Artifact Corner: Rockaway Carriage

Hi everyone and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a very special piece in our collections. This is a Rockaway carriage, and it’s origins and provenance are a bit murky. Henry Delord never mentions a carriage in any of his journals, letters, or business papers. He only ever mentions a wagon, which he and his family used, and he also rented said carriage out. So, this carriage seems like it came to the family after Henry Delord passed away. Did this carriage come into our family through the Webb Family through Frances Henrietta Delord & Henry Webb’s daughter Fannie Delord Webb Hall? We know that Frank Hall (Fannie’s husband) went down to deal with the Webb estate in 1864, was this part of the estate that came back to Plattsburgh? If so, we don’t have a written record of it. So, the origins of the carriage remain a mystery. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of carriages.

A carriage is a four wheeled horse drawn vehicle designed primarily for transporting people. A wagon is also a four wheeled vehicle, but a wagons primary use is for transporting goods or materials. Carriages can be light weight and designed for speed or quite heavy and designed for the comfort of the passengers. The predecessors of the carriage are the two wheel cart, and the first instances of carts are found all over the ancient world. Two wheeled carts and chariots are found in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greek, Rome, India and China. The Roman’s also used four wheeled wagons, again for transporting goods. Two wheeled carts and chariots were used mainly for transporting people, and were built to be lightweight and speedy. Four-wheeled wagons were used in Bronze Age Europe, and their form, Which we know from excavations, suggests that the basic construction techniques of the wheels and undercarriage (that survived until the age of the motor car) were established then.

One of the great innovations in carriage history was the invention of the suspended carriage or the chariot branlant (though whether this was a Roman or medieval innovation remains uncertain). The “chariot branlant” of medieval illustrations was suspended by chains rather than leather straps as had been believed. Suspension, whether on chains or leather, might provide a smoother ride since the carriage body no longer rested on the axles, but could not prevent swinging (branlant) in all directions. By the 17th century, heavier vehicles had evolved, including the omnibus, to be pulled by teams of horses over long distances. At the same time, lighter vehicles designed for style and speed were also developed, and the suspension of all such vehicles was gradually enhanced by the addition of steel springs and leather braces. Some of these carriages were further improved by being enclosed with wood, glass, and cloth. In the 18th and 19th centuries a wide variety of carriage types were in common use. In the United States the stagecoach became familiar as a means of public transportation. Carriages and wagons and all other forms of animal drawn vehicles abruptly went out of use with the invention of the automobile. Carriage are still used today for formal and state events, and are often the center of the celebration.

Our carriage is in good condition, but we won’t be hooking it up to horses and taking it for a spin through Plattsburgh any time soon. We would love to find some documentation that would directly link the carriage to our family, but for the time being we are just glad to have the piece as a part of our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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