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Those who have heard of the Carriage Association of America may well ask, “Where is the museum? Can I visit?” The answer is “Well, sort of.”

The Carriage Museum of America (CMA) was founded in 1978 by a few members of the Carriage Association of America. At the time, the CAA was not registered as a non-profit, which made it difficult for them to accept donations. The CMA was established as a separate entity - an educational non-profit - which would collect and conserve books, archival materials, and ephemera. The CMA and CAA have always worked closely together, and now share a headquarters in Lexington, Ky.

Many people are confused by the name “Carriage Museum of America.” In the beginning the CMA planned to one day operate as a brick-and-mortar museum, as the name suggests. However, over time the trustees realized that many museums already exist in the United States where people can view horse-drawn vehicles, but relatively few research centers are established where carriages can truly be studied. With that in mind, the mission of the CMA shifted, and it now functions primarily as a library and archive, with a focus on preserving information about vehicles and making that information available.

The CMA is governed by a volunteer board of trustees, led by President John Sowles. The Board has a diverse range of interests within the realm of carriages, with some who drive (for recreation and/or competition) and others who collect; some have an interest in coaches while others are interested in buggies; some who teach and some who write, and many others. The trustees live in different areas of the country, differ in their career paths and have a variety of outside interests, all which lends expertise to the operation.

The CMA was incorporated in Maine by Ken Sowles, father of the current president. In the early years, he took the initiative to collect the materials and handle the CMA’s daily operations. Sowles personal carriage collection became the foundation of the CMA’s collection. In June of 1992 the CMA established a headquarters at Morven Park in Leesburg, Va. All of the materials that had been donated to the CMA since its inception were moved from Maine to Virginia, and Susan Green was hired as the Museum Librarian. She set about cataloging the materials in the collection and establishing a research center. The CMA relocated in 1995 to Bird-in-Hand, Pa., where it stayed for many years under Susan’s direction.

In 2006, the CMA relocated to Kentucky. The CAA had recently moved from New Jersey to the Kentucky Horse Park, and the decision was made that the two organizations should be housed under the same roof. Due to limited space, the library and archives stayed with the headquarters, while the vehicles were moved into storage in Georgia. Katherine Magruder was hired to be the new Director of Operations in Kentucky, and she filled that role until 2012, at which time Mindy Groff was hired. In 2015 the CMA moved into a new, larger building owned by the Carriage Association of America, with plans for this to be the CMA’s permanent home. The joint CMA/CAA Library contains more than 2000 books, and that number continues to increase as members and others donate their own libraries or recently published books. The oldest book in the CMA Library dates back to 1671. That book is “De Re Vehiculari Veterum Libri Duo” by Joannis Schefferi, written in Latin.

The library uses a unique organizational system, designed specifically for this collection. Most libraries use either the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification System. However, because of the specialized nature size of the collection, and the high percentage of books that focus on closely related topics, neither of these methods would work well in this library. Instead, it uses a modified system that organizes the books by subjects specific to the field of carriages and driving, with specialized headings for subjects like Carriage Makers, Carriage Design Plans, Harness, Driving, Driving Events, etc. This also allows for a library layout that makes it easy to browse.

Visitors are welcome to use the library. The new, expanded headquarters in Kentucky includes a dedicated Reading Room for visitors and researchers. In order to protect the rare materials in the library and archives, access to these rooms is limited to authorized personnel. Librarian Mindy Groff, is happy to work with people to find the materials they need. They just ask that you make an appointment in advance of your visit, since she is only in the office part time.

The CMA Archives house a nearly complete collection of The Hub and The Carriage Monthly, two of the leading trade journals of the horse-drawn era. These journals are excellent resources, with illustrations and architectural drawings of carriages, information about what was going on in the trade at the time, advertisements for products and carriage components, and much more. The CMA currently owns about 35 vehicles that are stored in Augusta, Georgia. The focus of the collection is early vehicles in original condition, and they are maintained for research purposes. As the CMA’s online presence grows, their goal is to make photographs and information about the vehicles available online.

For those who can’t visit the library in person, a great deal of information is available on their website, www.carriagemuseumlibrary.org. They hope to digitize many more resources over the next few years, and those will be accessible through this site as well.

Contact Details

Driving Digest Magazine
PO Box 120
Southern Pines, NC 28387

(910) 691-7735

Email: ann@drivingdigest.com

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