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A FURTHER LOOK At The Story Of The Museum’s Concord Coach

Updated: 7 days ago

In the September 21, 1950 edition of the Adirondack Record-Post recounted the story of the wayward coach.



 

In 1919 Arthur B. Wells, summer resident of Keene Valley, saw it standing outside a blacksmith shop on the outskirts of Elizabethtown on Route 9-N, the road to Keene Valley. Upon inquiring about it, Mr. Wells learned that the blacksmith intended to break up the coach for the white oak in its wheels—an extremely hard wood. Mr. Wells thought it a pity to destroy such a fine old vehicle and promptly bought it. . . . It stood on his property until the fall of 1949. Since then it has been housed in a barn, property of Ralph Alexander, resident of Keene Valley. The coach is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. William P. Adams of New York City. Mrs. Adams is the daughter of Mr. Wells, who died in 1935.

 

This creates a few questions that are answerable through research.

 

Who was Arthur B. Wells?

 

Who were Mr. and Mrs. William P. Adams?

 

Where was the blacksmith shop located?

 

Who was the blacksmith that sold the coach?

 

Where was the Alexander barn in Keene Valley?

 

Where was the Red Barn Museum?

 

*Arthur B. Wells was a prominent lawyer from Chicago. Attracted by the Adirondacks he contracted George Luck in 1911 to build him a cottage on John’s Brook Road in Keene Valley over a mile out from the village. He and his wife greatly supported the arts community, often hosting concerts at their house. Wells died at age 71 in 1934 and his wife followed in 1935. The property (and the coach) was inherited by their oldest child, Eleanor.

 

*That leads to the question of who were Mr. and Mrs. William P. Adams. This is a pure family affair.

 

Eleanor Wells, was one of two surviving children of Arthur and Jane Wells. She graduated from Vassar and possessed a great interest in the theater arts. As a teenager Wells acted and directed and in 1925 formed the Keene Valley Players, a professional summer stock theater group that hired actors from New York City. The plays became quite successful.

 

The director (and often one of the leads) was William Parry Adams who had already established a fine reputation on Broadway and, later, radio and television. Right out a fairy tale, Eleanor and William fell in love and married in Keene Valley on September 8, 1926.

 

They are the Mr. and Mrs. William P. Adams who gifted the Concord Coach to the museum in 1954.

 

The couple played another role in Keene Valley history. In 1949 they leased to New York State a piece of land up the road from their Johns Brook Road home affectionately called ‘The Garden” for the vegetable gardens planted for her parents. This property became a new trailhead parking area for trails heading into the High Peaks. It is still referred to as “The Garden.”

 

*The clue for where the blacksmith shop was located lies in the Beers Atlas of Essex County. These maps are a treasure to researchers in they contain extreme details like identifying the names of residents and businesses owners.

 

Following along the present route of 9N between Elizabethtown and Keene (back in 1876 it was labeled Water Street) the map identified a blacksmith shop near Rice’s Falls on The Branch opposite Lord Road and the Blueberry Trail System plus one closer to town just west of Cross Street in the town. The mapmaker failed to identify the blacksmith near Rice’s Falls

 

This led to Step #2—the 1880 U.S. Census and entailed searching for one of the families identified in Beers; Glidden. The family still lived in the house and since Census keepers record neighborhoods it was easy to find a smith on Water Street in close proximity, Thomas Kirby, profession: blacksmith. He owned the shop in 1880 that was located next to his home. This was the shop west of Cross Street. There was no blacksmith listed near Rice’s Falls, so that site was eliminated.

 

Since blacksmith shops contained much infrastructure, shops easily sold when a smith retired or died. Kirby died in 1890 and his house, shop and land were immediately advertised for sale. Because a large portion of the 1890 Census was destroyed by fire, it was necessary to next turn to the 1892 New York Census. A new blacksmith had replaced Thomas Kirby, one John Barton formerly of New Russia and a son of another John Barton, a blacksmith.

 

Barton was listed in three subsequent US Census; 1900, 1910 and 1920. In 1920 Barton was listed as 75 years of age and most likely the seller of the coach to Adams. He died February 6, 1920, 17 days after being counted in the Census. Today, most travelers head towards Keene via 9N, not Water Street. But back in 1919, Water Street was probably more traveled as downtown Elizabethtown was in the area of the The Branch and Bouquet River before floods forced businesses to move up onto the hill.

 

*The Alexander barn still stands in Keene Valley. Ralph Alexander and his wife lived in the house on Route 73 just east of the present day Noon Mark Diner. The barn stands in the back of the property.

The Red Barn Museum should not be confused with the very often photographed Red Burn that was located near the intersection of 9N and 73.

 

            This is an example of as more sources get discovered stories gain more life.


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