Museum Talk: The Buggy Step

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
The buggy step is on display at the BI Museum.

The entire upstairs back wall of Buffalo Island Museum is covered with tools and items used on the farms of days gone by. The entire afternoon could be spent just browsing in that area.

One odd piece caught my attention and when I looked at the card, it read it was a buggy step, donated to the museum by Park and Odgen Williams.

Before the invention of the car, horse drawn buggies or wagons were the mode of transportation. The buggy step, made of cast iron, was mounted on the side to help people climb in and out of the buggy.

Historians disagree as to when the first horse drawn carriage or buggy was invented. Some say the Romans in the 14th century and others say Hungary in the 15th century. But they agree it was not until the 18th century that carriages were improved with a pivoting front axle. In America, as horse tracks grew into crude roads, the colonists began using horse driven carts to transport goods. Eventually carriages were sought to transport the goods as well as people.

The tobacco planters in the South were the first Americans to use the carriage as a form of human transportation. The carriages and buggies had large wheels which were better to travel on the muddy roads. This made it hard to climb up to the seat and a buggy step was needed. At the turn of the 18th century, the horse drawn carriages, wagons, and buggies were at an all time high. One's choice of a carriage or buggy was only partly based on performance. It was also a status symbol.

A buggy cost as little as $25 to $50 and could travel on the crudely graded roads of that time. Until mass production of the automobile in the early 1900s brought the price within the range of the working people, the horse drawn vehicles were the most common means of transportation. Old pictures of the Buffalo Island towns from the first decade of 1900 show people in their horse drawn buggies. Pictures of the main streets a few years later show buggies and a few cars. After 1920s our downtown main streets are lined with cars and the buggy is no more.

The buggy step at the museum makes us think of the early days on Buffalo Island.

The museum is open on Friday and Saturday 1-4 p.m. Admission is free.

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