7:30 pm (Berwick Academy)
One of the most remarkable and gorgeous horse-drawn carriages in any museum collection in the United States, the Grace Darling omnibus, first used in 1880, transported tourists in style in South Berwick until 1904. The Long Island Museum's Chief Curator Joshua Ruff discusses the history of this beautifully-painted twenty-three foot long vehicle, now a star of his museum's collection.
Sponsored by the Old Berwick Historical Society, the program will be held on Thursday, March 27, starting at 7:30 pm at Berwick Academy's Jeppesen Science Center on Academy Street. The public is invited and volunteers will serve refreshments.
On the streets of South Berwick, Maine, in the 1880s and 90s, it was a sight to behold. An 11-foot-high, 23-foot-long, ornately-painted omnibus that was pulled by six horses, the Grace Darling was an immense and stunningly beautiful vehicle operated by Simeon P. Huntress, a local hotel proprietor. A newspaper article from its first season of use indicated that it “attracted much attention” and could “accommodate 45 persons. It is on easy springs, is beautifully painted and richly upholstered. It is to be used for beach and excursion parties, and can be had at reasonable rates.”
Today, the Grace Darling Omnibus survives and is a centerpiece of the nation’s best museum carriage collection at the Long Island Museum, in Stony Brook, New York. Join us for a stimulating lecture as the LIM’s Director of Collections and Interpretation, Joshua Ruff, explores the history and the continuing story of one of the best-preserved and most interesting horse-drawn vehicles in the nation, a vehicle that had an important life right here in southern coastal Maine in the late 1800s.
The Grace Darling was built and painted in 1879 and early 1880 by the Concord Carriage Builders, in New Hampshire. Although built on a massive scale, its signature feature is actually its wonderfully painted details. Grace Darling was painted by John Burghum (1826-1907), an English immigrant who was chief ornamenter for Abbot-Downing Company in Concord. His work on Grace is recorded in his diary, now in the collection of the New Hampshire Historical Society. The paint scheme features twelve oval landscapes on the interior panels, as well as rectangular paintings on the exterior door panels that include a stag, a dog and a mid-nineteenth-century Diana-like figure with a bow and quiver—emblematic of the name of the owner, Huntress. The vehicle was named for the legendary figure Grace Darling, a 19th-century heroine who was a lighthouse keeper’s daughter that assisted in a dramatic rescue of survivors off the coast of England.
Simeon P. Huntress used the omnibus until 1904. It was later owned by St. Paul’s School, in Concord, where it was used to transport students to and from athletic events until 1952. The Long Island Museum acquired the vehicle in 1952, and in the mid-1980s undertook an enormous conservation project to remove layers of varnish and grime that had obscured its wonderful painted surface. Today, it holds a place of prominence in the LIM’s carriage museum, the very first thing that visitors see when they enter the building.
Joshua Ruff is the Director of Collections and Interpretation at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages, in Stony Brook, New York. Mr. Ruff is also Senior Lecturer of American History at St. Joseph’s College, in Patchogue, New York. He has worked at the Long Island Museum in a number of capacities since 1997 and has many successful exhibitions to his credit. He recently helped oversee and complete a 10-year-long NEH-funded renovation of his museum’s carriage museum galleries. His written work has been published in The Magazine Antiques, American History magazine, and many other regional and national publications.
More information on the Counting House Museum and all the Old Berwick Historical Society's programs is available at www.oldberwick.org, or by calling (207) 384-0000.