When Ken Sowles and his family purchased Skyline Farm in 1970, perhaps only Ken could have envisioned the magnitude and scope of the carriage collection that would accumulate at the farm. At one point, Ken had over 300 antique carriages and sleighs. Over the years, hundreds of school children and many others came to Skyline Farm to see the carriages and learn more about how and where they were built and the role they played in society. That tradition continues today at Skyline Farm. Today with many of the Sowles family’s most unique vehicles forming its core, the collection has over 80 carriages and sleighs. Many of these were built or used locally and are tied to the history of North Yarmouth and surrounding towns.
The indoor riding arena at Skyline Farm was built by the Semmes family in 1959 and is considered to be one of the earliest known purpose-built indoor riding arenas in Maine. Photographs of its construction were shown in local newspapers at that time. The riding arena and the 3 bays that were previously attached to it are being restored and better equipped to support the needs of the carriage collection and related educational programs. In February, 2006, the renovated riding arena opened and now serves as the primary exhibit space for the carriage and sleigh collection. The new visitor center provides a comfortable gathering space where people are introduced to the museum exhibit and can view displays that complement the exhibit. The space also houses a restroom, kitchenette, and an office.
For a virtual tour of the collection, click on Carriage Museum.
The majority of the collection is a result of the late Ken Sowles' passion to collect and preserve these beautiful old vehicles for study and enjoyment, rather than to attempt to restore them all to usable condition.
The carriages are now under the care of the Skyline Farm non-profit organization. While many still belong to the Sowles family, an increasing number have been donated by generous friends of Skyline. The mission of the Carriage Museum is to promote understanding and appreciation of horse drawn transportation through the collection, preservation and exhibition of horse drawn vehicles typically used in New England.
Our goal is to study the vehicles individually before deciding which might be preserved and left in their present original condition, which vehicles will be conserved utilizing techniques appropriate to the history and use of the vehicle, while others may be identified to be returned to working condition to demonstrate what they might have looked like in their heyday.
A two-wheel single horse vehicle, the now rare Boston Chaise was popular in New England from an early date. Its tall many-spoked wheels and ingenious wood and leather springing enabled it to survive the wretched country roads beset with potholes and tree stumps. It was also known as the "Bellows topped chaise" from its metal stayed folding leather top that protected its driver from bad weather.
In the early 1800's, the chaise was the product of the small country carriage maker at his blacksmith shop, such as the one recorded in North Yarmouth. Thomas Loring, the Farm's first owner, and six of his neighbors in 1813 are all listed in the Town's Tax Records as being taxed for a chaise as their "pleasure vehicles" (as opposed to a farm vehicle which was not taxed) Its popularity continued even when other vehicles got much fancier and factory made, as it is still advertised in the 1860 C & D Cooke's New Haven, Connecticut catalogue from which this illustration is taken.
Extension Top Rockaway
This pair horse carriage is a popular example of a large enclosed American family carriage designed to be owner driven, in all weather. It was produced in many different versions, but always with the covered driver's seat, which was achieved by extending the flat roof forward. It was heavily built with small front wheels that were able to turn under the body of the vehicle, giving it excellent turning radius for city driving. The Rockaway was also much in use for hire at the local livery stable or railroad depot. Some, like this illustration, were fully enclosed with glass windows that could be let down in good weather.
A beautifully designed, well sprung, open driving wagon for country and sporting use. This vehicle has paneled sides with handsome natural wood finish that showed the dirt from the dusty country roads less than a shiny dark paint finish would. This vehicle was originally designed by the Brewster Co. of New York for Frederick Bronson, thus bearing his name. Subsequently, several other manufacturers built vehicles similar to this design. The Bronson in our collection was driven for many years in Maine with two or four horses
Pony Sized Vehicles
Pony sized vehicles are also well represented in our collection. There are both two wheeled carts, and four wheeled "driving wagons" for single or pair ponies. These are particular favorites with the school children who visit the collection every year.