Horsepower – The Carriage Museum at the Granger Homestead

The Agricultural Barn is the oldest on the Homestead grounds, dating to 1816. During the 2023 Sweetheart Rides, driving a surrey is James Knauer with horse “Honey.” Photo by Laurel C. Wemett
by Laurel C. Wemett

Historic homes in the Finger Lakes Region often have a horse-drawn vehicle in their collections. At the Seward Mansion in Auburn, a carriage used by William Seward in Washington D.C., is connected to an assassination attempt on his life in 1865. At Canandaigua’s Granger Homestead, carriage ownership has been taken to a whole new level. Three outbuildings behind the 1816 mansion boast one of the largest horse-drawn vehicle collections in the state. Many, like Seward’s carriage, have tales to tell of their owners and their times. 

        “It’s a wonderful surprise for those visiting a Federal-era home who haven’t known about the Carriage Museum to see it and learn of its connection to regional and transportation history,” said Martha Herbik, executive director of the Granger Homestead Society (GHS). Displayed are 75 vehicles of a total of about 100, which includes gigs, runabouts, sleighs, surreys, coaches, buckboards, commercial wagons, fire-fighting equipment and hearses.    

        While there are some Granger family vehicles on view, more numerous are those owned and collected by Judge Joseph Cribb (1914-2003). His love of horse-drawn vehicles started early as a visitor to the Homestead when Grangers still lived there. Cribb boarded and cared for horses in a barn original to the early 19th century property and became friends with Lafayette Cooper, manager of the property and its farm. Judge Cribb, who had a distinguished legal career, is among those whose efforts saved the mansion when it faced demolition in 1945. The house has been open for tours and functions for decades. The Carriage Museum got its start in the early 1960s notably through the efforts of Stephen Hamlin and other local volunteers.


Three buildings filled with historic vehicles

        The largest outbuilding, built in 1876, was not always a barn. Its hardwood floors, oak stairway and wainscoting reflect a period when the Granger Place School transformed the mansion and grounds into a girls’ school. After 1907 when the homestead was again a residence, the building was relocated to serve as a carriage and horse barn. A “sittin’ room” on the first floor was used by Lafayette Cooper. Wall panels illustrate Kolaneka Farms in Pittsford, the origin of seven impressive vehicles, gifted in 1963 by Deeta Mitchell Pierson along with cases of harnesses. A large private coach or a park drag is Herbik’s favorite. It seats 14 inside and on top. Zinc-lined boxes carried food while a drawer held silverware for excursions to horse races, country picnics and other outings. “I just like the idea of a cooler in the back and a yard of ale for the driver with passengers inside and outside. It is like a precursor to the Suburban,” Herbik said with a laugh.

        The vehicles on the barn’s upper level once traveled Canandaigua’s streets. Enlarged historic photographs and murals of landmarks painted by local artists create the perfect setting.  

        The so-called Agricultural Barn is the sole survivor of a pair of matching barns, dating back to 1816. Today it is filled with farming implements as well as an 8-foot toboggan which held 12 or more wintertime adventure-seekers. The upper level of this barn provides storage. 

        A modern pole barn dating to the early 1960s houses a wide assortment of vehicles. “My favorite is the traveling store,” says longtime docent Carla DeMeco. “How exciting it must have been to have it come rumbling and clattering into the farm yard! He had fabric for a dress, ax handles, pots and pans, toys, everything the family could want. It’s not pretty, but it’s my favorite.” The owner also brought the latest news of what was going on in the neighborhood.     


Who cares for the vehicles?

        “Without substantial funding, it can be difficult to care for and preserve a collection like the Granger Homestead Society’s carriage collection,” said Ontario County Historical Society Curator Wilma Townsend. She has occasionally assisted the Granger with curatorial activities. “At present, all of the vehicles are stored in the three barns, where they are covered in the winter and appropriately cleaned at least annually by the Carriage Committee volunteers.”

         Dawn Ziegler, the Carriage Committee’s chair and a horse owner who drives at GHS said, “The committee’s work is important to preserve examples of horse-drawn vehicles that were used in and around Canandaigua and western New York.” She enjoys educating others on the use of horses and horse-drawn vehicles for moving people and goods over hundreds of years. 

        Carriage Committee volunteers don’t have to be horse and buggy owners. Anyone with an interest in horse-drawn vehicles and history is welcome. With training they can give tours. The group has a broad mission – to care for the horse-drawn vehicles, design and set up displays in the carriage barns, make recommendations to the GHS Board to accept new or re-home existing carriages and host public learning opportunities about horse-drawn carriages and sleighs.

        Annual vehicle examinations include rotating wheels and addressing damage or deterioration. “Carriages used for public rides go through an annual maintenance process,” Ziegler explained, “which includes removing and greasing wheels and making necessary repairs.”

        “It is important to be responsible stewards to ensure all this is available for future generations,” said Herbik, who has been at the GHS helm for 12 years. Opening the Carriage Museum every spring is helped by United Way’s “Day of Caring” volunteers. In recent years, employees from IDI Billing Solutions, a local business, have undertaken the cleaning routine.  

        “We couldn’t possibly do all that we do without our volunteer workforce,” Herbik said. GHS receives no government funding. While some services are outsourced, oversight of the 12-acre site falls to a small core staff. Fundraisers like Christkindl Market and Festival of Trees provide support thanks to additional volunteers. Volunteer appreciation is key; Herbik points to an annual dinner for volunteers and the recognition of a leading volunteer. 


Going home

        Museums sometimes find a better location for an artifact, including carriages. For years a coachee linked to Jemima Wilkinson (1758-1819) and owned by the Ontario County Historical Society (OCHS), was displayed at the Carriage Museum. Wilkinson, a late 18th century religious leader, brought many early settlers to what became Yates County.

        “The Yates County Historical Society had a safe location for it and was determined to appropriately care for it,” explained OCHS Curator Wilma Townsend. “The OCHS Board approved the deaccession and transfer. It was a free and clear transaction, no money was exchanged.”  The coachee returned to Yates County in the early 2000s. Since then, it has received much-needed conservation treatment and its own Carriage Barn.


When to Visit

Tours are available May 3 to October 15, 2023. Admission fee.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Tours of the Homestead and Carriage Museum begin on the hour and last 1-1/2 to 2 hours; the last complete tour begins at 3 p.m.

Summer Camp 2023 is from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. July 17 to 21 for ages 7 to 11. Fee and registration are required.

Christkindl Market, November 10 to 12 and Festival of Trees, November 13  to December 2. Admission fee.


Public Rides

Free rides and tours are available at a Community Open House every May.

Around Valentine’s Day, “Sweetheart Rides” are offered by four certified drivers. Fee.

A special occasion carriage ride can be booked at other times thanks to these horses and owners: Annie (owner Teresa Jackson), Honey (owner Jim Knauer) and Janeska (owner Dawn Ziegler).

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