The Robert Thomas Carriage Museum was an idea established by Robert B. Thomas, Jr. and his wife, Marie, in 2000 to house his collection of carriages for the public to see and enjoy. A native of Nottoway County, Robert was a farmer and educator throughout his life. As a young boy, he had a horse and cart that he would drive to visit his grandfather in Danieltown. After high school, he started farming on the ancestral farm until he was drafted in 1954. Upon his return from military service, he used his GI Bill to get a degree in science from Longwood College and started his teaching career first in Amelia County, then Nottoway County. He later obtained a master’s degree in science from the University of North Carolina and received a professorship at Longwood College.
It was about this time in his life that he began to develop an interest in horse-drawn vehicles. His son and daughter were interested in riding horses, and he purchased his first two horses. Upon a visit to Altavista, Virginia, Mr. Thomas purchased his first horse-drawn vehicle, a runabout. This buggy needed some wheel restoration, but he had a hard time finding wheels that would fit. He could find various carriages, but no wheels, and thus began his collecting era. For the next twenty years, he traveled from Virginia to Pennsylvania purchasing carriages from auctions and from local people he met who informed him of a carriage located nearby. Mr. Thomas became a known figure in the carriage community by becoming a member of the Carriage Association of America and attending many of their national meetings and driving events.
Not only did Robert collect carriages, but he also had a keen interest in driving them, thus preserving a forgotten way of life. Many Blackstone residents fondly remember him driving in parades or renting his services and carriages for weddings. As the museum was being built, Robert obtained the services of Ted Hughes of Chalklevel Carriage and Buggy Works in Piney River, Virginia, who intricately restored each carriage before being installed in the museum.
Finally, in 2007 Robert’s dream finally came true and was completed, with the help of the Town of Blackstone and the grants they obtained from the Virginia Department of Transportation. In September of that year, the museum was opened to the public with twenty-six restored vehicles inside. By 2014, the number would increase to 35 with two having been donated by two Nottoway County residents. The Robert Thomas Carriage Museum is the second largest public display of carriages in Virginia (the largest being located at Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia).
In the museum, one will see various vehicles that would have been used by the average person in many rural areas. The most elegant are the Rockaway and the Victorian. One especially rare piece of the collection is a WWI ammunition cart.
Also, you will find three different wagons made by the Thornhill Wagon Company out of Lynchburg, Virginia. The last vehicle that was purchased for the museum was a Pony Trap that came from Brandon Planation in Prince George County, Virginia.
The museum also has a small library of reference materials that are available to the public for research.
*This article is published with gratitude to Robert Thomas for his detailed and interesting history of the museum.
Today, thanks to the meticulously curated and maintained Robert Thomas Carriage Museum, you can revisit travel of the past up close. The museum houses some of the best examples of horse-drawn carriages in the country. Come visit in person in beautiful historic Downtown Blackstone, or, if you aren’t able to make the trip, take our 360 virtual tour below!
How to visit:
The Robert Thomas Carriage Museum and Schwartz Tavern are available for in-person visits by appointment only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, by emailing or calling Downtown Blackstone, Inc.’s office at [email protected] or 434-292-3041. Group tours on other days of the week, including weekends, are also available but require 30 days’ advance notice in order to secure a volunteer guide for your visit. Admission is free but donations are accepted.