The first decades of the 20th century were years of intense technological change. One of the greatest changes was the transition from physical horsepower to mechanical horsepower. Horses and mules were integral to transportation, agriculture and mining. In the Tri-State District, they provided the muscle for personal vehicles, transporting lead and zinc ore to railroad depots and hauling produce into town.
A vital component for maintaining that power was the livery stable. Livery stables provided a necessary service for many clients. Old Western movies, which are the source for most contemporary ideas about livery stables, touch on only a part of the services the stables rendered. Livery stables rented horses or mules for individuals and draft animals for buggies or wagons, and offered temporary food and shelter for travelers’ horses, tack and harness sales and blacksmith services. In addition, liveries often sold hay, feed grain, coal and wood. Because they had space to board animals, they were often connected to boarding houses and hotels or located near train or streetcar stations.
F.M. Gorden, who moved to the area in 1870, established the first livery stable prior to Joplin’s incorporation in 1873. His stable was located near the east end of what is now the Langston Hughes-Broadway viaduct. The stable housed horses for the first horse-drawn buses connecting Murphysburg and East Joplin. He also ran a hack line to connect the new mine field with Baxter Springs, Kansas. That stable was destroyed by fire in 1880.
Once the mine field proved to be more than a flash in the pan, the town sprang up on either side of Joplin Creek. The west side of town around Main Street became the leading business district with the Kansas City Southern depot on Fourth Street at the base of the east-facing hill. The downtown district was dotted with livery stables serving mine operators, salesmen, local businessmen and visitors. In the early years, liveries could be found in the 300 block of Main Street, in the 400 and 500 blocks of Joplin Avenue, in the 200 block of Wall Avenue and at Fourth and Virginia just across the street from the Keystone Hotel.
Because of their small stomachs, horses need to feed and drink five times a day. Feed ranged from 16 to 47 pounds a day depending on the animal’s workload. Often that meant the animal needed to be fed and watered by their drivers while on the street. Joplin had at least eight feed and grain wholesalers and retailers, according to a 1923 city directory. From 1900 to 1915, there were 10 to 15 livery stables in town.
Turning against liveries
When the city code was revised in 1917, existing livery stables were grandfathered in, but no new stables of any kind could be built in the city without the express permission of the city commission. The tide was turning against liveries. Even as horsepower was moving to Europe for the war, motorization of agriculture and transport was changing the area quickly. Streetcars had already made inroads with easy travel through the district. Stables began converting into garages for the new automobiles. Photos from the war years show an increasing number of cars and fewer and fewer horse-drawn buggies on Main Street.
A group of four stables was centered on South Main Street. While the stables downtown closed in the mid-1910s to make way for other business stores, the south Joplin stables experienced a resurgence when World War I began. The Windle brothers had purchased the old Alderson’s stable at 1911 Main St. just before the war’s start. Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Belgium and other Allied nations needed horses and mules for their armies. The U.S. was a ready market.
Overall, the U.S. provided more than 240,000 horses and mules to the Allied forces. Windle’s was a site where French inspectors classified the animals for light or heavy draft or cavalry use in 1915. Between the Windle Bros. and Cox Perkins & Owen, Tri-State District dealers provided a large portion of one 20,000-head consignment for the French army.
Once the war was over, the downward trend of horse sales continued. About that time, one man said his stable was down to one horse and two loafers.
As autos increased, objections to stables began to increase. The odor, pests and manure were no longer acceptable to next-door commercial neighbors or their clients. The last four stables on South Main received bad news on April 11, 1923, when police Chief V.P. Hine and fire Chief Harry Wondell ordered them to vacate their premises, as they were considered a public nuisance. A delegation of 15 property owners on South Main had presented complaints to the city commission about the stables.
By 1925, the city ordered angle parking for autos to handle the volume of cars on Main Street. Horse-drawn vehicles could be seen but were very few.
The last building used as a livery, the Marlatt Transfer Co. at 522 Virginia Ave., was razed in December 1929. J.S. Marlatt housed horses for his transfer business until it was motorized. The Globe reported: “It is not without some feeling of sentiment that Joplin destroys its landmarks, but on the other hand, it cannot suppress a feeling of pride in freeing itself from the shackles of those former days, in spite of their glamour, in shaking off the last vestige of the horse age — the city’s last public livery stable.”
Bill Caldwell is the retired librarian at The Joplin Globe. If you have a question you’d like him to research, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 417-627-7261.