Explore a Winter Wonderland Downtown with Sentinel Carriage Co.

December 2, 2013

A tour of a historic neighborhood in Downtown. Photo courtesy of Sentinel Carriage Co.

A tour of a historic neighborhood in Downtown. Photo courtesy of Sentinel Carriage Co.

by Christy Krueger

The clomping of horses’ hooves through our Downtown streets may be an unfamiliar sound for many Tucsonans. To Jane Stansbury, owner of Sentinel Carriage Company, it’s perfectly natural. She grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of two carriage drivers, and has been leading horses in urban settings since the age of 18. She now offers informative, horse-drawn tours through Tucson’s historic downtown neighborhoods to anyone looking for a peek back in time.

“I couldn’t believe we have such a beautiful Downtown,” she said of her first impression upon arriving here in 2011. “Nobody was going to these areas; I want to make it accessible.”

Considering she didn’t grow up in Tucson, Stansbury is extremely knowledgeable on the history and legends of the Downtown areas. She loves relating anecdotes connected to the various neighborhoods, from their early history to the arrival of the railroad and the automobile era.

Two of the many books that Stansbury found helpful in her research are “Tucson: Portrait of a Desert Pueblo,” by John Bret Harte; and “Yesterday’s Tucson Today,” by Harry and Mary Cuming. Talking with residents also turned out to be a valuable learning experience. “There are lots of descended family members,” she said. “And the Arizona Historical Society has great services. Another good source is the (Southern Arizona) Transportation Museum at the Historic Train Depot.”

All decked out for the holidays. Photo courtesy of Sentinel Carriage Co.

All decked out for the holidays. Photo courtesy of Sentinel Carriage Co.

Half-hour and hour-long Sentinel Carriage tours generally start behind the Tucson Museum of Art and can include Presidio San Agustín del Tucson and Presidio Mansion districts, Armory Park, central Downtown, Barrio Viejo or Fourth Avenue.

Casey and Patton are Stansbury’s Clydesdales who are trained to pull her 10-passenger covered wagonette among foot and car traffic. She is currently training Nel, a dapple-grey Percheron, who will specialize in weddings, since couples prefer a white horse to go with the wedding carriage. Another option is Stansbury’s new custom-built Cinderella carriage, which she said looks just like the fairy tale’s pumpkin carriage and is the only one of its kind in Tucson.

Weddings are big business for Sentinel Carriage Company, and the creative options are endless. Stansbury has been a part of weddings at locations such as Saguaro Buttes, Ritz-Carlton, Tubac, a ranch in Vail and Downtown’s popular wedding venues. She’s even brought the carriage inside resort ballrooms to serve as a photo booth. “We go everywhere, but it’s great to do weddings Downtown. I know where all the great photo spots are,” she noted.

Often, she’ll pick up the bride with her father and deliver them to the ceremony. “After the ceremony, the bride and groom get in the carriage together and do a champagne toast. It’s a nice ride. They can have an intimate moment after the ceremony. It allows the bride to slow down.”

Sometimes they’ll rent Sentinel’s wagonette for the entire bridal group and it becomes a party bus. Or Stansbury will stay during the reception so guests can enjoy rides around the venue throughout the evening. For one wedding, she said, guests let off balloons and said goodbye as the groom carried the bride into the carriage.

Carriage rides can make a lovely addition to your wedding. Photo courtesy of Sentinel Carriage Co.

Carriage rides can make a lovely addition to your wedding. Photo courtesy of Sentinel Carriage Co.

In addition to weddings, Sentinel Carriage is available for private parties, corporate events, reunions and even traditional funerals. “The wagonette seats and roof come off,” Stansbury said. “We donate line-of-duty services to fire, police and military.”

Perhaps the highlight for Stansbury this year is the Thanksgiving-week kickoff of Jingle Bell & Caroling rides, offering old-fashioned open-air excursions through festively lit Downtown. Warm blankets, Christmas caroling songbooks and hot beverages are provided, and with December filling up fast, Stansbury highly recommends reservations. She’ll be stationed next to Maynards Market & Kitchen for half-hour rides, or guests can hire the entire wagonette for private rides and Christmas parties.

The logistics of leading a horse-pulled wagon through traffic is not a concern for Stansbury because she has years of experience negotiating in busy town centers, and she follows all safety precautions. Streetcar tracks, though a challenge for some carriage operators, are not an issue for her because the wagonette wheels are wide enough to move easily over the tracks.

A special guest named Santa Claus will join Stansbury at the reins for the Jingle Bell & Caroling rides the evening of December 14. And on December 17 they will make an appearance at University of Arizona Medical Center Diamond Children’s. There, kids who have permission can go outside and enjoy a leisurely holiday ride designed to add some merriment to their day.

While Stansbury’s first year wasn’t as busy as she would have liked, word is starting to spread and former customers are returning to see different parts of Downtown. “This will be a great season now that construction has eased,” Stansbury said. “I’m looking forward to all that’s happening Downtown. I can’t wait.”

For holiday rides through January 1, reservations are suggested. Meet at Maynards Market & Kitchen, 400 North Toole Avenue.

Santa rides will be available Saturday, December 14, 4:30-8:30 p.m. For pricing and more information, visit the website or call 520-609-3582.