This weekend the Piedmont Driving Club invited me to a picnic drive at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia. Fortunately, I had some previous experience riding in a carriage. When my colleagues and I went to Colonial Williamsburg for the Virginia Association of Museums Conference earlier this year we were treated to a private drive through town. Historically, only certain members of society would use vehicles like these refurbished carriages. This is no longer the case, and people of all walks of life participate in driving events across the nation.
I was surprised at how different a drive was in the country versus in town. During the colonial era carriages were often used in town or for short journeys. The American colonies and early nation had notoriously bad roads. Travel was much smoother by water (ever notice that most colonial capitals were on navigable waterways?). There were few exceptions to this, one of which was our own Loudoun County. Loudouners built – and preserved – over 300 miles of country roads, most of which date to the 18th and 19th centuries. These provide an ideal setting for today’s picnic drives.
A few different kinds of carriages were represented during the drive. Carl and Caroline Cox, my generous hosts, drove a wagonette. Wagonettes sport four wheels and seat four, not counting the driver, and can be pulled by two or four horses. Carts have two wheels, one or two occupants, and are usually pulled by one horse. Coaches, which can seat 12, 16, or more, are very heavy and are pulled by larger teams of horses. Coaches were the public transportation of their era and are not taken on picnic drives in the countryside.
Each of the carriages on this drive were a work of art in their own right. And with the exception of cleverly disguised champagne coolers, these vehicles are using the same technology as their 18th century counterparts, including braking systems, building materials, and driving techniques.
I had a wonderful time learning about these carriages and the people who drive them. If you want to know more about wagonettes, carts, coaches, and more, don’t miss Carriage Day at NSLM. We are partnering with the Piedmont Driving Club and Colonial Williamsburg to bring these carriages to you! Over twenty carriages will be displayed (without horses) across our grounds on May 21 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The day will include walking tours, kids activities, an afternoon drive-by, and a keynote talk with Paul Bennett, Colonial Williamsburg’s Director of Coach and Livestock. Yes, it’s all free of charge – Don’t Miss It!
Anne Marie Barnes is the Educational Programs Manager and Fellowship Advisor at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail