Jim McKee: Livery stables give way to garages

July 29, 2018

Many business enterprises come and go over time. Some adapt while others simply disappear. In Lincoln, like all developing villages, one of the first signs of success was the birth of livery stables.

Some were established for travelers and so were in conjunction with a hotel though some people thought hiring someone else to feed, water and quarter a horse was a mere frill. No matter how they first appeared, they grew into a business where city dwellers could buy a horse, carriage, spring wagon or buggy and businessmen could quarter their horses while they attended to their clients.

Wealthy clients could hire a horse or carriage and driver for as much as $5 a day and, like a barbershop, the livery stable was a central clearing house for comings and goings as well as news and gossip.

When Lincoln’s first city directory was published in 1874 the city’s population was estimated at 7,000 with businesses fairly contained between First, 11th, O and P streets. There were 14 hotels and seven livery stables with Brooks House at about Seventh and O advertising itself as the closest hotel to the depot with a “good stable on the premises.”

By 1873 the three Bohanan brothers, Gilbert, Walter and Franklin, had arrived from Peoria, Illinois, and established a livery barn, 36 by 130 feet, of brick and stone with a “fine lot of vehicles and horses.” Their Black Horse Livery Stable was at 221 S. 10th St. and in 1875-76 they added the Peoria Livery at 323 N. Ninth St. to which they subsequently added the Peoria House Hotel at Ninth and O streets.

The Peoria livery barn started as a 16 by 18-foot building on an alley to which they first added a 20 by 30-foot structure followed by a 70 by 100-foot addition, ultimately becoming a two-story 55 by 100-foot building.

At it height it boarded 70 horses out of which they operated two hacks and a baggage wagon. By 1882 they owned five “busses,” carriages, a hearse, bandwagon, four herdicks, an omnibus and six hacks. With eight full-time employees they advertised themselves as “the largest livery stable in the state of Nebraska [with] the largest assortment of handsome vehicles and fine horses of any institution ... in the city.” About 1900 Edwin I. Bohanan assumed the Palace and “Windsor Livery Sale and Boarding Stable.”

In August of 1889 A. G. Billmeyer opened the Palace Livery Stable at 1127-1131 M St. as a two-story, 50 by 142-foot building designed by prominent Lincoln architect J. H. W. Hawkins and which cost a princely $20,000. A few years later then-owner C. E. Montgomery added a 25 by 89-foot addition and, with a 10-man staff, boarded 100 horses and sold buggies and carriages.

In 1918, as cars, trucks and trolley cars replaced horses, the Palace Livery became the Motor Inn Garage while the Windsor Stables became home to three separate garages at the same time: Martin Linder’s, Patrick Crogan’s and Rufus McBride’s.

Of nine livery stables in 1880, Bohanan Brothers at 221 S. 10th and G. Ensign’s at 222 S. 11th were perhaps the most popular in the city with Ensign’s also the home of the Lincoln Fire Department’s Silsby fire engine, horses and volunteer fire brigade.

From seven liveries in 1874 and nine in 1880, the number grew to 18 in 1886 and 21 in 1890, but that year the Bohanan barn at 221 S. 10th caught fire with about 50 tons of stored hay, adding to the conflagration in which two firefighters died. The height of livery stables was about 23 in 1895, then began falling slowly with 10 in 1910, four in 1920 and none in 1930.

Although one stable on an alley near 9th and M streets was razed a decade ago, two identifiable stables still stand in downtown Lincoln. The Bohanan/Windsor two-story stable at 1024 L St. is now the Green Gateau Reception Center east across their parking lot from their restaurant. The Palace Stable at 1131 M St. was, for a time, a parking garage but now has been remodeled beautifully as an office building, though its façade still pays obvious homage to the two arched stable entrance doors.

The livery stable business model has evolved but parking garages now dot the downtown landscape as today’s answer as to of where to quarter our vehicles while working, staying in a hotel or visiting downtown Lincoln.

Lincoln buildings that have made history

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