolled through the halls, taking our own sweet 19th century time, we began compiling a list: An illustrated sampling of carriages, coaches, and wagons. That list appears below and features 14 carriages including a hearse and a sleigh. Three have Hollywood resumes. All are fine specimens of 19th century American and British transportation, superbly maintained, and just a bit dreamy. In the days of the horse-drawn carriage, many of these were status symbols — signs of wealth and elegance. They not only carried people from place to place but displayed their passengers to onlookers. You can’t see fine details in these small web photos, but you can get very close at the museum where anything from the headlights and seats to the paint detailing and wheels might fascinate you. We had to omit some other interesting artifacts: an 1850s London road coach, a governess cart, a social vis-à-vis, and a produce wagon among others. And we haven’t even mentioned the carriage maker’s tool wall and replica school room for children. You’ll have to see those when you visit.

The Northwest Carriage Museum (NWCM).

  • Location: 314 Alder St, Raymond, WA 98577.
  • Open: May-Sept: Daily. Oct-Apr: Wed-Sun. Check the website for specific open hours.
  • Phone: 360-942-4150
  • Website: NWCarriageMuseum.org

A DOZEN OR SO OF OUR FAVORITES AT THE NORTHWEST CARRIAGE MUSEUM

C-Spring Dress Landau. This carriage is the museum’s star attraction. It greets visitors as they come in. (A side view is shown above.) It’s a convertible with a top that collapses in two halves behind either of the facing passengers. They could have the top down in good weather or simply when the riders desired to be seen. Status was everything. The driver, perched high on a completely different plane (and social level) was more a part of the horse team than the human carriage riders.
Shelburne Landau. This carriage had a brief movie career, appearing in both Gone With the Wind (1939) and Jezebel (1938). Before and after its screen roles, however, it was left to deteriorate. It was twice restored — first by Hollywood in the 1930s, then by the Dennises in 1993. The Landau was typically a carriage for the wealthy and owners often had a family crest visible on the door. It featured two heavy tops that could be locked together and folded down in good weather. See larger photo.
Top buggy. Smaller and lighter than the Landaus, a buggy was designed for one or two passengers and was pulled by a single horse. That made it versatile and quite fast. It could travel at 8 to 10 mph when the horse moved at a trot. (Fast is a relative term, mind you.) See larger photo.
Studebaker Stanhope. The museum’s 1895 Stanhope was a popular model from an Indiana company that came into being manufacturing wagons for farmers, miners, and the military. Its assembly process was efficient for its day, enabling Studebaker to mass produce wagons and carriages at prices below their competitors. The company continued production well into the automobile era. By the way, the Stanhope was an “izzer” at the time. Don’t know what that term meant? You’ll find out when you visit the museum.
Hansom Cab. Joseph Hansom patented the Hansom Safety Cab in Britain as early as 1834. Paying passengers sat under the cover between the two large wheels. The high dashboard in front allowed the horse to be harnessed close to the cab. Combined with a lower center of gravity, these features gave the Hansom Cab a reputation for speed and safety. The driver was perched very high behind the cab. From there he could see over the roof and open and close the doors. His control of the door latches, in fact, enabled him to keep his passengers locked tight until he collected his fare through a small trap door.
Spider Phaeton. Similar to the Top Buggy in looks and speed, this American carriage became known as a gentleman’s coach. It’s owner, usually young and male, drove it himself and might race other young men in friendly competitions. It was popular throughout the later half of the 19th century. The museum’s specimen sports a stylized heart-shaped lantern — ideal for the gentleman owner to use when courting. An outside rear seat enabled a footman or chaperone to go along for the ride but offered no view inside the main compartment.
C-Spring Victoria. While the young men sped through town in their Spider Phaetons, wealthy women showed off their fine clothes in this slower-moving carriage. Its open sides made dresses visible, and the continuous mud guard/step protected them from any wheel splatters. The shock absorbers and broad frame gave this vehicle a gentle ride, too. This particular carriage once appeared in The Little Princess, a 1939 Shirley Temple film. The museum left a child’s umbrella on the seat as a reminder. See larger photo.
Fringe Top Surrey. The surrey was a style that developed in the United States and was popular among people of modest incomes. We showed you this photo at the top of the page, but decided to show it again here within the list. Are you still humming the tune? See larger photo.
Kimball Town Coach. The newest acquisition to the museum was donated this summer by the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle. It was built in Chicago in 1890, and was originally owned by Frederick Weyehaeuser’s brother-in-law F C A Denkmann. The two men partnered in the lumber industry along the Mississippi, and both eventually moved west. The carriage moved west with Denkmann’s grandson who did a partial restoration and kept it in a Bainbridge Island barn until donating it to MOHAI in 1963. It never made it into public display there, but finally had its public debut in Raymond 50 years later, after NWCM’s curator finished the restoration.
Summer Coupe Brougham. Smaller than a coach, this Brougham was a compact carriage set on a low frame. The driver rode outside in front, while his passengers had a single forward-facing bench in an enclosed, windowed cabin. The museum’s restorers had planned to paint this particular model but admired the natural wood color so much they merely stained it to bring out the rich brown. One feature we liked involved its steps. Step covers attached to the door collected the mud and dirt of street traffic while in motion. Open the door and the cover slides away to reveal a clean step. See larger photo.
Wagonette. This carriage was popular in England around 1850. Prince Albert introduced the style, but it became a vehicle for families who were not royal. It was perfect for country outings with family and friends.
Three-Spring Democrat. An ordinary people’s wagon was box-shaped and open — just as good carrying merchandise as people. As such it was popular as a work vehicle and a way to tote a large group of people for an outing. The museum’s Democrat is a reproduction and is the only one in the collection open to the public for sitting. Children can even dress the part. A rack of 19th century kids’ clothes can be seen on the wall behind the carriage. Let them play dress up, climb aboard, and snap some pictures.
Coachman’s Sleigh. No wheels, but it’s still a carriage. The proud owners of a sleigh like this would take it for a ride on winter days (the skids need snow!) when the weather was sunny and mild (since there’s no cover). It was definitely an attention-getter around town.

And now we come to the end of our list with a vehicle many people took during their last carriage ride: a morticians’ hearse. This one is large, has carved panels, an ice-box “basement”, and Hollywood credentials. It appeared in Gentleman Jim, a 1942 movie starring Erroll Flynn. See larger photo.

SOURCES: Notes taken at the museum, with some basic fact-checking, manufacturer’s information, and additional context researched using various websites. Laurie Bowman, the museum’s director, kindly allowed us to photograph the carriages for this article.

PHOTOS:
Kimball Town Coach courtesy of the NWCM
All other photos © Steve Campion

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3 Responses to “Carriage Returns: Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond”

  1. Linda Says:

    Right there in Raymond! Wonderful find. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Joan Says:

    There was so much variety, a vehicle for all purposes. Beautifully crafted. Makes you wonder, how those spindly wheels could handle the roads of the period.

  3. Joan Says:

    We got to visit this very fine museum yesterday and it is a jewel and in such an unexpected place.
    Several new additions have been added since this original post. Well worth the trip. Friendly and helpful docents too. Very enjoyable. A trip back in time.