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The Concord Coaches are heading this way, rain be damned

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  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store of its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday, October 27, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store of its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday, October 27, 2021. The members of the Abbot-Downing Historical Society roll one of the carriages off the flatbed to be put in the barn. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society roll one of eight 19th-century coaches and carriages into the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Abbot-Downing Historical Society board member Bob DeAngelis puts one of the harnesses near the carriages in the Rolfe Barn on Tuesday.

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store of its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday, October 27, 2021. The members of the Abbot-Downing Historical Society roll one of the carriages off the flatbed near the barn. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store of its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday, October 27, 2021. The members of the Abbot-Downing Historical Society roll one of the carriages into the barn. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store of its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday, October 27, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store of its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday, October 27, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Linda Day holds her dog Penny as they watch the moving of the Abbot-Downing carriages.

  • With the help of the Penacook Historical Society, the Abbot-Downing Historical Society was able to store of its eight 19th century coaches and carriages at the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street on Tuesday, October 27, 2021. The members of the Abbot-Downing Historical Society roll one of the carriages off the flatbed to be put in the barn. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the Abbot-Downing carriages that ferried passengers to the Crawford House in the White Mountains. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/27/2021 4:00:06 PM

Like the men on horseback who pulled them over rough, dangerous terrain 200 years ago, nothing was going to stop this hearty group of volunteers from steering thousands of pounds of oak, ash and iron through less-than-ideal circumstances.

These community-minded people wanted to transfer eight original 19th-century Concord Coach and Buggies Tuesday from storage in Hopkinton to a temporary home in Penacook.

They’d form a caravan. They’d make it an event, a delicious small-town treat for people to enjoy. The forecast said buckets would fall.

The volunteers said “rain, schmain.”

Luckily, the clouds remained dark, only sprinkling now and then, making it easier for the volunteers to surge forward as planned. But a tornado might not have slowed this commitment to preserve and present the area’s history, making it sturdy like a few of these coaches, standing eight feet tall and weighing 2,500 pounds.

“We had to get it done today, and it became rain or shine,” said Althea Barton, a member of the Penacook Historical Society Board for the past five years. “Some people took off just to make this move, and with winter coming, we needed to get this done.”

Mission accomplished.

With Penacook’s historical society joining hands with the Abbot-Downing Historical Society, eight 19th century coaches and carriages – the pride of the Abbot-Downing Company and long a symbol of the Granite State’s eye for detail and its adventurous spirit – were transferred from storage at the Hopkinton Fairgrounds to the Rolfe Barn on Penacook Street.

The line of flatbed trucks, with their historical cargo of coaches and smaller wagons, or buggies, formed a Conga Line through the back roads of Wesbter and into Penacook, on Bog Road and Fisherville Road and Merrimack Street, covering 10 miles in about 30 minutes.

The Rolfe barn, built in the late 18th century, is cavernous, 85 feet long, 33 feet deep, 28 feet high, and newly spruced up and sanitized. After one more Congo line, the display will open to the public in the spring, waiting there while a more permanent location for the Concord Coach and Abbot-Downing Museum is finished.

That’s a long way off, though, because nothing is set in concrete, including the building’s foundation. The village leaders hope the temporary exhibition will combine with other bold ideas to add some zesty culture to an area often playing the role of Jan Brady to Concord’s Marcia, forever overshadowed but with plenty to offer.

Also planned is the Merrimack Valley Greenway Trail, near the railroad tracks, beyond the brush, part of the Northern Rail Trail that extends from Boscawen to Lebanon, a 60-mile stretch.

“We always want to foster an appreciation for Penacook and its history,” Barton noted.

Peter James is the treasurer for the Abbot-Downing Historical Society. He was the go-to contact to learn about the famous coaches and the process currently underway.

He’s regularly involved in transporting the antiques around the state for viewing. He led the team that disassembled the coach once displayed in the lobby at the Concord Monitor, saying it was no easy job.

“You have to take something that is eight feet tall and seven feet wide and put it through a door that is seven feet tall and five feet wide,” James said. “You take the wheels and axles off and take it out of the building. It’s worth $200,000 and it weighs more than 2,000 pounds.”

Storing more than a dozen of these historic treasures at the Hopkinton Fairgrounds, unseen by the public, made no sense to James.

“It’s a big thing moving it,” James said, “from where it’s out of sight, except for during the fair, to a new museum. It will be a major draw for the city of Concord.”

The Concord Coach became a model for the country. Abbot-Downing manufactured them through the 19th century, in business for 70 years.

The label Concord Coach became a generic term used around the nation, as this breakthrough in transportation was deeply ingrained into the city’s identity.

There were stagecoaches, stopping every 10 or 15 miles so people could stretch and horses could drink. There were mail coaches. Pull out the benches and throw down a flatboard and there was a hauler, for grain and farm products.

The suspension system, new in America at the time, lessened the impact while rolling over the ever-present bumps of the day.

Half the stock made the trip this week, each resting on a flatbed trailer, hooked to a pickup truck. They were carefully backed into the Rolfe Born. James watched the trucks unload.

He said 160 original Abbot-Downing Concord Coaches are in the United States, with 11 remaining in the Granite State. Five are hidden; James would not say where. Four belong to Tom Prescott, inside his facility on Airport Road.

Those nine will join the Concord museum when it’s finished. Another is proudly displayed at Concord Group Insurance, serving as the company’s symbol, of strength and innovation. That one has an educational purpose and will stay there.

There’s one in the old New Hampshire Historical Society building, however, that’s unavailable for public view. Logic says officials would figure out a way to add that one to the final collection, but nothing as of yet has been determined.

Meanwhile, a treasure trove showing a snapshot of our country’s evolving transportation history is snug in the Rolfe Barn. The rest will be moved from Hopkinton soon.

Prescott, Pat Maimone, Dave Harris and other volunteers will be ready. Rain or shine.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t rain that day either,” James said. “We’ll be ready to go.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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