Our story has been a dual one first of public transportation and second of Virginia/West Virginia spring resorts. We have barely touched the surface of either topic: the literature and information, both in print and images is extensive. A more detailed examination would have been depressing, for public transit (trolleys, inter-urban tram lines, elevated trains, even urban buses, and much passenger railroad transportation) has in many places disappeared, unable to compete with the privately owned automobile. The story of the decline of the spring resorts is an even sadder one. Most disappeared almost without trace. A few have a highway department marker to indicate where they were. A few suffered a long and prolonged decline. Marshall Fishwick, making a tour in the 20th century of several of the remaining ones, as Beyer had done in the 19th century while the resorts flourished, found that in 1978 the solitary female custodian of the Sweet Chalybeate Spring would give him complete use of the single surviving cottage and the bathing pool for a mere $10. Today Sweet Chalybeate Springs is no longer in business. Monroe Countians have long followed with interest the attempts to resuscitate the Old Sweet Springs.
While these attempts are ongoing, the future of our omnibus also remains unresolved. Numerous as were the omnibuses Stephenson produced, by the 1890's "many ancient Stephenson products were set out to decay in weed-covered lots." (White, p. xvi) The one in the sketch was obviously from a trolley line with tracks, rather than a road bus like ours, though it closely resembles ours in most other respects. The advertisement on the right dates from about 1855. The back and front views at the bottom of the ad are clearly close to if not identical to the back and front of our omnibus. We learned from John H. White that Stephenson continued to make omnibuses on a limited scale until late in the 1890's. A more precise dating of our vehicle has not yet been made. As research continues, surely much remains to be learned about the history of our omnibus. That ours has survived begins more and more to seem remarkable. Research has so far found only three others still in existence. Wells College, in Aurora, NY, retains a Stephenson omnibus purchased about 1868 by Henry Wells, founder of both Wells Fargo and Wells College. The Shelburne Museum collection of horse-drawn vehicles at Shelburne, VT includes the omnibus that carried passengers to and from the Steven House hotel in Vergennes, Vermont. A Stephenson omnibus that served the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs has been moved to the collection of Jack and Marge Day in Monkton, MD.
This little yellow omnibus whose driver and prancing horses have conducted us through these pages is a late 19th century cast iron toy. It is a reasonably good replica, right down to the deeply curved tail at the bottom of the door, of our omnibus in the Monroe County Historical Society. This little toy sold in 2004 at the Noel Barrett auctions, for $52,800. (Many people will recognize Noel Barrett as the colorfully clad appraiser of antique toys on the Antiques Roadshow TV program.) A sum of about $50,000 has been mentioned by experienced conservators as about what it would cost to let our omnibus enjoy once more some of its original sparkle and flash. Monetary contributions, which are tax deductible, may be made to: The Monroe County Historical Society, P. O. Box 465, Union, WV 24983.