This unit will attempt to chronicle the development of various methods of transportation that were made available to the residents of New Haven from the period 1800-1920. During this period, many modes of transportation were employed—horseback, wagons, carriages, railroads, canals, horsecars, bicycles, trolleys and automobiles.
New Haven’s contribution to the rise of transportation was the carriage industry. While the industry gained considerable fame and respect for producing some of the world’s finest quality carriages, its contribution is generally overlooked in most studies of transportation history. As a matter of fact, it is hardly mentioned in any student textbook on the study of Connecticut history. The carriage industry, then, serves as a focal point in the study of New Haven transportation during this period.
The main objectives of the unit are to have the students become aware of New Haven’s major contribution to the transportation industry and to develop a sense of pride in New Haven’s achievement. The student should realize that the study of history is not merely dates, places and names; rather, it provides insight as to why certain events took place when they did. For example: Why did the development of the railroads occur during the l830s and what was its effect on transportation and the price of goods. While this is a study of economic history, the residents’ opposition to and later use of the railroads would provide a social history. With every new transportation development, there were different economic and social reasons why they succeeded or failed; these should be clarified by the student. By the end of the unit, the student should be able to compare the 1800-1920 period with the present period. For example, modes of transportation employed by New Haveners today (mopeds, 10-speed bikes, car pools, buses, taxis, and so on) can be subject to the same type of social and economic interpretation that was applied to the transportation of days gone by.
If these objectives are successfully accomplished, the student will find that the study of transportation in New Haven need not be a dull conglomeration of facts, places and names. It will be relevant, thought provoking, and informative. Most important it will make history come alive!
The carriage industry of New Haven did not exist until the early 1800s. The reasons for this late development centered around the state of transportation and trade in the 1700s. Horseback and wagon were the essential modes of transportation; since trade was primarily with Europe and the West Indies, there was no urgent need to develop inland transportation.
In 1679, the legislature established a system of through highways called the King’s Highways.(The shoreline route linking Boston, New Haven and New York was later to become the Boston Post Road when the King became an unpopular figure in colonial Connecticut.) These highways were the first major effort in the colonial period to improve roads and transportation. The first real impetus to road building in Connecticut came in 1717, when Captain John Munson of New Haven was allowed to build a wagon line from New Haven to Hartford. Within the next seventy years, there was stagecoach travel through Connecticut linking Boston, New Haven, and New York. Passengers and mail were now moving through Connecticut!
Despite these stagecoach and mail lines, most of the roads in Connecticut were in poor shape. In general, they were extensions of trails and footpaths. But as the population grew and cities became established, the need for improved roads became apparent. Roads were firstly developed to link farms with the center of town. By the end of the Revolutionary War, the increased traffic and need for better roads prompted a considerable effort in road building.
With this effort came the establishment of turnpike companies. Since trade with Europe had slackened, turnpikes were needed to bring the country trade into town. Products of this road building effort were the Hartford-New Haven Turnpike Company (1798) and the New Haven-Milford Turnpike (1802). Obviously, better roads prompted the need for better transportation; they also prompted people to use roads for leisure time activity. Thus the need existed for light pleasure vehicles, and the New Haven Carriage industry was born.
The ensuing research on the carriage industry in New Haven will be presented in three distinct periods; the rise of the industry, the industry’s golden age and its decline. Throughout my description of these periods, I will attempt briefly to describe other modes of transportation developed and used by the residents of New Haven. My major source of information on the industry has been Richard Hegel’s book,
Carriages from New Haven.