With a slap of the reins, the stage driver urges his mules to pick up the pace. Bouncing down the dusty road, the passengers take in the countryside.

Thursday, March 19

This is a scene that was commonplace back in 1878 when the stage coach came over the San Marcos Pass to the valley.

The Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum and Parks-Janeway Carriage House will host to a symposium April 2 through 5 called “A Bit of the West That Was.”

Residents and visitors alike will have the opportunity to relive the wild and wooly days when everyone traveled by stagecoach or horseback.

The museum has brought in the original stagecoach that traveled between Santa Barbara and Mattei’s Tavern, where it would have stopped more than 100 years ago. Tom Peterson, vice president of the museum, says the coach was an M.P. Henderson mud wagon, which is a stagecoach with roll-down curtains on the sides instead of doors.


The symposium will center on the stagecoach and the western society built around it. Stagecoach historians and experts on carriage construction, preservation and restoration will speak, and enthusiasts will take part in question-and-answer sessions. The events are geared to historians and the museum’s personnel, but carriage and stagecoach fans are welcome, as well. 

Speakers include Merri Ferrell, a researcher, scholar and consultant; Doug Hansen, a South Dakota specialist in restoration of heavy wagons; Brian Howard, a conservator of western collections; Donna Rea Jones, curator with the California State Parks; Patrick Morgan, owner of Morgan Carriage Works in Ojai; Michael Sanborn, director of the Phineas Banning residence in Wilmington, Calif; Kenneth Wheeler, a carriage historian; and Jim Bodoh, a collector of antique firearms.


In addition to the scholarly aspects of the weekend, attendees can participate in a western dance, with music by Last Call, and dinner catered by Epicurean Cowboy. The April 4 dance and dinner at the museum cost $50 per person. Evening receptions, demonstrations and stagecoach rides are also planned.

Thirty-minute stagecoach rides, open to the public for $25 for adults and $20 for 10- to 15-year-olds, will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 5 at the Chamberlin Ranch. Lunch will also be available. Guests are requested to refrain from smoking and to please not bring their dogs.

Fred Chamberlin will drive the stagecoach. His great grandfather was part of the Bixby family who owned the stage line. The company was called Santa Ynez Turnpike and the present-day carriage rides are designed to demonstrate the mode of travel people in the “old days” accepted as a matter of course. Dust, noise, rutted roads and occasional bad weather were all taken in stride.

Back when the stage was running, passengers from Santa Barbara would start their journey either at the Arlington Hotel or Potter’s Hotel. The coach would stop at Kinevan’s, at the top of Camino Cielo, where passengers would pay a toll of 25 cents. Then the driver would change teams before the stop at Cold Springs Tavern, where passengers could get refreshments.


Six mules were used to go uphill; it took just four to go back down, and the entire trip required eight hours to complete, depending on the weather.

The stage ran from 1861 to 1901, but the wagon continued to be used for the delivery of mail around the valley and Lompoc for some years afterwards.

Proceeds from the symposium will go toward a climate control system for the Parks-Janeway Carriage House, located at 3596 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez.

More information is available by calling the historical society at (805) 688-7889 or by e-mailing syvm@verizon.net. Visit www.santaynezmuseum.org.

Reach Margo Kline at mkline@syvjournal.com.