Nissen Wagon Museum

March 14, 2009 · By Deb Phillips - The Photo Gal · Filed Under Points of Interest 
An original Nissen wagon is shown housed in the Nissen Wagon Museum at Shallowford Square in Lewisville, NC (Forsyth County). Deb Phillips, photographer.

The Nissen Wagon Museum, a nicely designed structure located at Shallowford Square, houses an original Nissen wagon. The wagon was built by the Nissen Wagon Company, which was begun by John P. Nissen in 1834. John’s son, George E. Nissen, later co-owned the business with his brother, William, and lived in the historic Nissen House in Lewisville, North Carolina.

The Nissen Wagon

Continuing on our history journey today, we’ll focus on the Nissen wagon. I think it’s reasonable to assume that many a Nissen wagon traveled the Great Wagon Road and crossed the Shallow Ford between the 1800s and the early 1900s (CLICK the preceding links to read my previous posts).

After all, by 1919 Nissen Wagon Works, as it was later named, was producing over 15,000 wagons per year, or about fifty wagons per day. The business was located in Waughtown, North Carolina (in the present-day Winston-Salem) and was operated by various members of the Nissen family from 1834 until 1925, when it was sold to F. B. Reamy for about one million dollars. Under new ownership, Nissen wagons continued to be produced until the 1940s, when the popularity of automobiles eclipsed demand for the wagons. [Source: StoppingPoints.com]

For further information on the Nissen wagon and to see additional photos, please continue to the NEXT SECTION.

The Influence of the Conestoga

The influence of the earlier Conestoga wagon on the design of the Nissen wagon is unmistakable. The primary differences between the two wagons were that the Nissen wagon was lighter and considerably smaller than the Conestoga. Writing initially of the Conestoga wagon, the book, Carolina Folk: The Cradle of a Southern Tradition (produced by the McKissick Museum in Columbia, South Carolina), states the following:

Invented in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, these vehicles were the “prairie schooners” that carried settlers and their belongings to the western frontier. They were used also to transport the Moravians to North Carolina and therefore the Conestoga wagon was incorporated into Carolina’s material culture.

Also from Carolina Folk is the speculation that George E. Nissen’s grandfather, Tyco, learned to build Conestoga wagons from a resident of the nearby Moravian town of Bethania. George’s father, John P. Nissen, later gained a reputation for building quality wagons, increasing the demands for his wagons.

In fact, the slogan used in an old advertisement for the Nissen wagons reads: “The best is always the cheapest in the end.” Apparently, the Nissen wagon met the needs of a variety of customers over the years:

As some North Carolinians migrated westward in search of land or gold, Nissen wagons carried their belongings. Farmers in Nissen wagons carried their goods to market along the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road. During the Civil War, Nissen Wagon Works supplied wagons and gun carts to the Confederacy. [Source: StoppingPoints.com]

Paying Tribute

About 10 years ago, recognizing the significance of the Nissen wagon to our community, the Lewisville Historical Society commissioned the Nissen Wagon Museum. The museum was completed in 1999 and was formally dedicated in 2000.

Joe Marion, of Joe’s Landscaping and Nursery, donated a Nissen wagon to the museum. The wagon’s cover was made and donated by Melvin Knouse.

Nissen Wagon Historic Material at Old Salem

UPDATE ON 4/22/10: The Research Library of Old Salem Museums and Gardens, in Winston-Salem, NC, contains material regarding Nissen wagons, including a 1912 illustrated catalogue of the Nissen Wagon Co. (38 pages), copies of bills of sales dated 1896, newspaper articles, and historical photographs, including one of the factory workers of the Nissen Wagon Works c.1899.

For MORE INFORMATION, contact Old Salem librarian Michele Doyle at mdoyle@oldsalem.org. Many thanks to Martha Rowe for passing along this info to LewisvillePhotos.com.

More Nissen Wagon Photos and Information

To view more PHOTOS of the museum and the wagon, please visit the LewisvillePhotos.com Nissen Wagon photo gallery.

Additional READING and HISTORICAL PHOTOS related to the Nissen wagon and its era can be found at:

Other articles on this website that may be of interest to you: Down by the River, Exploring Shallow Ford, The Great Wagon Road, Yesterday’s Journeys.

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Comments

10 Responses to “Nissen Wagon Museum”
  1. Awesome photo. I love the wood grain.

  2. Thanks, Steve. I hope things are going well. Your site is looking good, and looks like you’re pretty busy!

  3. Trudy Cox says:

    Would you happen to know if Nissen Wagon Works built any stagecoaches for Wells Fargo???
    Thanks.

    Trudy Cox
    Archivist

  4. Trudy, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to your question. I recommend that you contact Merrikay Brown, Lewisville’s librarian at (336) 703-2940. She’s also a member of the Lewisville Historical Society and may be able to refer you to someone else in the group, or to some other Nissen authority, if she doesn’t know the answer to your question.

    Thank you for writing.

  5. Martha Rowe says:

    I just want to make the public aware that in the Research Library of Old Salem Museums and Gardens, in Winston-Salem, NC, there is much material regarding Nissen wagons, including a 1912 illustrated catalogue of the Nissen Wagon Co. (38 pages), copies of bills of sales dated 1896, newspaper articles, and historical photographs, including one of the factory workers of the Nissen Wagon Works c.1899. You may contact librarian Michele Doyle at mdoyle@oldsalem.org.

  6. Martha, thanks so much for providing that great info on the Nissen wagon. That makes me want to come check it all out! I’ve placed the info from your comments in an update note within this article itself — to be sure that nobody misses out on this additional Nissen wagon historical treasure at Old Salem.

    Thanks a bunch!

  7. joe says:

    I have a Nissen single-horse wagon, marked on the rear axle. Is it possible to get some guidelines on wagon features, which will help me date my Nissen wagon?

  8. Greetings, Joe!

    How wonderful that you have a Nissen wagon! Unfortunately, I can’t provide any assistance myself to help you determine the date of your wagon. However, I highly recommend that you contact the Research Library of Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem, NC, as referred to near the end of this article, based on information I received in a previous comment by Martha Rowe.

    I do hope you’re able to the find the specific info you seek on your Nissen wagon, Joe.

    Thank you for writing!

  9. J. E. Brown says:

    I have a Nissen wagon that hasn’t been used in several years. I am trying to figure out what to do with it. Is there any place to find out what my wagon is worth?
    J. E. Brown

  10. Hi, J.E. I’m not an authority on Nissen wagons. You could begin by contacting the Research Library of Old Salem Museums and Gardens. The last email I have for the library is: mdoyle@oldsalem.org for Michele Doyle.

    I hope you’ll be able to find out what your wagon’s worth, J.E.

    Thanks for writing!

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