Sunday, August 15, 2010

road coaches

I've done a post — living high — on the coaching mania that overcame a bunch of rich New Yorkers in the decades that ended the 19th and began the 20th centuries.[1] The four-in-hand road coaches driven by young men — and women — of that time were close cousins of the two-horsed Fifth Avenue Coaches that conveyed the public up and down that prestigious thoroughfare.[2] The commercial horse coaches on Fifth Avenue were a snobbish reaction to the proletarian horse-drawn (and later electric) "cars" on other streets and avenues, and this amateur coaching expanded the custom from simple transportation to fashionable sport.[3]

Members of coaching clubs and other enthusiasts would hold meets to size up each others' sparkling equipage and horseflesh. They would also invite friends on jaunts from Madison Park up through Central Park and back, or further out to suburban country clubs. In time, as in England, some of them emulated the old intercity stages by holding to scheduled departures and returns over established routes and by taking paying passengers. Although in theory anyone could ride who paid the fare, in practice the fare-payers were all In Society. Invariably, they sat up top while their valets, maids, and the occasional extra groom sat within, and it can be assumed they enjoyed being observed as well as observing those whose attention was captured by the bleat of coach horn, thunder of hooves, and rumble of coach wheels.

The first New York coach was acquired by a wealthy banker and passionate horseman, August Belmont.[4] Here's a detail from a photo showing a successor to that first one, known as the Belmont Park Four-in-Hand, which was owned and driven by Alfred Vanderbilt, a son of the great Cornelius. It was taken in front of Holland House as Vanderbilt and his guests departed for the suburbs one sunny morning in 1905.[5]

{Detail from: "Belmont coach," New York, by the Detroit Publishing Co., 1905; source: Library of Congress}

Here are some other coaching photos.

1. This shows Coaching Club members setting out on a jaunt circa 1909 from New York to Newport, Rhode Island. The motorcar which the coach is passing can be seen as rising symbol of the decline of the sport. After the close of World War I, there was little left of it.

{Caption: NYC Club in Pioneer Coach on way Newport, New York, by the Bain News Service, no date recorded on caption card (found with others taken in 1909)}

Here are two detail views of the photo.

a) I've written about the spare harness of the commercial Fifth Avenue Coaches. Here, as in most of the gentlemen's coaches, we see the most complete tack money can buy. Although pairs and even quartets of horses might be matched by color, it was most important to match by other characteristics: stride, strength, size and most of all compatibility. The reins are "four-in-hand," that is, four straps from the outside bits leading up to the driver's hands. The inside bits were connected by straps between each pair of horses.

b) No coach was complete without horn and someone to blow it.

2. The Coaching Club again, on a local outing in 1906, this time with ladies. As you can see, club members and their guests dressed up for these rides.

{Caption: New York (City). Coaching club group on top of coach: Mr. & Mrs. Robert Brewster, Mrs. O. Gould Jennings and Rosamond Street, by the Bain News Service, 1906; source: Library of Congress}

3. There was a women's coaching club and this shows some of its members. Here, all four horses match by color. It's a day for overcoats and somewhat more practical hats than shown above. The motor vehicles in the background suggest that the date is about 1911.

{Caption: Women's coach club, by the Bain News Service, date not known}

Here's a detail.

The woman who's to drive stands in foreground. Notice that she's given herself a cushy seat.

4. This shows members of the Ladies' four-in-hand Driving Club seated on a coach in front of the Colony Club building, New York. Here the horses are matched colors in pairs. The photo, as you can see, is somewhat distressed.

{Caption: Mrs. Thos. Hastings's coach leaves Colony Club. 5/10/11. Mrs. A. Iselin, whip, Mrs. Hastings beside her, Mrs. W.G. Loew between, by the Bain News Service, 1911; source: Library of Congress}

5. On the longer jaunts, horses would be changed out every six miles or so. This severely damaged photo shows "the New York City Coaching Club's road coach Pioneer stopping to change horses in Hastings on the way to the Ardlsey Country Club, ca. 1900."

{Source: a blog post, Broadway: A Millionaires’ Playground, by the Hastings Historical Society}

Here's a detail. You can see that not just a whole lot of horses, but also a whole lot of grooms were involved in these coaching expeditions.


Some sources:

The Road coach guide

A SEASON WITH THE ROAD-COACH "PIONEER" by Reginald W. Rives, Outing, the Outdoor Magazine of Human Interest, edited by Caspar Whitney, Volume 44, 1904

The Rider and driver, Volume 5 (Rider and Driver Pub. Co., 1893)

Broadway: A Millionaires’ Playground

The Sport of Public Coaching, Col. Delancey Kane and "The Pelham Coach"
by Blake A. Bell

When the Coachman Was a Millionare, American Heritage Magazine, October 1967, Volume 18, Issue 6

The Coaching Game as the New Yorker Plays It; The Humorous and Serious Sides -- Enthusiasm of Such Young Sportsmen as Alfred G. Vanderbilt and His Friends -- The Start from the Holland House an Event of Daily Interest During the Season. New York Times, April 30, 1905, Sunday, Part Three First Magazine Section, Page SM3, 2863 words

Note the interesting torn cover:

Suburban Riding and Driving Club by Cole Thompson on a blog called MyInwood

The Four-in-Hand, and Glances at the Literature of Coaching, by Jennie J. Young, McBride's magazine, Volume 21 (J.B. Lippincott and co., 1878)

Some images from this article:

The Suburban Riding and Driving Club, by Frances M. Smith, Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Volume 40, edited by Frank Leslie (Frank Leslie Pub. House, 1895)

Some images and an excerpt from this article:


By Frances M. Smith.

One of the most popular establishments in Gotham Town — or, rather, just out of town — is the Suburban Riding and Driving Club. It is the objective point of my lady who takes her airing in her luxurious victoria; of my lord who is out for a canter on his thoroughbred; of the demi-swells, the swells, and the howling swells who have four-in-hands, tandems, spike-teams, cocking carts, dogcarts and tra-la-las.

Rain or shine, any afternoon, every afternoon, the beautiful Riverside Drive is gayer with vehicles coming and going than the Row or Hyde Park in London ever thought of being. In fact, we are getting quite ahead of London in our magnificent display of coaches that are rare and costly and horseflesh that is truly superb.

Little wonder that the Suburban Club is so much in vogue; for not only are the roads and the scenery along the routes, of which there are several, as beautiful as any whip could desire, but the club itself is a most attractive place. Every accommodation has been provided for ladies, so that members may take their families along to enjoy the ride or drive and stop for refreshment, or make a day of it "in the country," and yet be easily within an hour of the central part of the city. It is a youthful organization — scarcely a year old — and yet it is already as powerful as it is popular.

The headquarters are the spacious premises formerly known as Seaman Castle, situated on the Kingsbridge Road. The mansion is a beautiful structure of white marble, with a view from any part of the house or grounds across the Hudson to the Palisades. A lawn sweeps down from the main entrance to the edge of Spuyten Duyvil Creek.
The club was located at what is now Inwood Hill Park in upper Manhattan.

Inwood Hill Park

View Larger Map

Inwood Hill Park
Seaman Mansion and Old Seaman Mansion



[1] They were emulating aristocratic Englishmen who took up the sport a few years before them. As English railroads replaced English stage coaches, men who afford it attempted to bring back the pastoral pleasures of inter-city travel on brightly painted "drags," as they called them, along rural lanes. The Coaching Club of New York was formed in 1875 and the group held its first coaching meet to showcase the skilled drivers and fine carriages at Madison Square in 1876. This photo shows an English drag that was rebuilt this year to celebrate the sport of coaching in America. See: The Four-in-Hand, and Glances at the Literature of Coaching, by Jennie J. Young, McBride's magazine, Volume 21 (J.B. Lippincott and co., 1878)

{Caption: The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and The Coaching Club of America will commemorate the 94th running of the Grade 1 Betfair TVG Coaching Club American Oaks on Saturday, July 24, with a day-long celebration of coaching at Saratoga Race Course. Today, coaching exists as a throwback to another era, an opportunity to exhibit the mastery of “four-in-hand” driving and emphasize the careful workmanship of historic carriages. Coaching Club Celebration at Saratoga Race Course July 24}

[2] Although Fifth Avenue Coaches were almost invariably pulled by a pair of horses, there's this evidence that at least one was pulled by three:

{A three-in-hand 5th Ave coach in 1898; source:}

[3] On the fashionable sport, see the article in McBride's cited above. Here's a list of posts that show the commercial coaches: [4] The life of August Belmont bore some semblance to the life of Louis Windmuller, my great-grandfather. Both came from Jewish families in the western part of Germany (Belmont=Hesse, Windmuller=Westphalia), both emigrated to the US without family while still young, both changed their names (Belmont's surname had been Schönberg; Louis's given name had been Levi) and religion (from Jewish to Episcopalian), both married into blue-blooded American families, and both were bankers. Belmont was older than Windmuller however and exceeded him both in wealth and social standing. Belmont was also a passionate horseman while Windmuller was no sportsman, though a renowned walker.

Regarding amateur coachmen, this comes from an article in a popular magazine published in 1878:
The American gentleman-coachman is a modern product. In 1860 there was only one four-in-hand in the Union. It was of English build, and belonged to Mr. T. Bigelow Lawrence of Boston, who drove it for some time in that city, took it abroad with him, and again drove it in Boston. On Mr. Lawrence's death it passed into the possession of Brewster & Co. It served the firm for some time as an advertisement, and then, attracting the attention of Mr. William Jay and Mr. Thomas Newbold, it was purchased by them in conjunction with Mr. Frederick Bronson and Mr. Nicholson Kane. It was used occasionally by each of the four owners, but was abandoned when they began to feel separate" proprietorship desirable. Meantime, Wood Brothers had built a drag for Mr. Leonard Jerome in 1863, and about the same date Mr. August Belmont purchased a coach, the first one imported for a New York proprietor. Either in or about the same year the Marquis Lousada imported to Boston an English coach, which on his decease was bought by Mr. W.F. Weld of the same city. Mr. Bronson and Colonel Delancey Kane purchased English coaches, and Mr. James Gordon Bennett imported one from Paris, which afterward passed into the possession of Mr. William P. Douglas. These purchases led directly to the formation of the Coaching Club. Several of the gentlemen named met abroad, and on the proposition of Mr. Jay steps were taken which led, in 1875, to the organization of the club. The first parade was held in 1876, when six coaches turned out. The object of the club is "to encourage four-in-hand driving in America."
-- The Four-in-Hand, and Glances at the Literature of Coaching, by Jennie J. Young, McBride's magazine, Volume 21 (J.B. Lippincott and co., 1878)
[5] The New York Times took frequent note of Vanderbilt's coaching successes. He owned several coaches in his time and in this article the Belmont Park coach is named: (VANDERBILT HORSES WON.; Took the Blue Ribbon Honors at Brooklyn's Driving Club Show. New York Times, May 11, 1905, Thursday, Page 6, 1145 words.) Holland House was home to the Coaching Club after its first, the The Brunswick Hotel, was torn down. The Brunswick was on Madison Square, Holland House just off it.

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