Carriage rides through Marietta

For nearly eight years now, the Hardly Able Carriage Co. has been filling the streets of downtown Marietta with the sound of clip-clopping of hooves.

Since late 2005, the Ellenboro, W.Va., company has been offering jaunts through the city in its white horse-drawn carriage.

The company, which formed in 1999, had already been offering horse-drawn rides in larger wagons in North Bend State Park, but had recently acquired a more romantic looking surrey and wanted to use it for more than just weddings, recalled Hardly Able Carriage Co. owner Johnny Smith.

“I knew there used to be carriages running in Marietta, so we thought it would be a good fit,” he said.

A year earlier, Matheny Classic Carriage of Coolville ceased operations after its carriage was rear-ended by a vehicle, seriously injuring carriage driver Herb Matheny. The company had operated in Marietta for 13 years before the July 2004 accident occurred.

Smith has fortunately never experienced any accidents in Marietta. In fact, the two horses who typically run the Marietta carriage route -Fred and Dew – have likely saved him from potential mishaps, he said.

“It takes a special type of horse to be able to operate in traffic. They will actually watch traffic and they’ll stop me sometimes,” said Smith.

The carriage rides typically operate on Friday and Saturday nights between May and November. Customers can hitch a ride on a first-come, first-served basis.

Rides originate on Front Street, across the street from Schafer Leather and in front of Mahone Tire, and take riders along Front and Greene Streets to Ohio Street. There the carriage rolls along the Ohio River on historic brick streets up to Fourth Street to Butler Street and back to the starting point, said Smith.

The rides are not a guided tour, but rather a chance for people to sit back and enjoy the scenery, he said. The ride typically lasts 20 minutes and costs $35 per couple and $10 for each extra person. Children small enough to ride on a parent’s lap are free.

The rides are a perfect complement to the historic atmosphere in downtown Marietta, said Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“When you look at what people enjoy about Marietta the most it’s that historical, cultural aspect and the carriage rides lend themselves nicely to that cultural tourism,” said Knowlton.

For that reason, the CVB and a handful of downtown merchants have started a tradition of sponsoring the carriage rides for select nights during the Hometown Holiday weekends around Thanksgiving.

Sponsoring the free carriage rides is a nice way to show appreciation to the downtown customers, said Teri Ann Pfeffer, owner of Teri Ann’s on Front Street.

“We do it as a service. It’s just charming to ride around the town in a carriage, especially around that time of the year when there’s a chill and hints of snow in the air. It’s a fun piece of the downtown puzzle,” she said.

Marietta is not the only stomping ground for the Hardly Able Carriage Co. and their horses.

The company has 21 horses and mule operating in Ohio and West Virgina. Hardly Able Carriage Co. been offering horse-drawn carriage rides on Blennerhassett Island Historical Park since 2005 and offered rides in North Bend State Park in West Virginia until recently.

Additionally, the company offers rides at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, W.Va. during the summer and holiday season, said Smith.

The company also takes reservations for any type of special event imaginable. Obviously weddings are the biggest draw, but families also rent carriages and wagons for family picnics, business retreats and more.

“Anything that anybody wants done we can set something up for them, any day or days of the week,” said Smith.

Operating the carriage rides has been a very satisfying experience for Smith, who has always loved horses and spent the last 40 years working around them.

In addition, it is a unique business where Smith and his employees are almost always surrounded by people at their happiest moments.

“We’ve had a proposal there by the gazebo on Ohio Street. We get to see people at their best of times. We’re very fortunate there,” said Smith.