Articles & Stories

Reminiscing Back To The Buggy Days In Irvine, Estill County

There Were Few Parking Problems, Few Highway Accidents, And Few Drunken Buggy Drivers

By C. M. Treadway

It was hard to get a good used buggy in Irvine, Estill County, Kentucky, before 1900, but occasionally one could be found. To get a new one the purchaser had to travel to far away Richmond, which seemed as far away as Atlanta, Georgia, does today.
The Kentucky Carriage Works, located in the Madison County seat, sold nice, shiny vehicles; including two-wheeled carts, spring wagons, and buggies with head-lamps. The fastest way to get there was by horseback over trails that were becoming roads through increasing use.
The first buggies to come into Irvine were brought in by citizens who had the money and physical endurance to get them from Richmond. Usually, it took about two days to make the round trip. On speedier trips a change of horses was necessary, this being taken care of at a half-way store near the Estill-Madison County border.
Road Hard On Buggies
When the first buggy came into Irvine it was well-broken in. The driver was grimed with dirt, and some older folks wondered "what the generation was coming to" and "how did they ever get that thing across the river?"
Regular stagecoaches once used the old river ferry, and they also met trains at West Irvine, beginning about 1891. Passengers would be ferried across the Kentucky River and taxied up and down the stream out of Irvine.
The buggy, to the average citizen, was something like the small car is to the average person today, only you got better fuel mileage out of the buggy. The stagecoach was the first bus, and the traffic between Irvine and Richmond was increasing, but there was no hot-rodding. Often it became necessary for a buggy driver to pass a slower vehicle, such as a wagon or a sled, and they usually kicked up a lot of dust in doing so. This was accomplished by wild yelling and some extra lashes of the whip on the laboring horses.

George Edgar Brandenburg, age 31, and Ollie Young, age 23, on their wedding day, November 18, 1909. This was George's second marriage. He was previously married to Rachael Crowe, and they had four children, of which only two were still living at the time of this marriage. George was the son of James Brandenburg and Millie Ginter Brandenburg. He ran a blacksmith shop on Back Street in Irvine and was also a carpenter and cabinet maker. George and Ollie had several children. George died March 6, 1937, at the age of 59, and he and Ollie are buried in the Kidwell Cemetery at South Irvine.
(Photo courtesy of the Estill County Historical Society, submitted by C. M. Treadway)

Few Highway Accidents
There were few highway accidents, except infrequent turnovers caused by protruding rocks or humps in the road. Such obstructions caused the light-wheeled vehicles to flip over, causing the driver to jump clear and run turkey-fashion to keep from getting hurt. Often a frightened steed would tear away from the rutted pathway and plunge into brush and woodland, leaving straw hats on the ground and pieces of torn shirts in the thorns.
Some buggies contained luxury accessories, such as headlamps, shields, soft leather seats, window shades, and other options. The most frequent types seen in Estill County were without tops. On some of the more fancy models were cloth or canvas tops, extra foot steps, hard tops, and front canvas shields.
The shields were improvements to prevent horses from throwing mud and "other debris" into the mouths and faces of the riders. When mechanical trouble developed a buggy could quickly be fixed at one of Irvine's blacksmith shops.

The parking problem was very little bother, and traffic lights were about 25 years away. If two buggies were suddenly to meet on a sharp turn, the right-of-way problem was soon settled in a gentlemanly way, and each driver proceeded on his way.
Few Drunken Buggy Drivers
Cases of old Estill Court records indicate the buggies have transported mountain moonshine and some brands of rum but no revelations of drunken-buggy-driving arrests.
Two imported workers at the old Fitchburg ironworks snatched a horse and buggy and rode it all the way to the Kentucky River, where they abandoned it and fled.
There is no doubt that there were many cases of budding romances in the horse-drawn buggies, and at that time the buggy began competing with the parlor sofa for courting purposes.
The manufacture of buggies, carriages, and wagons throughout the 19th century was an important industry. Many types of horse-drawn vehicles were produced during that period including the buckboard, surrey, and the prairie schooner.
The carriage and buggy dates from earliest history and is a development of a thing called a sledge, a platform on runners.
In 1910 Nelson Walters, a millwright at West Irvine, bought a horseless carriage. He is said to be the first person in Estill County to have owned an automobile. By 1919 there were 158 automobiles and 14 trucks in the county, almost outnumbering the buggies and wagons.

C. M. Treadway, P. O. Box 318, Irvine, KY 40336, shares this article with our readers.