On Route 25A not far from Stony Brook University lies a bountiful hotspot of history called the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages. Hidden in plain sight are a network of buildings, each with their own unique contribution to history, art, and preservation.
In 1939 Dorothy and Ward Melville incorporated the Museums at Stony Brook. Since then the museum has grown and is now is one of a few museums to be a Smithsonian Affiliate giving the museum access to even more materials.
Some of the most notable buildings located on both sides of the street are: The Carriage Museum, Samuel West?s blacksmith?s shop, the Williamson Barn, one room schoolhouse, and the William Sydney Mount Art Museum. There are also several notable structures around such as an old outhouse, a fountain and horse trough, and a cemetery for Smith-Rudyard family.
Entering the carriage museum, we were immediately struck with the sight of a beautifully ornate coach that looked like it could seat a bus load. It was called Grace Darling, and seemed to hover over the spiraling ramp descending into the museum.
On the left was a room dedicated to transportation routes. I found myself facing a preserved Wells Fargo coach, boxy and with a canvas top. It stood out in striking contradiction to the luxury coach across the room. On the back wall was an amazing display that showed in lights the changing transportation routes on Long Island over time. Market wagons stood in front of vast open vistas.
Following the spiraling ramp downwards and passing an old fashioned covered wagon, I was taken back to Little House on the Prairie days. Finally we came to the bottom and entered a very realistic looking Stony Brook train station. Waiting outside the station was a horse pulling a coach, probably waiting to take travelers to the old Stony Brook Hotel. The station let out into a small village square complete with birds chirping and the sounds of a train just then departing. Along with the station were a blacksmith shop and post office where local townsfolk forever discuss the benefits of Theodore Roosevelt as president.
We traveled on to find sleighs meant to be drawn through winter weather by horses as seen in old Christmas postcards. We saw children?s sleds and carriages. A room off to the side housed some very unique commercial carriages. Of these there were several that really stood out. A beautifully painted Eastern Tea Company was the same model once used by Drakes Cakes. A black painted carriage advertized perfumes and oils. Of particular interest was a popcorn and peanut carriage which for the first time used motor technology to pop the popcorn, heat the nuts, and moved them onto warmers. Previously this task was done by hand. We also discovered a Standard Oil wagon that looked a bit like a steam locomotive engine in body.
There were some truly intriguing carriages decorated in silver, and brass. One had wheels, gears, and gages aplenty and conjured up thoughts of the steam punk genre. It was a steam pumping carriage. The fire department also had horse drawn hose carriages meant to carry the hose to the fire.
There were many other exhibits in the carriage museum including a group of European carriages used by wealthy or ruling families from Bavaria to Berlin. One room was adorned with red drawn back curtains at the entrance hosted beautifully decorated gentlemen?s carriages. In the center underneath a white spotlight was a stunningly beautiful silver carriage decked out with silver designs, trimmings, and ornaments. It glistened under the light and was the centerpiece of the entire room. The carriage was clearly ornamental in nature and served in parades as a fire department?s hose carriage though it was clearly never used in actual fires.
Also upstairs was a working piece of the Graves carriage makers? workshop complete with running pulleys and gears. Its inner workings resembled the operation of a grist mill with wooden and metal belts and pulleys transferring energy and torque. The museum also hosted a carriage used by the Gardiner family, on Gardiner Island.
The Carriage museum was not without social commentary though. For one, the tack room to ready riders and horses was much larger and grander than the living quarters of the stable hands. A short audio clip describes how stable hands were paid based on their character. Foul language or coarseness was very much discouraged in servants.
After exploring every cranny of this wonderful museum we wandered out into the summer sun to find ourselves in a small village full of history. Surrounding a beautiful fountain from the 1800?s was a blacksmith shop, an old one room schoolhouse, a barn, cemetery, and an old outhouse. Each had something to add to our journey. The blacksmith shop once belonging to Samuel West held many tools of the trade as well as a detailed description. Quoted inside was a poem about blacksmiths by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which brought the shop to life in the imagination.
The schoolhouse had two entrances to separate boys and girls. In the barn we found something truly unique. A treadmill with wooden guardrails connected to a butter churn. A dog running on the treadmill could cause butter to be churned. Apparently, maybe the Jetsons didn?t stray too far from reality after all.
Last but not least we arrived at the William Sidney Mount art museum. Mount was a local artist who painted local scenes of farmers and common people on Long Island. Seeing his works in display made me long for simpler days and simpler ways. In the same building was an exhibit called America?s Kitchens. It depicted full kitchen sets from various time periods from the 1800?s through the 1970?s and beyond. Also on exhibit was the first microwave created in 1967.
All in all, from carriages to kitchens it was quite a tour through the history of our island and our nation. The Stony Brook museums are a treasure indeed, and since their exhibits change, you never know what you might find when you come through the door. It is without a doubt worthy of a visit and we hope that the museum continues to flourish in the heart of Stony Brook.