Some of America’s most attention-gettinghorse drawn vehicles are stagecoaches. So much so, that individuals, museums, and especially businesses, likeWells Fargo, use these pieces as significant elements in advertising and promotions. Of course, from East to West, there was anamazing variety of staging vehicles. Whenit comes to the more recognized Concord-style coaches, though, there aregenerally three basic types – Hotel, City, and Western. Each featured a triple reach design as wellas a thoroughbrace suspension. The heavyConcords were also built in a range of sizes including 6, 9, and 12 passenger configurations. While thousands of stages were built acrossthe U.S., according to well-known stagecoach historian, Ken Wheeling, lessthan 10% of the legendary Abbot–Downing Concords are known to have survived. A number of them are showcased in Wells Fargo’s Historical Museums aswell as other public and private collections. (As a side note, I just received an email from Ken letting us known that he'll be profiling the oldest known surviving coach - no. XXXI - in the October 2016 issue of the "Carriage Journal." As with all of his research, this is bound to be an interesting read.)
|This rare Concord coach was ordered in 1850 by Curtis Coe for use at the Senter House in Center Harbor, NH.
Another survivor, a city coach built wellover a century and a half ago, is cared for today by the Sandwich Historical Society in Sandwich, New Hampshire. In 2017, the Society will celebrate its 100thAnniversary and, with that milestone in mind, it seemed like a good time toshare a little more about this particular coach. Inside our Archives is a piece originallypublished in the April 1904 issue of “The Carriage Monthly.” On page 162 of that trade publication is a photographshowing this same nine-passenger stagecoach. At the time, the Senter House Coach was already more than a half-centuryin age. The image included the followcaption...
“Theaccompanying cut represents a coach built by the Abbot-Downing Co., Concord,N.H., for a hotel at Center Harbor, N.H., known then as the Senter House. The order was placed on April 20, 1850, andthe completed vehicle was shipped June 15th of the same year. The coach has been in continuous servicesince that time and the original linings and trimmings are in good condition :the same wheels are under it. The mostof the work was done by Major Downing himself who, in recent years has enjoyedmany a ride in it.”
While the image caption above seems toindicate the coach was built by the joint Abbot-Downing firm, the vehicle wasactually constructed while J. Stephens Abbot and Lewis Downing had goneseparate ways. The firm of L. Downing& Sons built the coach. It is said that Major Lewis Downing,Jr. visited the coach in 1900 and claimed that, “with a few general repairs itwill stand the racket for many years to come.”
Like many other early resort communities,the Senter House was a large hotel using coaches for transporting guests and providingtours of the surrounding area. Thephoto and details from the century-plus-old story is like so many other partsof our past. It helps build andstrengthen the provenance of the surviving coach while giving us a morecomplete picture of the era. Likewise,it’s another example of why we devote so much time and energy to diggingthrough and helping preserve early records.
Looking at a slightly different-styledConcord; several years ago, I profiled a western mail stage in the Articles section of our website. The coachhas an equally storied history and is currently housed in the Booth Western Art Museum inCartersville, Georgia. Built in 1865,this Abbot-Downing survivor is number 84. It was historically conserved in 2003 and offers a rare opportunity to seethe wheeled West as it was.
With several hundred period stagecoach photosalready in our Archives, we continue to add rare, original images of thesepieces to our collection on a regular basis. Among the more recent acquisitions is a cabinet photo documenting the retirementof the ‘Good Intent’ stage line after completion of the Chartiers railroad inPennsylvania. This glimpse intoyesterday will likely date to the early 1870’s and prominently features aConcord with 4 horse hitch, coach lamps, and leather boots, front and rear.
More details on American stagecoachescan be found in a number of early books including “Stagecoach and Tavern Days”by Alice Morse Earle, “Six Horses” by Capt. William Banning and George HughBanning, and “Old Waybills” by Alvin F. Harlow. Wells Fargo even has a more recent book entitled, “Time Well Kept” thatincludes several high quality images of Concord coaches in their historymuseums. All of these and many othershave a great deal to share about this part of our early transportationhistory. Enjoy the reads!
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