|The Abbot-Downing Factory, Concord, New Hampshire
In our advertising columns to-day will be found an annoucement of the dissolution of the widely known Carriage
Building Firms of "L. Downing & Sons," and "J.S. & E. A Abbot," and the formation of a new firm
for the transaction of the same business, under the name and style of "Abbot, Downing & Co.," the members of
the firm being J. Stephens Abbot, Lewis Downing, Jr., and Edward A. Abbot. A change in the business of carriage manufacturing,
which for more than fifty years has been intimately connected with the material growth and prosperity of Concord, demands
something more than a mere passing notice. We are under obligations to both the senior members of the late firms for much
valuable information, and many pleasant reminiscences concerning the rise and growth of the coach and carriage business in
this city, which we will endeavor to bring within the limits of a newspaper article.
In May, 1813, Lewis Downing,
senior, then a young man of one and twenty years, came to town from Lexington, Mass., and immediately opened a wheelwright
shop on the spot now occupied by the first house this side of Dr. Carter's house, on the corner of Main and Washington streets.
He had learned his trade of an older brother, who succeeded his father in the same business, in Lexington. After his apprenticeship
of four years, he worked one year as a journeyman in Charlestown, Mass., before his removal to Concord. The capital with
which he started business consisted of $125, seventy-five dollars of which was invested in a good set of tools. He commenced
building common wagons with the body fastened down to the bind axle, then called Buggies. For the first year he worked alone.
He usually made the wood work for two wagons, took them to the N.H. State Prison to be ironed, - one wood work paying for
the ironing of the other - and then painted them himself. For these wagons he found a ready sale at sixty dollars a piece.
The first wagon he built was sold to the late Dr. Samuel Morrill of this city, the remains of which were in existence not
many years since. After the first year business so increased that he employed two hands, which number was afterwards increased
according to the exigencies of business.
This scene of the late 1850's shows the Downing carriage shops when they were located on what is now the west side of
the present North Main Street in Concord, N.H.
In 1815, he bought the house at the south end of Main Street, where he now lives, then known as the "Duncan Estate,"
but it being subject to a lease, he did not remove there with his business until 1816. In the rear of the house he had a
small shop, where the wood work and painting was done, the iron work still continuing to be done at the Prison, and by a Mr.
Whitney, who had a blacksmith shop near where Francis N. Fisk's store stood, at the north end of Main Street.
1825 he commenced erecting the shops near his house which were destroyed by fire in the winter of 1849, and then owned by
J. Stephens Abbot. For twelve years he manufactured only wagons, the style of which underwent severval changes. The first
attempt at a spring was a wooden one, reaching from the hind axle to the rocker, which was followed by the leather thoroughbrace
and successive styles of eliptic springs.
In 1826 he commenced the manufacture of Chaise, but did not have sufficient
demand for them to make their manufacture a leading feature of his business. The first chaise he made was sold to Rev. Dr.
Bouton, in 1827.
In 1826 he commenced the manufacture of Coaches which have since made the name of Downing and Abbot famous the country over
among gentlemen of the whip. That year he went to Salem, Massachusetts and hired J. Stephens Abbot, then a journeyman coach
body maker who had learned his trade with, and was at work for Mr. Frothingham, a somewhat celebrated coach maker, to come
to Concord and build three coach bodies. Mr. Abbot came to town on Christmas Eve, of that year, and made the first coach
bodies ever built in New Hampshire during the winter and spring of 1827. The first coach was completed and went out of the
shop on July, 1827, and was sold to John Sheperd. One of the remaining two was sold in Vermont soon after.
completing his job with Mr. Downing, Mr. Abbot went to Framingham, Mass., and was about to form a business connection there,
which the friendly counsel and advice of a tavern keeper with whom he stopped prevented. He then went to Providence, R.I.,
and worked a short time, but not feeling contented returned to Concord in the fall and was taken in as a partner by Mr. Downing,
January 1, 1828. Coach building immediately became a leading feature of their business; and by reason of the lightness, durableness,
and elegance of finish of their coaches, they soon made their way into every part of New England. It is worthy of remark
here that while other carriages have undergone an infinite variety of changes in style, the Concord Coach was so near perfection
in its line, at that early day, that it has scarcely undergone any change in construction since.
In 1835 Mr. Downing sold his shops to Mr. Abbot, the firm renting them of Mr. Abbot, as it previously had done to Mr. Downing.
The partnerhsip of Downing & Abbot continued until September, 1847, when it was dissolved by mutual consent,
Mr. Abbot continuing business at the old shops, and Mr. Downing taking in his sons as partner, removing to new shops nearly
opposite the Phenix Hotel, where they have continued business to the present time.
The carriage manufacturing business seems to have received a new impetus about this time, and probably the combination between
the two establishments did much to increase the business of both. The Messrs. Downings commenced in their new shops with
about thirty hands, and in a few years increased to eighty; they also started with four forges, which were increased to eleven
in the shop, with two or three outside the yard. The settlement of California opened a large trade to them, both in coaches
and carriages, and Lewis Downing, Senior, has twice visited that State to look after the business interests of the firm, and
is well known in that young, vigorous and promising state.
In 1850, they commenced the manufacture of omnibuses, and they built
a large number which went to Philadelphia, and as, we remember, attracted considerable attention in the Quaker City, being
escorted into the city by a band of music.
In the meanwhile Mr. Abbbot extended his business in the South and West. In the
winter of 1849 his shops were entirely destroyed by fire. He immediately replaced them with the present commodious and
In 1852 he took his son, Edward A. Abbot, as a partner,who has continued with him to
the present time. As an index to the growth of their business, we would state that in 1828 the firm of Downing &
Abbot had but four forges. At the present time, and for several years past, J.S. & E.A. Abbot have had twenty-four
forges in operation in their shops, besides much smith work done outside of their yard. The hands in the shops have
increased from seventy-five in 1847 to about two hundred men. At the breaking out of the rebellion, the Southern trade
stopped, but new sources of demand have opened in Mexico, California, South America, Australia, New Zealand, etc., and even
light carriages have been ordered for Ireland, Scotland and Prussia.
It may be asked what have given Concord coaches and carriages such a reputation?
One cause, undoubtedly is the thoroughness of the work done. The very best of materials have been sought for, and the
best skilled labor employed, and wisely so. A good workman could have employment as long as he pleased. There
are men who have been in the employ of the Messrs. Abbot and Downing for twenty, thirty and even forty years. A large
portion of the men employed have become permanent residents of the town, and own the houses they occupy. For several
years past one or the other of the establishments, and frequently both of them, have been represented in the Legislature,
or city government by some of the employees.
The new firm contemplate erecting a large shop the coming season in
addition to the ones at the South End. They will occupy a portion of the shops in the Downing Yard for the present.
About five acres are covered with the shops and the lumber yards at the South End, and the motive power for the machinery
is furnished by a 50 horse-power engine. The business will be continued in all the departments of Wood, Smith, Trimming
and Painting as heretofore, and they will probably employ not less than three hundred men. The Office and Carriage Depository
at No. 26 Central St., Boston, and No. 618 Battery St., San Francisco, will be continued. With the business experience,
tact, skill and enterprise of the members of the new firm we doubt not that ample pecuniary success will crown their efforts,
and satifaction be afforded them in the reflection that they are contributing largely to the growth and prosperity of our
beautiful city, by calling to their employ intelligent, industrious, enterprising, skillful and patriotic workmen.
Mr. Downing, senior, retires from business, after active participation in it for nearly
fifty-two years, and we think we express the general sentiment of the community when we say that during that time, his integrity
having never been questioned, he is entitled to be called Concord's best benefactor.
NOTE: ABBOT-DOWNING HAD SALESROOMS AND REPAIR
SHOPS AT 114-120 WEST 30th ST., NEW YORK CITY AND AT 52 OLIVER ST., BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS.
Pick up the Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology.
The issue you want is Volume 20, Numbers 1 and 2 1994.
This theme issue includes articles on the Abbot-Downing Stagecoach,
the Cog Railway, the Amoskeag Mills, etc.
It can be purchased at the Museum of New Hampshire History or at your local bookstore.
Pick up a copy of Abbot-Downing and the Concord Coach -
Harry N. Scheiber.
This is a great book giving you the background of the Abbot-Downing Company.
It has come to my attention this publication is out-of-print and no longer available from the NH
Historical Society. I hope they decide to issue a new reprint. It if happens, I'll pass along the information.