Doubletree-As In Wagons

I’m forever surprised to find how many contemporary words and phrases have historical origins. Sometimes they can be almost presciently coincidental(see my post back in April on the word “ramada.”) Sometimes they are the stuff of mythology (google “raining cats and dogs”).

Here’s another one, found in my perusal of historic San Diego newspapers.

A short item entitled “A Chapter of Mishaps” appeared in the San Diego Union on Tuesday, February 26, 1884.

“On Sunday last the Mussel Beds were visited by a large number of people from this city, several of whom were so unfortunate as to meet with accident to their buggies and teams.”

“Mussel Beds” is today Ocean Beach, but that’s a whole other name-origin story. For today’s purposes, it should be noted that the same problem caused two of the three accidents described by the article.

“Harry Schiller and Melville Klauber were the first to meet with a mishap,” stated the Union. “As they were driving along the beach with a couple of young ladies and a lively team, the double-tree of their carriage was broken, and they were left for a time hors du combat [French for out-of-the fight, or to put it in more practical terms, holding the reins with no horses at the other end]. This break was repaired, however, without much trouble.”

Two more riders had a little more of the same trouble. While returning to the city from the beach, “Lucien Blochman and Nathan Meyer attempted to jump their team across a ditch which had been washed out in the road a short distance this side of Old Town.”

While the horse team made the jump, reported the Union, “the double-tree of the carriage snapped, freeing the animals from the vehicle…” The horses trotted away, apparently leaving Blochman and Meyer “and their lady companions” behind. The stranded riders were “taken in the carriages of some friends, and arrived in town all right.”

What the Union’s reporter didn’t bother to explain, because back then he didn’t have to, was that a double-tree was essentially a crossbar on a wagon or carriage to which another crossbar was attached to allow the harnessing of two animals abreast.

What connection this has to the name of the contemporary hotel chain appears to be purely coincidental. All I can say for sure is that the hotel chain offers nice complimentary cookies.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego Count newspapers, Webster’s Dictionary and the book San Diego Place Names A to Z by Leland Fetzer.

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