Journal-News, Wednesday, July 16, 1997
Livery stable was the hub of the horse era; more than place to store or rent horse and buggy
By Jim Blount
"The livery stable served as the hub of this horse-powered universe," said Thomas J. Schlereth, a historian of the Victorian period. "There drummers rented horses and carriages to haul sample cases into the hinterland. Fancy buggies and sleighs could be booked for picnics, fairs and elopements. The funeral parlor's hearse, the doctor's rig, the town water cart, and hotel hacks were usually stored there," wrote Schlereth in his book, Victorian America, Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915.
He is describing Hamilton at the turn of the century, a city of 23,914 people served by a dozen livery stables, according to Williams' 1900 city directory.
Ten livery businesses were located within an area stretching five blocks east of the river and less than two blocks on each side of High Street. Several were on or adjacent to Market Street, which formerly had been Stable Street, a name descriptive of the establishments which once dominated its course.
Most of Hamilton's 1900 livery stables were more than a place to store your horse and buggy, or rent a horse or vehicle. An example was the Flenner & Griesmer Stable at the northwest corner of Market and Second streets, now the site of the Central YMCA.
Sol Flenner and the Griesmer brothers were proprietors in the business, better known as the Grey Eagle Livery Stable. Immediately around the corner from the stable, at 105 North Second Street (also on the future YMCA site), was a funeral parlor owned by the brothers, Charles E. Griesmer and John I. Griesmer. A horse rented for a wedding one day could be pulling a hearse the next day.
Nearby, at 26 North Second Street, was the City Livery Stable Company, owned by T. C. Todhunter, who resided a few blocks away, and W. H. Todhunter, a Middletown resident.
J. L. Burkart, at 135 North Water Street (now Monument), advertised as a carriage manufacturer; "carriages and buggies, new and second-hand; repairing and painting neatly done; also livery, feed and sale stable."
The J. & J. Everson & Son Livery Stable was at the northeast corner of Market and Front streets (later occupied by Central Motors and now a parking lot). It was operated by J. J. Everson and C. S. Everson.
Livery services also were offered at the Hamilton Hack & Baggage Company, 23 North Front Street, which was managed by Thomas Jellison. Until late 1996, that site was the location of the Rialto Theater.
The only High Street livery site was at 425 High Street, on the south side between Fourth and Fifth streets (now the site of the High Street underpass). In his directory ad, Thomas Millikin Jr., described his business there as "livery, coach, feed and boarding stable."
Three livery operations were located south of High Street.
The Frank Kerbel livery was on the north side of Court Street, west of Water Street (Monument Avenue). Kerbel and his wife, Maggie, also operated the adjacent Farmers' Hotel and Saloon, at the northwest corner of South Front and Court streets.
Livery services were part of the Bigelow Cab Company at 122 South Second Street, under the direction of J. C. Bigelow. N. Bonner & Son, 330 Court Street, was Nicholas Bonner and Nicholas J. Bonner, who advertised as "funeral directors, also livery and boarding stable."
The Arcade Livery Company listed two locations, 329 Court Street and 328 Canal Street (now Maple Avenue), but the addresses were back to back. Its owners, C. W. Flenner and Will R. Beckett, promoted "hacks furnished for funerals and weddings."
Only two livery stables were west of the Great Miami River. Charles Warwick, at 18 South B Street, offered a "livery, feed and sale stable" with "horses boarded at reasonable rates."
Charles C. Schmidtman, at 118-120 Main Street, described his business as a "livery and feed stable" with "special attention paid to drummers." In that era, a drummer was a traveling salesman. The sales agent usually traveled from city to city by railroad and, to complete his local rounds, rented a horse and buggy or wagon from a livery stable."
The dependence on horses at the end of the 19th century didn't mean every Hamiltonian owned a steed. Most city families couldn't afford a horse, or lacked the necessary space.
Only the most affluent families could bear the expense of stocking straw, hay, grain and other essentials, in addition to hiring people to provide daily horse care and drive and maintain carriages. A stable or carriage house behind the residence also was required.
Maintaining and stabling horses at an office or factory also consumed expensive urban real estate, and required a stable hand to feed, groom and cleanup after the animal.
Instead, most prosperous citizens in the 1890s relied on local livery stables to shelter and care for their privately-owned equines, and storage for infrequently used buggies, carriages and sleighs.
Livery stables also served another purpose. Horses weren't interchangeable. The trim breed which pulled two or three people in a carriage yielded to stronger, bulkier equines in front of freight wagons.
When the affluent family required a work horse instead of its sleek carriage horse, it rented the creature from the livery stable. Likewise, when a brewery needed horses for show instead of strength, it went to the livery stable.
Unfortunately, the best glimpse of the livery business in Hamilton is in news reports of fires, always a threat when combustible materials, oil-fueled lamps and smokers are present.
May 10, 1903, a blaze swept through the Shollenbarger Brothers' stable at 330-332 Court Street. Albert Y. Shollenbarger and Harry W. Shollenbarger -- both born and raised on a farm near Collinsville -- had formed the livery partnership June 1, 1899.
The 1903 disaster killed 48 horses, destroyed about 75 carriages and wiped out their equipment and inventories of feed and other merchandise. Although uninsured, they reopened five days later at 122 South Second Street.
July 20, 1911, the Ross & Company Livery Barn burned, possibly the work of an arsonist.
Seventeen horses perished, five wagons, 45 buggies and a hundred sets of harness and blankets were destroyed when flames leveled the stable on the east side of Front Street between Dayton and Buckeye streets.
Only five of the horses lost had been owned by Ollie Ross, a proprietor of the firm. According to a newspaper, among the remaining 12, four were owned by businesses (Singer Sewing Machine Co.; John L. Walker Co.; Creighton & Hooven; and the Hamilton Supply Co.) and seven by individuals (John S. Kriegenhofer, C. Z. Mikesell, Nellie Shroder, Newton Hagan, John Wood, Henry Lego and Mrs. Roy Latimer).
Saved from the fire -- which started in a pile of straw -- were horses owned by Judge Warren Gard, Judge Edgar A. Belden, Dr. George C. Skinner, Miss Cora Frechtling, Mrs. John L. Walker, S. M. Goodman and O. M. Bake, and five belonging to the W. C. Frechtling Grocery Co.
The loss -- including building and contents -- was estimated at $30,000. That total didn't include $3,000 to $3,500 damage to the adjacent Immanuel Lutheran Church and damage to other surrounding structures.
The Ross fire was one of six which struck Hamilton liveries and private stables within a 24-hour period. The other five -- most of which involved only moderate damage -- were at the stables of Ed Bruck, Schmidt Brothers, the Park Exchange and William O. Schlosser, and the stable of an unidentified owner at 128 Wilson Street.
The Ross fire, the Journal observed, "brings to mind the fact that Front Street north from High to the street's terminal has experienced more fires since the city was laid out than any thoroughfare in the city." Most of those blazes had been in livery stables.