At the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) we discuss topics relating to equestrian sports as well as turf and field sports—which covers everything from coaching and polo to fly fishing and wing shooting! We represent it all in art and in books. Let’s just say if the Brntes wrote about it, we have it here. And last weekend, more than a dozen carriages and hundreds of people (including staff from Colonial Williamsburg) came to celebrate our first ever “Carriage Day.”
My goal as an Educator for NSLM is to bring these subjects to life. So when I had an opportunity to highlight coaching, I drew my inspiration from two groups that already live and breathe carriages: Colonial Williamsburg and the Piedmont Driving Club.
We were originally set on having Carriage Day in late May. Now, I don’t know if you all remember, but this spring took a long time to warm up. And on May 21 (our initial date), we had to cancel because somehow it was 50 degrees and raining! You know what they say about Virginia weather. If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes!
After a washout, we changed the date to late July, when we were pretty confident we’d have warmer weather. It turns out “warm” was an understatement. If you really want to have a successful Carriage Day, I recommend baking it at 100 degrees for seven hours. It sure worked for us!
Despite temperatures nearing triple digits, folks came pouring in from Middleburg, the D.C. area, and out of state to see the carriages, and for good reason. Of the 16 vehicles present, we covered almost every kind of carriage spanning nearly two centuries! You could see everything from a racing gig and sleigh to a governess cart and an authentic English beer dray. Some of these vehicles rarely make it out of their carriage houses. Others go on dozens of picnic drives a year with the very active Piedmont Driving Club. These owners, drivers, and grooms love what they do, and you can tell in the quality of their sets of wheels.
We also had visitors in our Museum galleries to see some of our carriage-centric artifacts, including our famous silver coach and original coach horn. Hey, it’s not every day you can be serenaded by a curator!
Carriage Day was also a singular opportunity to visit Colonial Williamsburg here in Middleburg! Paul Bennett, CW’s Director of Coach & Livestock, came with two footmen and a pair of refurbished carriages. The trio was a well-oiled machine of precision, knowledge, and humor. Whether our visitors were first-time carriage viewers or drivers with more than 30 years’ experience, anyone talking to them walked away discussing a new tidbit they had learned.
And our lecture hall was filled to capacity for Paul’s talk on the history of carriages dating all the way back to the advent of the wheel. Fortunately for him, wheels no longer have to be carved from stone by hand.
With a small organization like the National Sporting Library & Museum, it took an ‘all hands on deck’ effort with staff, partners, and volunteers to execute an event like this. But even with a rescheduled date and crazy heat, Carriage day turned out to be our biggest educational program to date.
Thanks to Colonial Williamsburg, the Piedmont Driving Club, and all the other partners, volunteers, and members who made it such a success. Drive on!