By Peter Zablocki
We have all seen Victorian-Age carriages in movies, on TV, or in museums. They shuffled around characters larger than life, from American Presidents to the fictionalized detective Sherlock Holmes. One stood above all others—and still does when it comes to collecting—and it was built right here in 1870 by the Beach Carriage Company on Church Street. Known simply as “The Rockaway,” the local product was the first of its kind, a closed carriage that protected its driver against inclement weather as much as it did its passengers by simply extending its roof.
Named after its city of origin, “The Rockaway” became known for its elegance, high-quality materials, and meticulous craftsmanship. Today, only a handful of these carriages are still in existence, scattered around various museums from Illinois to Los Angeles. The Church Street building, which housed their production, eventually became the original Rockaway Fire Department. No. 2. before being razed in the mid-twentieth century.
Yet, Rockaway was not done with its foray into transportation development. In 1902, the Old Rockaway Bicycle Works entered the newly developing auto industry with its own design—six years before Henry Ford introduced the Model T to America. Named the “Rockaway Rambler,” the vehicle was a one-cylinder powered automobile with a top speed of ten miles an hour and bicycle wheels with bolted-on tires to prevent them from coming off at high speeds. The machine cost $2,400—an equivalent of nearly $90,000 today—which proved too steep for many local buyers. In the end, Bicycle Works only built a few models, with a slight facelift in 1903, the same year it seized its limited production—none are known to survive.
Peter Zablocki is a local historian, author, and educator. He can be reached at peterzablocki.com.