It’s back home

Published 11:06 am Saturday, April 10, 2010

FRANKLIN—It was a homecoming for a buggy manufactured at the former Virginia Buggy Co.’s Franklin factory.

Crews recently returned the buggy back to the site of the Mechanic Street factory, which currently operates as the Franklin Business Incubator.

“Since the Virginia Buggy Co. played a large part in the history of Franklin, it’s a great asset to have and it’s in the building that the Virginia Buggy factory was originally in, so it’s back home,” said Stan Rich, owner of Southampton Antiques in downtown Franklin.

The buggy’s homecoming was made possible through the efforts of Franklin resident Mary Frances Abbitt, the daughter-in-law of John D. Abbitt. John Abbitt opened the Virginia Buggy Co. in 1910, manufacturing horse-drawn buggies.

“She was gracious enough to want to get it for the city,” Rich said.

He was notified that an auction company was selling two Franklin buggies in North Carolina. Since Abbitt was interested in buying one for the city, Rich said he called the company and was able to bid over the phone, but he faced some unexpected competition during the bidding.

“I was bidding on it on the phone, and then the auctioneer said ‘I’ve got Stan at $1,300’ or whatever it was at the time and someone in the audience said, ‘Is that Stan Rich in Franklin?’ And the auctioneer said ‘yes,’” Rich said.

It turns out Franklin Mayor Jim Councill had gone to the auction to bid on a buggy in person.

“He ran up to the stage, grabbed the phone and said, ‘Don’t bid against this; I’m trying to bid on it for Mary Frances,’” Rich said with a laugh.

“I just think Mrs. Abbitt did a great thing by obtaining it and donating it to the city,” he added.

Rich said as many as four buggy companies operated in Franklin at one point, but the Virginia Buggy Co. “was probably the premier buggy company of all of them.”

He also said having the buggy downtown plays into what the Downtown Franklin Association and others are trying to do, which is bring more visitors to the city.

“Things like that are going to help attract people to come and see certain things in Franklin,” he said. “The more things you have like that, the more people will come and actually if you get enough of it, it can turn into a small tourist kind of thing.”

The buggy, which the Franklin City Council accepted as a gift last month, will eventually be displayed suspended from the existing structural steel and wooden beams in the incubator building.

Rich said he hopes the city and the DFA will be able to get more artifacts from Franklin’s past to display.

“I’ve been buying selling and appraising antiques for over 30 years, so I’m really tickled to see a piece of Franklin like that come back to the city,” he said of the buggy.