Monday, October 17, 2022

The History of Hitching Your Horse

by Monica Groth, Curator

Hitching Post Collection by Talitha Botsford

During the 19th century, horse-drawn transportation ruled the roads of Chemung County and the United States. The Chemung County Historical Society has a collection of varied horse-drawn transportation, including a 1936 milk cart from L.J. Houck and Sons Dairy and a beautifully restored c. 1860 ladies basket phaeton with a fringed shade believed to have belonged to Elmira's Foster family.

Ladies Basket Phaeton c. 1860, restored in 2010 and displayed in CCHS's
2019-2020 Transportation exhibit

The common use of carriages necessitated the invention of two interesting objects still seen along streets today: the hitching post and the carriage step. A hitching post was a post to which a rider or carriage driver could tie their horse. A carriage step, often a block of stone or a cast-iron step, provided a raised spot from which a person could climb into a carriage. Ubiquitous in the 1800s, hitching posts and carriage steps slowly disappeared from cities as automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages. 

In the mid-late 19th century, Morgan Dyer manufactured cast-iron farming tools, fences, and hitching posts at a foundry at what is now East Market St. and Clemens Center Parkway. Cast-iron can be easily molded into decorative shapes and was in high demand as a material for hitching posts. In 1871, Dyer designed and patented a cast-iron hitching post and carriage step combination. This creation would have been deeply buried in the ground beside a road. It has both a post to which a horse can be tied and a set of steps from which a passenger can alight into or from a carriage. 

Thanks to the excellent research of Elmira History Forge, one of Dyer’s hitching post/carriage steps located in New Jersey was made known to the Historical Society. The step was subsequently donated by its finder to CCHS and recently returned to Elmira. It's seven feet tall and roughly 250 lbs. 

Hitching Post/Carriage Step 
Manufactured by M. Dyer, Elmira, NY

Local artist Talitha Botsford, whose watercolor paintings are on display in a current exhibit Talitha’s Brush, painted a collection of local hitching posts, including one of the Dyer design (then in Wellsburg on Front St.). Botsford, who lived from 1901-2002, was a prolific artist, composer, poet, and musician who loved capturing historic sites throughout the area. Take a closer look at a few hitching posts as painted by Talitha. 

Three hitching posts by Talitha Botsford

Botsford also included a parking meter in her collection – because meters were used as hitching posts in the 20th century. Modernizing our streets doesn’t always change our ways. 

Hitching one's horse to a parking meter on Water St. c. 1930

It is interesting to think about how historic practices persist - sometimes simply out of personal habit or necessity, and sometimes out of intentional choices to preserve treasured aspects of the past. 

No comments:

Post a Comment