Ashtabula County museum exhibits vintage baby carriages

JEFFERSON — The only museum in the world dedicated to Victorian baby strollers is located in nearby Jefferson, in the center of Ashtabula County.

The Victorian Perambulator Museum and Art Gallery boasts that it holds the largest and finest known collection of early wicker and baby doll carriages — known as perambulators. The carriages are all handmade of natural fibers and fashioned in artistic and intricate designs and shapes.

Offering a rare glimpse into the child’s world of the 19th century, the museum also exhibits bicycles, farm wagons, toys, books, games, pictures and other items. The museum was started by identical twin sisters Janet Pallo and Judy Kaminski. Kaminski is five minutes older.

Both were teachers in the Buckeye Local Schools system, Ashtabula Township.

“We wanted to do something that no one else had done before. Everything in the museum is pretty much a work of art,” said Pallo. “Every piece tells a story.”

Kaminski acquired the first piece for the 31-year-old museum. The sisters have traveled all over America acquiring pieces. Pallo’s husband even brought some pieces from France.

“At the end of the Victorian era, the world lost most of the antique carriages,” Pallo said. “They were getting to be too expensive. The companies weren’t making any money. They burned all the company warehouses. It was horrible.

“They didn’t want people to even see them. Then, they would ask for them. That’s how it ended. They are very hard to find,” she said.

“The carriages were the status symbols of the wealthy,” Pallo said.

The 15-room museum is crowded with more than 250 full-sized perambulators, including 14 twin strollers. All of the strollers have seat belts and locking mechanisms.

“All of the full-sized carriages have wheels that pop off and sleigh runners can replace the wheels and become sleighs in the winter,” Pallo said.

“Most of our carriages are one-of-a-kind pieces,” Kaminski said.

The museum also houses an exact replica, made by the same designer, of Prince Charles’ baby carriage. The museum houses the original horse-drawn carriage that Queen Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, rode in as children.

The oldest style carriage — the cab style — resembles an Amish buggy.

It took the sisters 25 years to acquire the carriage used in “The Last Emperor” movie.

There are even three Duesenberg strollers with white-wall tires, just like the automobile.

The museum houses more than just baby strollers. There are doll houses, paintings, carriages and dolls on display.

“Every room has so many rare pieces,” Kaminski said. “Our paintings are phenomenal.”

Tom Thumb’s carriage and his walking stick, and a riding crop from “Gone with the Wind” are dispersed among teacups and teapots. There are pewter carousels, antique thread and rare French fashion dolls mixed with thimbles throughout the museum.

“We have fabulous dolls,” said Kaminski.

“We also have 1,200 miniature carriages in our collection. We have stuff off the Great Lakes ships. We even have trains,” Pallo said.

There is also a 75-piece pipe collection and 10 wedding dresses in the collection. Several antique sewing machines can be seen as well.

“Everything you want to know about the Dionne quintuplets is on display in a case,” Pallo said. “The furniture around the museum, a lot of it is from Cleveland, the old Halle’s Department Store.”

The sisters have different favorite pieces. Kaminski likes one called the Sultan because of its extreme ornateness. Pallo likes one that resembles a gondola. “I like things related to water,” Pallo said.

The museum is located at 26 E. Cedar St. Pallo said that “because Jefferson has never given us a sign, we usually tell people that we are right behind the Chevrolet dealership.”

The museum has seasonal hours and is currently open on Saturdays and by appointment. There is a $5 admission fee. “We have not raised the price of admission in 10 years,” Kaminski said.

There is a small gift shop offering a wide array of antique crafts, collectibles and unique gift items displayed in an old-fashioned atmosphere as well.

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