February 5, 2010 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Fridays with General Friend Palmer: “Convenience itself”
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!