***The Winmill Carriage Museum will be CLOSED for a private event on May 25.***
Take a trip into the past by visiting the Winmill Carriage Collection at Morven Park. You will see a wide variety of antique vehicles used between the mid 1800's and the early 1900's. See how suburbanites commuted to the city in Dennett and Stanhope Gigs. Gentlemen going out for the evening would travel in a Hansom Cab much like the ones seen in Sherlock
Holmes movies. The Silsby Steam Pumper was one of the first to use a rotary motor. The Sprinkler Wagon was popular in cities to keep the dust down. These vehicles were donated by the late Viola Townsend Winmill of Warrenton, Virginia in 1967 and include many of the 120 carriages she collected over a period of forty years.
Of particular interest is the miniature Road Coach once owned by "General Tom Thumb" of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Mrs. Winmill bought this coach after having two accidents with her larger coaches, which injured both her father and husband. She drove six ponies to the small coach and was a favorite attraction at the International Horse Show and Gold Cup Races for many years. Also on display is the very ornate antique Hearse that was actually used for Mrs. Winmill's funeral in 1975.
History of Mrs. Viola Winmill & The Winmill Carriage Collection
In May of 1928 Robert Winmill surprised his wife, Viola, on her birthday by giving her a large coach pulled by four enormous Bay horses. He arranged for her to take eight driving lessons from an experienced and skilled driver, Morris E. Howlett, world-renowned for his coaching expertise over several decades. Soon she was driving her coach, a four-in-hand, to hunt races, meets and to Sunday luncheon parties with guests as passengers. It became such a popular form of transportation that advance bookings were made in a specially designed book.
On a Sunday in 1930, Mrs. Winmill set out with a group for a party in Warrenton. Among the passengers were her father, J. Allen Townsend, and her husband, Bobby. The four horses started turning right down the hill of Alexandria Pike, while Viola was directing them towards the left wheels skidded on loose stones and the coach turned over onto its side, throwing the driver and passengers onto the ground. Bobby’s hip was broken and the coach was smashed beyond repair. Bobby purchased another coach and soon Viola was driving her four-in-hand again. Mrs. Winmill continued driving her coach until another accident. The only serious injury this time was to her father. He suffered a broken collarbone during the fall. With pressure from her mother, Viola gave up driving the big coach.
General Tom Thumbs Barnum and Bailey Circus Coach
Viola’s sister, Marion Shotter, bought a pony coach once used by General Tom Thumb and wife for many years in their Barnum and Bailey Circus act. Marion sold the coach to Viola along with six of her Welsh ponies. At first, Viola hitched four ponies to the small coach. She soon changed to hitching all six to the coach, creating much excitement among spectators.
Mrs. Winmill Asked To Drive For Dignitaries and Special Events
Viola was often asked to demonstrate her driving skills at the Virginia Gold Cup Races and the International Horse Shows. She also drove ponies hitched to a Wells Fargo Miniature Coach during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Inaugural Parade.
Viola Winmill Amasses A Growing Carriage Collection
Mrs. Winmill’s carriage collection grew to more than 120 vehicles. When traveling in the US or in Europe, she often purchased a new addition for her collection:
Irish Jaunting Carts from Killarney
A gaily-painted Donkey Cart from Sicily
A stylish Russian-type Sleigh
A fine Pony Carriage from Spain
She also acquired a horse-drawn fire engine in New England, a coach from New York, and on a visit to Houston, the milk float of a local dairy. Gigs, Broughams and Brakes built by famous carriage makers such as Million, Guilet, and Brewster, sleighs with delicate shared space that showcased displays of the liveries of her attendants and almost everything pertaining to horses. However, these acquisitions sometimes caused complications, such as when the Norwegian carriage bought in Bergen was late in arriving at Copenhagen and delayed the sailing of the S.S. Kungsholm to New York.
Mrs. Winmill’s Wishes
By 1967, Viola’s waning energy prompted her to create a legacy for her beloved carriages. “I want to make sure I have established a place for the carriage collection when I die, so they aren’t loose all over the country and kept in Virginia if possible.” Her daughter, Virginia, helped by writing, telephoning and visiting many possible institutions. She considered and discussed their proposals for displaying her mother’s permanent collection.
After much deliberation, the proposal from the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation, Inc. at Morven Park in Leesburg, VA was selected. In March of 1969, a ground breaking ceremony heralded the start of construction for a new building to house the collection, and thirteen months later, the new home for the Winmill Carriage Collection was opened.
Mrs. Winmill passed away in August of 1975 after suffering a massive heart attack. It was her wish to have her casket carried to her gravesite in her old hearse during the funeral procession. The hearse was then returned to the collection at Morven Park where it remains today.
DID YOU KNOW ?
Thomas Swann, Sr. named his home “Morven Park” after admiring Richard Stockton’s “Morven” in Princeton, New Jersey. Stockton was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. MORE HISTORY >>>