The carriage was built by the famous Studebaker Brothers, whose wagon-making company would later be known for quality automobiles. Although the oak frame and passenger compartment are intact, the fabric-lined roof, wooden wheels and upholstery are in shreds. The dilapidated artifact didn’t seem worth saving decades ago when its owner intended to reduce the omnibus to firewood.
Luckily, members of the pioneering Rodriguez family, which still resides in Byron, happened to be passing by as the omnibus was about to meet its fate in a burn pile. The Rodriguezes asked the owner if they could take it, and for more than 60 years, the decaying omnibus has been resting in a storage shed on Hoffman Lane in Byron, quietly waiting to be rediscovered. The Rodriguez family donated the carriage remains to the historical society last September.
“It turns out that this precious piece of history was hiding in someone’s shed all this time,” said Historical Society President Ginny Karlberg. “It’s more than 130 years old. It doesn’t look like much now, but in its day, it was the form of transportation that took tourists from the railroad depot to the Hot Springs. Even restored, you won’t find many of these in museums today.”
In its glory days, the omnibus was a nine-seat stagecoach used by the Byron Hot Springs to transport guests to and from the resort. The Byron Hot Springs was the prime tourist attraction in East County back in the late 19th century. The mineral springs were believed to exert healing powers that could cure anything from gout to ailments of the kidneys and liver. People from all over the United States and Europe flocked to the springs for a chance to indulge in the healing waters.
The Byron Hot Springs resort opened in 1865, and a hotel was built there in 1878. Rooms were available for $5 a day; $6 if you wanted your personal bathtub. Salt baths costs 50 cents and mud baths $1. Guests who felt like splurging could pay $1.50 for a massage. Guests were invited to soak in the mineral waters to soften skin or drink the waters as a way to purify the bloodstream. Some women believed the waters even helped them shed unwanted pounds.
The omnibus was used by the hotel even after the Byron Hot Springs railroad depot opened in 1878, but the advent of the automobile made the carriage obsolete. The Byron Hot Springs Hotel closed in 1938. While the property and the omnibus changed hands many times over the years, the owners could never muster the funds to restore the springs to its glory days.
Karlberg said the ECCHS plans to restore the omnibus, but securing funding and all the authentic parts could take years. Despite the challenges, Karlberg’s husband Tim is up for the challenge. “This is a historical treasure in the rough,” Tim said. “We are so very excited to be given the opportunity to restore her (the omnibus) to her original, magnificent condition.”
Those interested in supporting the omnibus restoration project should contact Ginny Karlberg at 925-513-1281.