Celebrating 40 Years: The Vehicles of Memory Lane 

By Meghan E. Gattignolo 

When I visited the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center as a kid, one of my favorite areas of the Museum to wander through was Memory Lane. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Memory Lane gallery was the full-time home to most of the Museum’s collection of antique vehicles, as well as faux storefronts complete with period-appropriate wares on display, so visitors could pretend to window-shop like it was 1900. The garage-turned-gallery provided an immersive and fun glimpse into Clarksville’s past. 

Read on to learn a little about some of the vehicles you’ll see right now in the Memory Lane gallery. 

Horse-drawn Hearse 

This beautifully carved hearse has been part of the Clarksville community for a very long time. Built by Crane and Breed Co. of Cincinnati, John B. Tarpley originally bought it used for his funeral home prior to the widespread use of motor vehicles in Clarksville. Tarpley heavily employed the hearse for years, even receiving requests to use it long after he invested in a motor-driven hearse. Perhaps the Victorian aesthetic of the horse-drawn hearse added a perfect touch of somber drama to the funeral procession people wanted for their dearly departed family members.  

The hearse was an antique when Herman Foston bought it for his own funeral home in 1940. Mainly used for marketing and advertising his own services, Foston would display it out in front of his business in the summer months, and drive it during parades. In memory of her brother, Foston’s sister Louise donated the hearse to the Museum in 1987.  


Owned by Clarksville’s Judge Cunningham, this little horse-drawn buggy with its soft interior would have been a nice luxury in its time. Even though gasoline-powered cars made an appearance in Clarksville in 1902, Judge Cunningham continued using his buggy as his preferred mode of transportation until about 1916. He hung onto it, though, and apparently took great care of it as it still looks beautiful today. 

Also on exhibit are the kerosene headlamps that Judge Cunningham’s daughter Chloe removed from her father’s buggy and transformed into electrified lamps for her entryway when she moved to Louisville, Kentucky. She eventually donated the lamps along with her father’s buggy to the Museum in 1984.  

Hose Wagon 

Before gasoline-powered engines, this late 19th-century wagon was the fastest way to get water to a burning building. The wagon was owned by the Clarksville Fire Department until they donated it to the Museum in 1984, and was part of a fire department exhibit soon after the Museum’s opening. Amazingly, the wagon was not originally pulled by horses, but by the sheer strength of volunteer firefighters. The company eventually received horses from the city to pull the wagon and get to fires faster. 

The 1925 Ahrens-Fox fire truck is another important Clarksville relic. The fire department was originally called the Clarksville Hook and Ladder Company, and the reason for this name is apparent while examining this fire truck. A long pole with a hook attached to one end is lying on its side on the truck. Pike poles were important tools for fighting fires. The hooks made it easier to access the fire in a building by breaking through walls, opening ventilation holes while inside a smoke-filled building, or assisting in stopping the spread of fires by removing objects. The long handle also kept the firefighter safely away from the heat of the fire. 

Enjoy Triumphs and Treasures: Celebrating 40 Years, an exhibit split between the Kimbrough Gallery and Memory Lane on the Lower Level of the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center, showcasing a wide range of items from the Museum’s vast collection carefully chosen by the Board of Directors. From now until September, get a chance to see for the first time or reminisce about past Museum exhibits. Get a wide-range view of all that the Museum has to offer, collected and curated from over the last four decades. 

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two children. 

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