The Monroe County West Virginia Omnibus
Many years have passed since the Sweet Chalybeate horse-drawn omnibus participated in parades or other events on the streets of the county, as on the rainy day pictured here. More than 100 years have passed since it carried the guests of the Sweet Chalybeate and the Old Sweet Springs to and from the Alleghany Station on the C&O railway just over the border in Virginia. Those were the days of its prime, when both resorts were busy offering the reputed medicinal virtues of drinking from the mineral springs and "taking the baths." Sadly, too few people now living in Monroe County have ever seen or even know of this treasure from their and America's past now in the care and keeping of the Monroe County Historical Society. Our omnibus had its origin not in Monroe county, but in the factory of John Stephenson in New York City, where in 1827 Abraham Brower had offered the first public cab service by providing horse-drawn passage up and down Broadway between Wall Street and Bleecker Street. One of Brower's first vehicles had narrow seats lining the sides. Each seat could accommodate five or at most six rather crowded passengers. The accepted full occupancy was twelve. Since passengers could enter at the open rear door as the horses moved slowly up Broadway, it could get congested. In 1864 the artist Daumier gave us, in a satiric crayon and watercolor picture entitled "The Omnibus," a view of the crowded interior of such a conveyance. At the left in Daumier's picture, note the new arrival seeking room for himself. (Click on the Daumier drawing for an enlarged image.)
In 1831 John Stephenson (1809-1893), 22 years old, after only three years' apprenticeship to a carriage maker, started The John Stephenson Car Company, and began to build vehicles for Brower's Broadway service. Until the financial panic of 1837, both his and Brower's businesses grew rapidly. By 1833 Stephenson had a patent for a design that lowered the floor of the omnibus to make access easier. He would obtain numerous other patents for improvements to his vehicles. Although 1837 led to temporary bankruptcy, by 1845 he was back in business, and despite recurrent economic ups and downs became a leading producer of omnibuses--both road and rail--and later of railroad cars.
Our omnibus is clearly similar to the one on page 460 of Ezra
Stratton's The World on Wheels(1878). The term "omnibus"
was first applied in 1828 in France to a long narrow coach labeled
voiture omnibus. The word was immediately accepted in
both England and the United States. By the 1860's the term "bus"
was coming into use, but was considered slangy. Today when we
refer to a bus we are probably unaware of where we got the word.