Tryon Toy Makers: Historic toys and wood carving in Tryon North Carolina
Origins of the Tryon Horse, and how it came to be called "Morris"

Of all the delightful hand-painted objects crafted in Tryon, North Carolina by the Tryon Toy Makers, the most famous is the white toy horse on a platform with four wheels. Animals on wheels were popular for centuries in Europe, made in such toy-making villages as Sonnenberg in Germany and St. Ulrich in the South Tyrol. The latter village, now in Italy but before World War I part of Austria, is the direct source for many of the Tryon toy designs.

"Making a horse ready for his coat of paint" in the December, 1917 issue of St. Nicholas, a magazine for children, is the first documented evidence of the famous Tryon horse toy. A black & white photograph shows a youth making horses on wheels in the basement wood shop of "Hillcote," Eleanor Vance and Charlotte Yale's cottage on Grady Avenue. The design evolved and became one of their most popular products. As with other Tryon toys, they did not copyright nor claim exclusive rights to the motif.

1932 Tryon Horse wooden toy

Photo from Tryon Horse Show of original tryon horse

In 1928 two boys working for Tryon Toy Makers built a gigantic version of the little toy horse for the April 3 parade, held in conjunction with the spring Tryon Horse Show, to advertise and celebrate Tryon Toy Makers. They were Odell Peeler and Meredith Lankford. Their creation was so big that overhead wires along Trade Street had to be lifted out of the way, in order for the Tryon Horse to proceed in the procession. Built under Eleanor Vance's direction with materials bought by the Toy Makers, according to Lankford's later testimony the boys privately called the big horse "Eleanor." The toy makers also made miniature wheeled horse souvenirs to sell at the horse show. The giant horse was disassembled after the parade, stored in the basement at Hillcote, and brought out in subsequent years for the horse show parade. Eventually the Tryon Toy Makers donated it to the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club, sponsors of the parade.

Its annual appearance was eagerly anticipated and it became, more or less, a symbol of Tryon. Miniature versions of the big parade horse continued to be made and sold annually as souvenirs of the spring Horse show, such as the one dated 1932 now owned by Wallace D. Dupre, Junior. The original parade horse was destroyed by fire, probably in the inferno that destroyed the Toy Makers workshop in a leased building near the Depot in 1939. Since then four smaller versions, for parade and public display, have been constructed to replace the original. They — the present version was made of fiberglass in 1983 — have been displayed outdoors for decades, at the town center where Pacolet Street intersects Trade Street. An official state historical marker was erected recently there articulating the origins of the Tryon Horse, and the Town of Tryon depicts the motif on its official seal.

For many years several local retail shops such as The Fox Horn, Valhalla Hand Weavers, Blue Ridge Weavers and Tryon House Apparel, have sold a variety of products deploying the Tryon horse. Because the motif is in the public domain many variations of the white horse, usually with black mane, tail, and spots (the latter sometimes grey), on a platform with (typically) red wheels, have been made by various crafters. Most are unmarked and aren't valuable, but Pre-World War II small examples bearing the original Tryon Toy Makers shield (seen on the masthead of this Web site, with the stylized pine tree and galax leaves) are prized by collectors.

Tom Moore with Tryon Horse

How the big parade horse came to be called "Morris"

Tom Moore, Mary’s husband, placing wreath on Tryon HorseDuring the 1970s a group of neighbors on Wilderness Road began making a "horse collar" wreath annually to put on the parade horse in the center of town, as part of their Christmas-season socializing. In the wee hours of Christmas morning, the "Wilderness Road Gang" would go out to stealthily place their wreath around the horse's neck. This activity is documented in a humorous poem written by Harry Evans in 1975, wherin the big horse is still termed The Tryon Horse.

In the early 1980s it occurred to the Gang to name the Horse, and it is remembered that Mary Flynn Moore came up spontaneously with a name "Morris." This new moniker had no particular significance or antecedent. Rather, like many creative inspirations, "Morris the Horse" simply sounded fun and appropriate, and the name stuck. On June 5, 1982 group member Jim Flack typed out a cute verse he created to "dub" the Tryon Horse as MORRIS, and members of the Gang signed and kept the document, for their scrapbook of photographs and memorabilia.

Photo of signed Tryon Horse poem