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Historical Horse Carriage

The Carriages

What St. Augustinian has not muttered to himself when trapped behind a carriage with a load of happy tourists, as the horse goes clop-clopping along at a snail's pace. In a day of high-powered cars, this older, calmer way of getting around might seem like an anachronism, but it is one of the city's major attractions and just another facet of its unique charm.

A horse and carriage provide the best way imaginable to negotiate the Ancient City's narrow streets, and it was in this way that Henry M. Flagler got his first look at the town he was to help so much. Louis A. Colee was the driver of the two-horse conveyance which took the financier on his first ride through the old town, and there is little doubt that what he saw on this leisurely carriage ride had an effect on his decision to spend millions on hotels and railways throughout the state.

Colee was the owner and founder of the St. Augustine Transfer Company. In those days, carriages served the same purpose as taxicabs do today. They met all the trains and conveyed the tourists and their luggage to the big hotels. When the automobile first began to take over, it was a foregone conclusion that the horse was about to be phased out in St. Augustine, as it was in other parts of the country.

Colee was quick to see that his carriages were ideal as a means of sightseeing and would be a unique attraction to visitors, so they survived. In time, many of them were owned by their drivers and passed on down from father to son. These drivers became famous for their unique rendering of local history as well as for their imaginative replies to all sorts of questions put to them by their clientele.

On one occasion, when asked about the barberpole stripes on the lighthouse, an elderly driver told his fascinated fares that the spiral-like effect was the result of a hurricane which had twisted the tower.

Everyone loves the Easter Parade in which the carriages play a prominent part, their horses bedecked in fancy hats. In 1954, the hat making was taken over by Mrs. Mildred Berry, who produced some especially creative millinery masterpieces. There was a special ceremony early Easter morning when the new hats were fitted onto the equine heads, with photographers and representatives of the news media on hand to record the occasion.

A few more modern-minded people have felt, however, that the carriages are a nuisance and block traffic and there have been several attempts to do away with them. In the old days, drivers used to patrol the streets soliciting for fares, but this practice was stopped by city ordinance and the carriages have been restricted to certain streets. Whenever it has been proposed that they be banned entirely, there are always plenty of people willing to rush to their defense.

Editorials championed them for the real service they do in providing fun for visitors, pointing out." You can take a look at the faces of the occupants of a sightseeing carriage and realize that they are thoroughly enjoying their visit." A letter-writer observed: "If New York can afford to place at their disposal a parking place for the New York cabbies at Central Park and 59th Street, I see no reason why this city cannot find a suitable place."

Travelers on their way home from watching the moonshots rise from the sands of Cape Kennedy enjoy a stopover in St. Augustine and a carriage ride around our old town. Let's hope that when the spaceships are taking off for Mars and Jupiter the old horses are still moseying along our streets, pulling those carriages.


 
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