Bringing the Carriages Home: A New Carriage House for the Collection
Helen Clay Frick began planning for the grounds of her family home to be preserved as a historic site in the years following her father’s 1919 death. By the early 1950s, that planning began to take shape. Helen took the first steps toward this goal through the preservation of her family’s collection of horse-drawn carriages and sleighs. Prior to the razing of Eagle Rock, the Frick family’s summer home on Boston’s north shore, in 1969, and the selling of the Iron Rail Vacation Home for Girls in Wenham, Massachusetts (a retreat created by Helen for young working women from the mill towns around Boston), Helen constructed a building on the grounds of her family home in Pittsburgh in 1955 to house the carriage collection, which had been in storage at Eagle Rock.
Much like sports cars and luxury automobiles today, carriages were a mobile accessory in the arsenal of the affluent to display their wealth. Since carriages were utilized for specific functions or interests—formal occasions, pleasure driving, and sporting events—multiple carriages in various styles were purchased. Henry Clay Frick purchased the oldest of the carriages—a Brougham by Brewster & Co.—in December 1881 while on his honeymoon in New York City with his new bride Adelaide Howard Childs Frick. Over time, the family amassed a rather sizable collection of carriages to accommodate their various activities. Records show that while the Fricks purchased numerous high-end carriages from coachbuilders like Brewster & Co in New York, Wm. D. Rodgers & Sons in Philadelphia, and L. Glesenkamp & Sons in Pittsburgh, they also owned vehicles of simpler construction like t-carts, piano-box body carriages, sleighs, and a dog cart used by the Frick children.
Charles Knoedler, Andrew W. Mellon, and Henry Clay Frick, 1898. Image courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
Voucher for the purchase of a sleigh from the Gerber Carriage Company in Pittsburgh, 1905. Image courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
Voucher for the purchase of a miniature country-seat T-Cart from the French Carriage Company, 1909. Image courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
Adelaide and Helen Frick driving a piano-box style carriage at Wood Rock the estate of Herbert M. Sears in Massachusetts, c. 1902. Image courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
While living at Clayton, the carriages served utilitarian functions, taking Henry to the Homewood train station for work downtown, while Adelaide used the carriages for shopping, or calling upon her sister Attie or nearby friends. Adelaide and Helen also drove the carriages for pleasure in Schenley and Highland Parks. At the start of the summer season the carriages and horses were transported by rail from Pittsburgh to the Frick’s summer rental on Boston’s north shore and returned the same way at the end of the season. Once the construction of Eagle Rock was completed, the family’s carriages were transported to the stables at Eagle Rock where they remained. In addition to the carriages from Pittsburgh, the family continued to purchase carriages and sleighs through 1909, from Brewster & Co in New York City and the French Carriage Company in Boston, Massachusetts. The vast grounds at Eagle Rock provided greater opportunity for pleasure driving than offered at the family homes in Pittsburgh or New York City.
Childs and Helen Frick on the grounds of Clayton, c.1890s. Image courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
Stables and gardens at Eagle Rock, the Frick’s summer home in Prides Crossing, MA. From The Henry Clay Frick Houses: Architecture, Interiors, Landscapes in the Golden Era by Martha Frick Symington Sanger and Wendell Garrett, 2001.Helen began concentrated planning for the future of Clayton, its grounds, and her father’s legacy in the 1950s. In 1954 she sought an architect to design a museum-storage building on the grounds of Clayton that would be used to house the family’s carriage collection. At this time there were carriages stored at the stables of Eagle Rock, as well as in an outbuilding on the grounds of the Iron Rail Vacation Home for Girls, and at Helen’s residence in Bedford, New York. There was a bit of an impetus to get the carriages transferred from the Iron Rail location because Helen was donating the land to the Girls Club of America.
Iron Rail property with barn marked (far right) in 2011. Courtesy Treasures of Wenham History, Helen Frick by Jack E. Hauck, 2015.
Letter written to Frick Foundation Trustee and Helen’s Business Manager Walter F. Cooley from Eleanor B. Howland, Helen’s secretary, regarding arrangements for the carriages located at the Iron Rail Vacation Home for Girls, April 1, 1954. Image courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.Business manager and Frick Foundation Trustee Walter F. Cooley worked with N. E. Thompson, an engineer at Eagle Rock, to conduct an inventory of the carriages held at the various Frick properties. N. E. Thompson recorded the measurements and a brief description of 12 carriages, two sleighs, and two cars that were stored at the Massachusetts properties. Helen and Walter worked with the architectural firm Mt. Lebanon Builders to construct a suitable storage facility for the carriages that could be developed into a carriage museum in the future. The original plans had a single-story structure located closer to Homewood Avenue that would accommodate the carriages, gardener’s tools, and two cars. Once Walter and Helen reviewed the dimensions of the carriages, sleighs, and cars, they realized that a two story building was needed to accommodate the collection. Helen was proactive in ensuring the safety of the vehicles and visited a local historical society to determine the best materials to use in the construction—Helen’s preference was for a cinder block building with brick facing, terrazzo floors, and plastered walls.
Letter and sketches from Helen Clay Frick to Walter Cooley regarding plans for the new carriage museum, 1954. Images courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
Letter, sketches, and carriage descriptions from N. E. Thompson to Walter Cooley. Thompson mentions in this letter that there are two carriages at Bedford, New York (Helen’s residence), but is not sure if they are to be counted, September 22, 1954. Images courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
Construction of the carriage house, 1955. Images courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.Once the building—which today serves as the Frick’s education classrooms and office space for Learning & Visitor Experience staff—was complete, the unrestored collection of thirteen carriages and two sleighs was installed. Unfortunately, I am not able to determine at this time when the final, fourteenth, carriage joined the collection, perhaps one carriage had remained at Clayton through the years. Similarly, from N. E. Thompson’s description of the carriages it is difficult to determine if the final carriage was the 1900 four-passenger phaeton, the 1908 Chubb, or 1908 dos-a-dos. A total of fifteen horse drawn vehicles were hoisted onto the second floor of the carriage museum. The two cars—a 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost and a 1931 Lincoln Model K dual cowl phaeton—which were purchased for or by Helen were stored in the Haller House garage—today that building is the Café at the Frick.
(A time before best practices, not the way we move carriages today.)
Installing the carriages on the second floor of the new carriage house, 1955. Images courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
Carriages installed in the carriage museum, 1955. Images courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.Since opening to the public on September 25, 1990, the museum has undergone two expansions, the first in 1997 to accommodate the loan of the G. Whitney Snyder collection of antique automobiles (which later were donated to the museum) and again in 2015 to create a more appropriate display space for the carriages—with higher ceilings and better lighting, to allow the sculptural forms of the carriages to be seen to better advantage. Today the museum maintains a mixed collection of carriages and cars totaling 40 vehicles, offers free admission, an option of self-guided or docent-led tours (on specific days), and regular temporary exhibitions. What began as a way to preserve one woman’s memories of family, fun, and leisure has become a way for thousands of annual visitors to make their own memories imagining what life must have been like for Helen Clay Frick on her carriage drives.
Helen driving Mlle. Ogiz in the pony-size spider phaeton. Image courtesy the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library.
“The Making of ‘Clayton's’ Carriage Museum.” The Carriage Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 1991.