Gronway Parry: The Architect of Our Collection

Gronway Parry The horse – drawn vehicles and much of the farm equipment on exhibit at Frontier Homestead came from the collection of Gronway Parry.  Born in 1889, Gronway developed an early love of horses and horse – drawn vehicles.  He worked his way through college buying, reconditioning, and selling racehorses. After graduation, Gronway became the first county agent of Iron County, managed the Cedars Hotel and opened the first Buick dealership in Cedar City. He enlisted in the Army during WWI but was given a bad dose of smallpox vaccine, and received a medical discharge. Gronway suffered the effects of this inoculation the rest of his life.

Gronway and Chauncey Parry 1917

In 1917, with his brother Chauncey, Gronway began the Utah – Grand Canyon Transportation Company. Using a second hand 7 passenger Hudson and a Model T, the brothers took tourists to the scenic sights of Southern Utah. The initial route crossed the Virgin River 22 times. The Company was bought out by Union Pacific in 1925 and became the Utah Parks Company (UPC) – which existed until 1973. Gronway became the first Transportation Agent for the UPC, a position he held for 17 years.

Gronway married Afton Parrish in 1922 and they became heavily involved in the Cedar City community. During his years in Cedar, Gronway served one term as mayor, became instrumental in bringing Hollywood to Southern Utah, pioneered the road over Cedar Mountain, and worked as a sheep rancher, carrot and potato farmer, land developer, and college professor. Gronway was a fixture on Cedar Mountain in his snow tank and early snowmobile. In 1931 Gronway developed a love of polo and became quite skilled in the sport, until an accident during a match removed him from active competition.

Gronway and his polo horse.

Gronway driving his Mountain Wagon across the Virgin River.

Gronway Parry’s hobby of collecting and restoring horse – drawn vehicles began as early as 1911. During the 1930’s Gronway began to actively restore and display his wagons and coaches. He later stated that: “An era was dying and its relics should be preserved.” He bought or made his own tools and Afton sewed the upholstery. His collection quickly became nationally known and many of his pieces were used in motion pictures. Gronway felt strongly that his collection remain whole and in Cedar City. In 1968 he sold everything to the Iron Mission Park Commission for half its value. He considered the rest a gift to the people of Cedar City. Gronway Parry died in 1969.

Gronway Parry 1889-1969

Frontier Homestead State Park Museum now seeks to preserve, restore, and interpret the Gronway Parry collection for the benefit of its many visitors.

Artifact Spotlight: The Parry Stagecoach

One of the most exciting pieces in our collection is our Wells Fargo Stagecoach. The coach, made in the Concord style was crafted by Gronway Parry, whose restored wagons and farm equipment formed the bulk of our collection in 1973 when the museum opened. Parry built the stagecoach in the 1950’s and it has been used in parades, movies, and television. The Parry Stagecoach

The original Concord coach was made by the Abbott Downing Co. of Concord NH.  The body was suspended on heavy leather through braces.  Front, rear and center seats drop down to carry 9 passengers inside.  On top it would carry the driver and 2 others.  On a short run, it could carry 12 people on top.  It weighed 2500 lbs. And cost $1200 to $1500 delivered.

The Front Boot was a storage compartment below the driver’s seat.  It usually held the mail and the treasure box.  The Rear Boot was storage for freight packages, express items and passengers’ baggage.  Overflow packages went in the passenger compartment on the floor.  The 1864 coach was just under 8 ft. long and 5 ft. wide.  Each passenger had about 15 inches of space.  It had leather curtains in lieu of glass.  Curtains were less hazardous, absorbed the dust better as well as the wind, rain and snow.

A loaded stage.

The average speed was 8 MPH.  About every 12-14 miles (about every 1.5 hours) they stopped at a relay or swing station to change the team.  A suitable run for horses and mules was 12-13 miles at a time.  About every 50 miles they would stop at a home station to change teams and drivers.  The stops at a home station would last a little longer.

Passengers slept while riding, sitting up.  If they slept at a home station, it would be on the floor.  Women might be able to share the home station agent’s wife’s bed, if she was willing to give it up.  Freight wagon trains would take 5 weeks from Atchison to Denver.  A stagecoach would make the same distance in 6 days.

The stations between SLC and CA were difficult to supply.  Water often had to be hauled great distances.  At some stations there was no wood, which had to be cut and hauled in. Crops could not be grown—the land was arid with little rainfall.  Meals at the home stations cost 50 cents.  The price of such meals was not included in the price of the passage, but had to be paid for with good, hard cash. The fare from SLC to San Francisco was $200 per person.  Passengers were allowed 25 lbs of baggage on their ticket cost.  Each pound over that was charged an extra dollar.

A lonesome stage stop.

There was a perpetual cloud of dust about the coach.  It penetrated the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair and clothes.  Mark Twain bathed once in his 1818 mile, 20 day trip from St. Joesph to Reno in 1861 and that was done in a stream.  Most travelers did not bathe.  An uneventful trip would leave passengers physically exhausted.  One traveler said, “The hardest 2 weeks’ work I ever did.”  And then he stumbled off to a solid 20 hours in bed.

Two museum travelers in their time machine.

The Parry coach is the only replica in our collection. We invite our visitors to climb about and imagine themselves on their own stage journey across the West.

Historic Photo: Hearse, Then and Now

The Hearse, old and new. We thought this photo appropriate for the season. This Hearse, which now resides in our collection, was donated by Gronway Parry who sits in the driver’s seat. The Hearse came from Gunnison, Utah, was restored by Parry and donated to Frontier Homestead in 1973. The color of the hearse is important, black signified an adult while a white hearse carried the body of a child.  The broadcloth drapes are original and the casket inside is of the period.