Tuesday, May 13, 2008

For more than just horses

We call it a garage today. But before the horseless carriage, there was just the carriage, and for your carriage you had a carriage house.

The Riddicks had a carriage house. Indeed, most wealthy families in the 19th century would have. Because Riddick's Folly was their townhouse, the carriage house was likely only large enough for three or four carriages, plus the horses and the related tack. However, though horses may have been stabled in the carriage house, it was far more common for horses to occupy a separate barn, so this will take some research on our end. But even if horses did live there, they were not the only residents of the carriage house.

In many cases, the carriage house had living quarters on its second floor or attic for the servants (read: slaves, prior to the Civil War) who would tend to the animals and who would drive the carriages.

We don't know exactly when the Riddicks' carriage house was torn down. In all probability, it was in the early 20th century when carriages were bowing out in favor of their horseless successors. Nonetheless, the carriage house is gone now, save for a portion of its foundation still visible in a small ravine behind the house.

In trying to tell the Riddicks' story, there are a number of angles we're not covering. If you come to tour the home, you'll learn about Mills and Mary Taylor Riddick, their son Nathaniel, and his daughter Anna Mary. But those were just four of the dozens of inhabitants of Riddick's Folly, and their life here for nearly thirty years was made possible by slaves, and after that, by servants they would have employed to maintain the lifestyle to which they were accustomed. Our tour doesn't talk about the slaves very much. Save a mention here or there, slaves are in our tour what they were in the 1850s -- invisible.

To be quite bold, we want to rebuild the carriage house. This is the perfect environment to tell the story of the slaves who were kept separate from the family in nearly every way, including where they slept. While the female servants would have slept in the house on the top floor, the male servants lived in the attic/top floor of the carriage house. They may have had fairly nice accommodations as far as slaves go, but the bottom line is that their living space was directly above what amounted to a barn with all sorts of barn-like sounds and, shall we say, smells.

Rebuilding the carriage house offers all sorts of new challenges. The first, and most significant, is the construction itself. In theory, we could build on the remainder of the original foundation, but the stability of that foundation has not been investigated. Also, the City of Suffolk owns this building and all the land on which it sits, including the land on which the carriage house would rise. The City of Suffolk is very good to us, and we'd be remiss to imply otherwise, but any new construction would have to go through them. The second challenge is that we don't know exactly what the Riddicks' carriage house looked like. Judging from a few 19th century drawings, and the dimensions implied by the remaining foundation, we can make a pretty good educated guess at its size, but anything else is going to be speculation based on research of similar structures.

The third challenge may go without saying, but we'll go ahead and say it -- it won't be cheap. Because we'll be using it for exhibit space, it will have to meet all kinds of requirements for climate control, electrical needs, accessibility... the list goes on.

We'll post more information as we have it. This project is a long-term one, so for now we have to just enjoy the notion. But suffice it to say, this won't be your grandfather's carriage house.

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