The Monitor’s Concord Coach has a new home

  • Peter James (left) and Merwyn Bagan of the Abbott-Downing Historical Society look over the condition of the Concord Coach in the foyer of the ‘Monitor’ building. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ABOVE: Tom Prescott of the Abbot-Downing Historical Society looks over the condition of the wheels and suspension of the Concord Coach in the foyer of the ‘Monitor’ building days before disassembling and moving the coach. GEOFF FORESTERphotos / Monitor staff

  • John Bentley (left) and Tom Prescott roll one of the back wheels of the Abbot-Downing coach in the front lobby of the 'Concord Monitor' on Tuesday, August 20, 2109. The coach is being dismantled and being transported at a storage area. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The back wagon wheel from the Abbot-Downing coach in seen in the lobby of the Concord Monitor as a crew dismantles it on Tuesday. The coach was fully removed Wednesday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Mark Mattice of Prescott Oil gives the signal that the Concord Coach is through the main entrance of the 'Concord Monitor' as a team moves it on Wednesday morning, August 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • LEFT: Peter James (left), Tom Prescott (pointing) and Merwyn Bagan of the Abbot-Downing Historical Society talk about where the rear wheels of the Concord Coach will go as they get ready to head out on Wednesday. The coach has been in ‘Monitor’ lobby since the building opened in 1990.

Monitor staff
Published: 8/21/2019 6:19:21 PM
Modified: 8/21/2019 6:19:11 PM

You might think it would be easy to move something that was designed to move, but in the case of Concord Coach No. 113 , you would be wrong.

Recently Peter James, Tom Prescott and Merwyn Bagan of the Abbot-Downing Historical Society spent a good chunk of a morning crawling under, walking around and measuring the red-and-yellow coach that has graced the front office of the Concord Monitor for 29 years, trying to figure out how to get the 2,500-pound carriage through the fire doors.

“Sixty-two inches,” said James, after measuring the width between the doors for the second time, or maybe it was the third.  

Alas, his tape measure also revealed that the coach is more than 80 inches wide. This means its five-foot-tall wheels and both axles had to be removed and the gleaming body supported on a rolling cradle in order to be shifted out to a flatbed truck in the parking lot. Prescott and James spent a lot of time talking about removing king bolts, using ratchet straps, and whether 2-by-8’s were sturdy enough.

The discussion and planning culminated Wednesday when five men, having spent two days removing the undercarriage, slowly shifted the coach body out the paper’s front door. 

The reason for all this activity is that the Abbot-Downing Historical Society has inherited – their word for it – the coach from the Monitor, which will eventually be selling the building at 1 Monitor Drive as it transitions to the new printing press nearby in Penacook. 

This will be the fifth of the iconic stagecoaches built by J. Stephens Abbot and Lewis Downing owned by the historical group named for the Concord company. It will go into storage at the Hopkinton fairgrounds with others while the organization lines up a final home.

“Concord Coach No. 113 is staying in Concord and joining other Concord Coaches at the Abbot-Downing Historical Society. The Society’s stewardship of surviving Concord Coaches is a tremendous service to the community. Not only will they preserve the coach, they will also share it and their other coaches and historic memorabilia with the community through educational programs,” said Aaron Julien, president of Newspapers of New England Inc.  “With the move of our presses to a much larger facility, it’s time to sell the building and we’re very happy that No. 113 is joining the rest of its family at the ADHS.”

Only about 150 of the thousands of Concord coaches built by the Abbot-Downing Co. still exist. Eighteen are known in New Hampshire, including seven in Concord itself.

The company, started by a wheelwright and a coachbuilder, began making stagecoaches in Concord in 1826 and eventually dominated the high-end trade for horse-pulled transportation. Concord coaches, each of which could cost around $2,500, or at least $40,000 in today’s money, were used to carry people, mail and supplies across the continent and throughout the region, doing the job that intercity buses and trucks do today.

The firm failed to make the 20th century transition to the horseless carriage but its memory lives on, not just in the name of the Abbot-Downing School but in the way that a coach is the city emblem. 

No. 113 was built in 1866 and carried visitors from Center Harbor to the White Mountains and back. It could hold as many as nine people inside, who were crammed onto three bench seats so close together that two facing groups had to interweave their knees.

“The airlines didn’t invent coach seating,” is how James put it.

A Henniker resident, Ronald Daniels, found the coach in a barn in western Massachusetts and bought it in 1987, then oversaw its restoration – which includes doors painted with copies of Frank Shapleigh’s well-known painting of the Notch House in Crawford Notch. It was bought by the Monitor to celebrate the paper’s move in 1990 into the then-new building on the east side of Sewalls Falls. 

It is built mostly of oak, and the coach body rests on a huge leather strap known as a thorough brace, the design of which was one of the secrets to Abbot-Downing’s success.

“It was harder to make, but much stronger,” said James. 

 

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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