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History of the Miner Carriage Works

Apprenticeship and Beginnings

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A bird’s-eye view of Hoosick Falls, circa 1879; the number 3 indicates the location of the Lottridge carriage works (Courtesy Hoosick Township Historical Society)

William Woodward Miner, the youngest of the Miner brothers, began his carriage–making apprenticeship in the 1860s with David Franklin Gerrish, blacksmith and founder of the Granby Carriage Manufactory, a company that had begun operating in the late 1850s. This five–employee company, whose vehicles’ quality was evidently recognized at agricultural fairs, built approximately eighty vehicles a year in a four–storey building. This business profile suggests that this firm, like most manufacturing firms of the day, was a small business. Subsequently, from 1863 to 1867, William left Granby to work for a carriage maker in Hoosick Falls, New York.

Hoosick Falls is just fifty–three kilometres northeast of Albany, where the original Albany sleigh was designed. The name of the carriage maker where Miner completed his apprenticeship is unknown, but the Hoosick Falls Historical Society records show that Stephen S. Lottridge was the only local carriage maker at the time. Unfortunately, it is not known whether Miner completed his apprenticeship with that firm, or why he chose to apprentice with this firm over another. We do know, however, that serving one’s apprenticeship with a Canadian or U.S. carriage maker was common practice at that time. A photograph of a phaeton carriage made by Lottridge shows a quality of craftsmanship commensurate with the expertise William could have acquired there to build an Albany type sleigh.
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The Lottridge carriage works
(Courtesy Hoosick Township Historical Society)
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Phaeton manufactured by S. S. Lottridge (Courtesy Hoosick Township Historical Society)

In any case, after Miner honed his skills at Hoosick Falls he returned to Granby in 1867 and opened a carriage shop with one of his older brothers, Harlow Jr, on the banks of the Yamaska River, under the name H. & W. Miner Company. The company, however, was not the only carriage maker in Granby. E. O. Rousseau, who had gained experience with E. Wilder and served an internship on painting and gilding in the United States, also operated a carriage-making shop. These two carriage makers were the only ones in town until Barr & Vittie set up business in 1891.

By the mid–1830s, Granby had become a regular stagecoach stop for travellers on east–west journeys with connections to the United States. Beginning in 1851, this region of Quebec experienced strong population growth. By 1860, Granby had a population of seven hundred, which included craftsmen, eight general merchants, as well as handymen and day labourers. At the outset, the Miner brothers’ clients must have been local people, since nearly each neighbouring town had at least one carriage maker. There were nearly forty carriage makers in Montreal alone. In 1859, commerce had received a boost with the construction of the Stanstead, Shefford & Chambly Railroad, which linked Granby, Farnham, Saint–Jean–sur–Richelieu, and Montreal. Moreover, the railway passed close to the Miner plant, although on the other side of the river. Later, this line was linked to the Central Vermont Railway, which linked with points east, such as Sherbrooke, and large U.S. cities to the south.

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Maturity and Expansion

In 1870, the H. & W. Miner Company built a new building measuring nine metres by thirty metres. A forge was set up on the ground floor, wood and upholstery works occupied the second floor, while the paint shop and showroom were located on the third floor. This type of multi–storey building suited the carriage–making trade because each phase of the manufacturing process could occupy its own floor. Each year, nine employees built approximately eighty vehicles. By comparison, in 1877, McLaughlin still had only eleven employees after ten years of operation.

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Miner carriage works, circa 1891
(Courtesy Maria Lubecki)
From 1876 to 1880, during the dire economic conditions that prevailed across Canada at the time, William operated the business by himself. In 1880, as business conditions improved in Granby, he took on a partner, Miles L. Clow, a merchant and insurance representative. The two new partners promoted Miner & Clow as “Carriage and sleigh manufacturers, top and open buggies and lumber wagons a speciality.” It is during this period that the Miner company could have built the cutter acquired by the Museum. In 1889, the company built a new three–storey building. In 1891, S. H. C., William’s eldest brother, joined the company as a new partner and took over its management under the name Miner Carriage Manufacturing Company. The company prospered until it was sold in 1902.

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From The Granby Leader & Shefford County Record, 10 September 1891

In 1891, Miner Carriage employed from thirty to forty workers and could build one thousand vehicles per year. By comparison, Larivière, the largest company in Quebec at that time, had sixty employees. The company now billed itself as a wholesaler of horse–drawn vehicles, offering “Fine Carriages, Buggies, Concords, Slats, Express and Road Carts.” Vehicle sales were now handled by a travelling salesman, W. H. Kingman, in the Maritimes and, in Granby, by Barr & Vittie, who had become agents for the Miner company. The company also had a representative in Montreal, at B. P. Canniff & Company, at least between 1897 and 1898. The company seems to have been at the leading edge of technology since in 1891, at least, it had the exclusive right to sell a new spring gear called “Atkinson’s Improved Tension Gear” and, in 1896, it had selling rights to an invention called the “Young Axle Oil Cup,” a device that lubricated wheels without having to remove them from the axle. By about 1895, the Miner company offered some fifty different vehicle and sleigh models. By comparison, McLaughlin offered 143 different models, thanks to 120 employees and the use of steam–driven manufacturing machinery. New production at Miner Carriage seemed to be in line with new client preferences according to a November 1897 article in The Granby Mail:

We had the pleasure of seeing some of the sleighs just finished at the shops of the Miner Carriage Manufacturing Co., in this village, and must say that they are the finest goods in that line that we have yet seen. Like their carriages, the sleighs are light, beautifully proportioned and most tastefully painted, and have the movable backs and cushions that are becoming so much sought after by the public.

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From The Granby Leader & Eastern Township Record, 18 February 1897
In 1897, several improvements made to machinery resulted in a doubling of production. Miner Carriage, however, was not the only company to benefit from such improvements: the horse–drawn vehicle industry was prosperous in Canada and manufacturers were building increasingly larger factories. The gradual mechanization of vehicle–manufacturing processes since the 1870s had significantly reduced the cost per vehicle, to just one-sixth of the 1870 price. According to The Carriage and Implement Journal of Canada, the price of vehicles had dropped by thirty percent in only ten years, between 1890 and 1900. For example, a buggy that sold for $100 in 1890 sold for $70 in 1900. Canadian consumers benefited from this drop in prices, as more could afford the purchase price of a new passenger vehicle. In turn, demand for increased production grew. A Miner Carriage advertisement published in February 1897 testified to this: “The past season has seen our works busy every day, in fact, in some cases, it was impossible to fill orders…” The construction of a new two–storey warehouse and paint shop was becoming more and more pressing because the company’s infrastructure could no longer meet its manufacturing needs. The new annex was completed in 1898.

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Granby fire insurance plan describing the Miner carriage works plant in 1899, by Charles E. Goad (Haute-Yamaska Historical Society)
Plans filed with the insurers in 1899 clearly show the changes that were made to the factory. Renovations included an area for woodwork and painting, another for storing coal, next to the forge, and an adjoining warehouse, all on the ground floor; a paint shop on the second floor; and, a varnishing room on the third. An overhead walkway linked the old and new buildings. The new building included a warehouse on the ground floor and a paint shop on the second. At that time, the company still harnessed hydro power generated by the Yamaska River. Though the Miner tannery had been using a steam engine for several years, it seems that company directors had not seen fit to install one in the carriage works. Business was good until the company was sold in 1902 to its two agents, Barr & Vittie, who renamed it Granby Carriage.

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