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“From Carriage to Classic”: Celebrating 50 years of the Heritage Museums & Gardens with new exhibits

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Above: 1916 Simplex, Crane Model 5. Photography by the author.

One of New England’s most respected and beloved museums, the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts, is celebrating its golden anniversary this year, and it’s marking the event with a number of special exhibits. Of special interest to old-car fans is the new exhibit, “From Carriage to Classic: How Automobiles Transformed America.” In addition to its beautiful grounds, visitors to this 100-acre Cape Cod attraction — just over the Sagamore Bridge from the mainland — will find an interesting grouping of 23 vehicles from Heritage’s 40-car permanent collection that are being interpreted to show the motorcar’s evolution from an engineering curiosity to a luxury good to the means of mass transportation.

1909 White Model M 

The earliest vehicle in this exhibit is the Historic Vehicle Association-recognized, Ohio-built 1909 White steam car (above), which was purchased by President William Howard Taft for use in the fledgling White House motor fleet and which will be familiar to Hemmings Classic Car readers from Terry Shea’s fascinating profile. The two next-oldest cars — a 1910 Sears Model P and a 1910 Cadillac Model 30 — will also be known to HCC readers, thanks to David Conwill’s stories. Among the other vehicles in the “From Carriage to Classic” exhibit are the 1916 Simplex, Crane Model 5 (top photo), a  1916 Brewster Town Landaulet, a 1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, a 1925 Franklin Sport Runabout, the ex-Gary Cooper 1930 Duesenberg Model J Derham Tourster, a 1932 Auburn Boattail Speedster, and a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette.

If you can time your visit right, you might be able to join a “Behind the Scenes Auto Tour” with Jennifer Madden, director of Collections & Exhibitions at Heritage. She will lead participants into the employees-access-only automotive collection storage area, where they’ll be able to inspect the vehicles closely and learn more about them and their place in history. Check the website for tour dates and times, and register in advance to ensure your spot.

If you’ve never been to the Heritage Museums & Gardens, you’re missing out on a unique experience. This attraction, established in June 1969 as the Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, was the work of Josiah Kirby Lilly III, and a tribute to the collections of his prominent father and family, proprietors of the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Company.




Mrs. Josephine and Mr. J.K. Lilly III at the opening of the Heritage Plantation; image courtesy of Heritage Museums & Gardens

Members of the Lilly family were avid collectors of items like coins, books, guns, and Chinese export porcelain. J.K. “Joe” began collecting cars in 1964 with the purchase of the 1916 Simplex, Crane Model 5, and within four years, he’d purchased 35 antique and classic automobiles. Those cars were the basis for the automotive attraction at Heritage Plantation. Jennifer Madden shared more about this in the Simplex’s HCC feature.

“J.K.’s father had a private museum built in Indianapolis that he called his ‘Hobby House,’ and he went there to work on his collection, but few people were invited to visit. Our Mr. Lilly was familiar with family members building museums for their personal collections, but in contrast, he stated very clearly that he wanted his museum to be open to the public, and to serve as many people as possible.”

She continues, “He was thinking at first that he would create an auto museum, and began looking at them around the country. As he traveled, he saw museums with hundreds of cars, not all of which were in good condition. He made a deliberate decision to have a limited number of cars, and all would be in pristine condition. At that same time, Mr. Lilly’s father died, and the son acquired his father’s collection of military miniatures and firearms; this prompted J.K. Lilly to expand his vision for the museum to include his father’s collections. He would eventually open the Heritage Museums on Cape Cod, in 1969.”

Fifty years on, this will be celebrated during the Annual Auto Show on Saturday, June 8 (rain date Sunday, June 9), the 47th such event that will highlight original and restored antique and classic cars, customs, hot rods, and motorcycles.

“Our 50th year gives not only us, but everyone, the opportunity to visit and explore our impressive collections and unique natural environment in a new way,” says Anne Scott-Putney, president and CEO at Heritage. “From the moment visitors arrive, there are multiple fun ways they can experience Heritage, including our behind-the-scenes tours that cater to their interests and get them up close and personal with our collections, gardens, and exhibits. Heritage not only offers experiences that can’t be found anywhere else, but also strengthens our bonds with family and friends. It’s a place of joy and fun. It’s a place to make lasting memories. And it’s a place designed to be visited time and time again.”

Heritage will open for its 50th season on Saturday, April 27, with “From Carriage to Classic” running through October 14.