Carriage House and Livery Stable
Built in 1850 in Winsted, Connecticut, the carriage house and livery stable are among the finest structures of Johnsonville. Ray Schmitt had a special penchant for horse drawn carriages and sleighs, and hosted many 'rallies' at the village, drawing up to a thousand people at events billed as " The Great Nostalgia Trip."
Visitors remember horse figurines frozen in the maroon and green livery stable, attached to some of the finest carriages of the Victorian period. Situated on both sides of a modern road in the midst of Buicks and Fords sputtering by, historic Johnsonville was an odd juxtaposition of 19th century life. The sense of the past was bolstered by the vehicles that bewitched the 20th century public.
In February of 1978, a Currier and Ives Sleigh Rally was held, and for $1 a visitor would be treated to an unveiling of pieces Schmitt and others collected in races around the property, in addition to special access to the structures of Johnsonville.
Carriage and Sleigh rides were also a part of the Christmas in Johnsonville celebrations, the most successful and remembered tradition of the museum era.
Rallies and other events also served as fundraisers for civic organizations like the Lions Club, The Goodspeed Opera House, and the Nathan Hale-Ray High School. The Schmitts wanted to share their collection and reverence for the past with the greater community, and envisioned Johnsonville as the "Sturbridge" of Connecticut.
Unfortunately the project never achieved the permanency of its forecast. Zoning issues with the town of East Haddam, disasters like the mill fire and burglaries cemented the Schmitts' resolve at first, but eventually exhausted their finances and faculties.
When Schmitt died in the late 1990s, the carriages and objects within the buildings and parcels of land were sold off, and the property sold to developers. Now Johnsonville awaits new life, with a daunting $3 million price tag. Untold restoration costs lie within, as do zoning and planning obstacles.
With its handsome cupola and whimsical gingerbread ornamentation, the Winsted Carriage House represents the finest of Victorian era architecture. Barns and stables were designed very simply and extravagantly at this time, and the Schmitts clearly were taken by this structure that no doubt was built for a wealthy family.
The cathedral windows echo those of the Gilead Chapel. The church aesthetic influence was pervasive, as the steeples of mills of the era resembled those of houses of worship.
The Maroon and Green Livery stable sits in front of the Carriage House, along a little road that juts off Johnsonville Road, forming the nexus of the Historic Village. Here, inside the museum landscape, one is surrounded by large aquisitions that form the 'Main Street' of Johnsonville.
Once a pristine and inviting destination, Johnsonville today is errily quiet, slowly being reclaimed by nature.