Archive for July 24th, 2022

Tally Ho! (Updated)

It is not surprising that one can stumble across pieces of Huntington history in any number of places throughout town.  But in Nashville, Tennessee?  A friend recently visited Belle Meade Plantation there and found a carriage made right here on Wall Street in Huntington village in 1884. 

The park drag or private coach, also known as a Tally Ho was the work of one of Huntington’s many nineteenth century carriage manufacturers.  William T. Downs, who had displayed a knack for building things as a school boy, learned carriage making at his uncle Frederick G. Sammis’ factory on Green Street.  During his apprenticeship, he developed the ability to build any type of carriage.  After a brief stint in Western New York, Downs returned to Huntington and opened his own carriage manufacturing business.  He soon developed a reputation for excellent workmanship. 

His success led to the need for a larger factory, which he built on the east side of Wall Street, half a block north of Main Street.  When the factory was completed in the Spring of 1884, he was also in the process of securing a contract to manufacture a large number of cabs for the New York Cab Company.  Unfortunately, at the same time, he became seriously ill and was not able to finalize the contract.

However, in August 1884, he was well enough to witness the delivery of his masterpiece—a Tally Ho for Francis T. Underhill of Oyster Bay (see postscript below).  A Tally Ho, also known as a Park Drag, was the conveyance for the wealthy set.  Coaching was a popular sport in England developed as a social and leisure activity based on the mail runs of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Apparently, the English aristocracy thought the mail carriers were having a lot of fun running their mail coaches through the countryside.  Of course, the aristocrats’ carriages were more luxurious than the mail carriages on which they were based.  Eager to emulate their English cousins, the American upper class took up coaching in the post-Civil War period.

A Tally Ho could seat up to ten passengers, who would sit on the outside of the carriage.  The carriage provided space to store equipment as well as food and drinks for picnics.  The high seats also provided a good viewing platform to watch horse races.  In New York City, an annual parade of these coaches down Fifth Avenue served to close the New York social season.

Underhill took delivery of his carriage on a summer Thursday morning accompanied by a party of eight.  A large number of residents gathered on Main Street to witness the state-of-the-art carriage led by four horses.  After showing off his new carriage in the village, Underhill and his party rode to Comac where two additional horses from the Carll Burr stables were added.  From there, they rode to Port Jefferson and then on to Bridgeport by ferry.  Their final destination was the White Mountains.

Three months later, Downs was dead at the age of 35.

The fate of the Underhill coach is uncertain, but it is unlikely that Downs had the chance to produce more than one Tally Ho.  The coach at display in the carriage house at Belle Meade Plantation was acquired by Edmund E. Richardson in 1888. It was used until 1896.  It was then stored in Mrs. Richardson’s carriage house at her St. Charles Avenue house in New Orleans. The donor purchased the coach in 1937. In 1966, it was donated to Belle Meade.

Downs’ Wall Street carriage factory continued in business under different ownership.  In 1905, it was purchased by Joseph Cantrell who developed his wood sided auto body to be placed on an automobile chassis.  Cantrell’s Deport Wagon was the forerunner of the suburban staple, the station wagon.

A 1949 Cantrell Station Wagon

Postscript: After this piece was posted, I received a comment from Steve Russell Boerner, archivist for the Underhill Society of America. It turns out The Long-Islander had the wrong name for the purchaser of the coach. It was purchased by 21-year-old Francis T. Underhill, not Frank A. Underhill as reported in the newspaper (no such name appears in the Underhill genealogy records).

Francis T. Underhill was a wealthy young man who was an avid horseman and yachtsman (he competed in the America’s Cup races). In 1896, he published Driving for Pleasure, or, The Harness Stable and its Appointments. Underhill, who served in the Spanish American War, was also an architect. He purchased a ranch in California and split his time between the coasts until 1900 when he moved to California permanently.

It turns out that carriage maker William T. Downs’ wife was an Underhill, perhaps explaining how he secured the order for Underhill’s park drag.

Published 1896

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