Rockaway Omnibus or Diligence

Van Tassell & Kearney
New York
Circa 1890

The private omnibus, built on the lines of the public version, was first developed about 1870. It had a covered passenger section, with seats along the two sides and a door with a step at the rear. Some that were made for country use had a forward facing seat mounted on the roof behind the driver’s seat. Lighter versions without the roof seat were made for use in the city, and these were sometimes called “opera buses” in America. The extension of the roof over the driver’s seat is similar to that on a rockaway, hence the name.

The omnibus was owned by Mr. E.B. Smith of Philadelphia. It was known to his family as “the church wagon.” Together with the Brewster basket phaeton, the omnibus was the gift of Mr. Smith’s two sons, Geoffrey and John Storey Smith, in 1954. It was restored in the Seabrook workshop in 1967.

Van Tassel & Kearney were not carriage builders; they were auctioneers and dealers in carriages and harness. At one time they held the New York agency for the important carriage building firm of Henry Hooker & Co., of New Haven. This omnibus is very similar to a carriage shown in the Hooker catalogue of about 1898 and named the “Stamford wagonette.”

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