Fridays with General Friend Palmer: “Convenience itself”

IN the earlier days the streets of Detroit in the absence pavements were very bad in the fall and spring seemed to predominate Cabs and public hacks were in a very lim ted number Peter Cooper colored Jackson a colored barber and George lierron an English barber were about the only persons owning and operating public conveyances and t heir services as may be supposed were taxed to the limit Men wore their heavy boots pants tucked inside and in the outskirts of the city a few boards and planks were laid down lengthwise so that people could manage with difficulty to get along In such a state of things the single two wheeled horsecart was very much in evidence and was a most important institution It was an invention of the old French habitants of the country They were used by all classes and were convenience itself A buffalo robe or blanket was spread on the bottom of the cart two or three ottomans or stools were put in in the absence of other covering for the bottom or floor of the cart hay or straw was used and the horse understanding his business as well as his master off he plodded ofttimes half leg deep in mud to church shopping or to make fashionable calls The carts were mighty enjoyable as I can testify having time and again been the driver on many many occasions sitting perched up in front and the ladies enjoying the bottom of the vehicle protected from the rough boards by soft buffalo robes or other means occasionally the lynch pin that apparently held the cart together would get out of place and the occupants be dumped in the mud!
When General Macomb visited Detroit Mrs Hester Scott took him around the city in one of these French horse carts borrowed for the purpose from Mr HD Harrison the Jefferson Avenue dry goods merchant and it was said that the general enjoyed it hugely Mrs Scott and her three daughters are no doubt well 646
These French carts were very enjoyable also in fine weather on short excursions with the girls into the surrounding woods particularly in October when they had put on their gay autumn attire and the hickory nuts and hazel nuts were plentiful How full of pleasure those trips were The distance to the woods was not great they came down to Elizabeth Street on the west side of Woodward Avenue and down to about Hancock Avenue on the east side and out on Grand River Avenue on the Jones farm not far from Perkins’s tavern and out on Michigan Avenue they came down to where is the hay market once Woodbridge grove and just in the rear of this grove was an immense field of hazelnut bushes which in the season were loaded down with nuts Out Woodward Avenue about where is Farnsworth Street were many acres of blackberry bushes loaded with their delicious fruit in the season And then the excursions in these carts down to that lovely driveway Lovers Lane in the vicinity of what is now Fort Wayne The lane came into the River road about where Winterhalter’s beer garden was and extended out quite a distance toward the Dix settlement My friend Ross in one of his articles in relation to early Detroit says of this lane and as the incident he relates to it is true I copy it

horse drawn cart

[Source]

Welcome back to Fridays with General Friend Palmer! So far it hasn’t been a complete disaster, so let’s continue! This week, General Palmer wistfully recalls Detroit’s bygone horse cart days. Maybe the Streets of Old Detroit exhibit at Detroit Historical Museum should explore incorporating an unpaved thoroughfare or two. It will be immersive! Wear boots!

I like when he casually mentions that sometimes the carts just fell apart.

In the earlier days the streets of Detroit, in the absence of pavements, were very bad in the fall and spring; mud seemed to predominate … Men wore their heavy boots, pants tucked inside, and in the outskirts of the city, a few boards and planks were laid down lengthwise so that people could manage, with difficulty, to get along.

In such a state of things, the single two wheeled horsecart was very much in evidence and was a most important institution. It was an invention of the old French habitants of the country. They were used by all classes and were convenience itself. A buffalo robe or blanket was spread on the bottom of the cart, two or three ottomans or stools were put in (in the absence of other covering for the bottom or floor of the cart, hay or straw was used), and the horse … off he plodded, ofttimes half leg deep in mud, to church, shopping, or to make fashionable calls. The carts were mighty enjoyable, as I can testify, having time and again been the driver on many, many occasions, sitting perched up in front and the ladies enjoying the bottom of the vehicle, protected from the rough boards by soft buffalo robes or other means; occasionally the lynch pin that apparently held the cart together would get out of place and the occupants be dumped in the mud.

Even famous people thought they were kinda fun!

… When General Macomb visited Detroit, Mrs. Hester Scott took him around the city in one of these French horse carts, borrowed for the purpose from Mr H.D. Harrison, the Jefferson Avenue dry goods merchant, and it was said that the general enjoyed it hugely.

And they were even a little flirty in the fairer seasons:

These French carts were very enjoyable also in fine weather on short excursions with the girls into the surrounding woods, particularly in October when they had put on their gay autumn attire and the hickory nuts and hazel nuts were plentiful. How full of pleasure those trips were! The distance to the woods was not great … out on Michigan Avenue, they came down to where is the hay market (once Woodbridge grove) and just in the rear of this grove was an immense field of hazelnut bushes which in the season were loaded down with nuts. Out Woodward Avenue, about where is Farnsworth Street, were many acres of blackberry bushes loaded with their delicious fruit in the season. And then the excursions in these carts down to that lovely driveway, “Lovers Lane,” in the vicinity of what is now Fort Wayne. The lane came into the River road, about where Winterhalter’s beer garden was, and extended out quite a distance toward the Dix settlement.

Sigh. The good old days!

#early days in detroit#fridays with general friend palmer#general alexander macomb#horse drawn carts#transportation#two wheel horsecarts

Comments

  1. Joan Ginsberg - February 5, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    How you can have a single two anything was beyond my comprehension. He meant one horse, right?

    “Single two wheeled horsecart” confused the shit out of me and I am so glad you included a picture or I would NEVER have understood it.

  2. amy - February 5, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

    I know, it’s a little hard to visualize. I spent a while looking for a good picture, although once I saw a horse with a dairy cart I kind of had the idea: http://www.jobsdairy.co.uk/picts/Electric%20Vehicles/horse_drawn_cart_02.jpg

  3. amy - February 5, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

    and yes, I think he meant single horse, two-wheeled cart.

  4. Belle Isle - February 7, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    There is another entertaining account of this two wheeled cart from an Englishman, Captain Marryat Diary, here:

    http://clarke.cmich.edu/detroit/marryat1837.htm

    It seems to perhaps be a type of cart called a “caleche”, do you agree?

  5. amy - February 8, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    Oh my goodness, I love this.

    “The town of Detroit was founded as early as the city of Philadelphia, but, favourably as it is situated, it never until lately rose to any thing more than, properly speaking, a large village. There is not a paved street in it, or even a foot-path for a pedestrian. In winter, in rainy weather you are up to your knees in mud; in summer, invisible from dust; indeed, until lately, there was not a practicable road for thirty miles round Detroit.”

    Gripes about Detroit’s transportation infrastructure + accusations of inferiority/backwardness/lag go back a while, huh?

    I had to look up “caleche,” and after sifting through the perfume ads, it looks about right.

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