History and Heritage: When everyone had a horse
By MIKE FARRELLY
For Montclair Local
Montclair History Center, and has been the official township historian, a volunteer position, since 2004.
Pedestrians vs. the automobile are a long-standing issue in Montclair. Dr. James Spencer Brown of Montclair was the first person in Montclair to own an automobile. Other doctors in town quickly followed suit. An article in the News York Herald of Sept. 11, 1904 proclaimed that all the doctors in Montclair owned automobiles and were using them to make their daily rounds. The same article went on to warn that this might be the cause of accidents and mishaps. The article noted that Brown in particular would be the cause of a serious accident or would run someone down because he recklessly drove through town at “breakneck” speed. In the next few years more and more Montclairites went out and purchased automobiles of their own.
But there was a long time before the advent of the motorcar, and even for several years afterward, when horses were the preferred mode of transportation.
Almost everyone had a horse, especially in Montclair. In the warm months, almost everyone had a carriage to ride around in, and, according to Montclair historian, Samuel G. Watkins, just about everyone had a “cutter,” or sleigh, to use in the winter. There were stables and blacksmith shops throughout town. Most of them are gone now, but the Michael Garone picture framing store at 111 Walnut St. began life in 1894 as James Robinson’s blacksmith shop. Several buildings that were once liveries, where people could get buggy rides to and from the train stations or store their furniture while they were building homes in Montclair, still exist. When they were ready, the furniture would be brought to them by horse drawn wagons.
Commuters could ride their buggies to a livery, board their horses and take the train into the city. After work they could pick their buggies up again and ride home. Mullen’s Livery is now the Greek Taverna on Bloomfield Avenue. Clayton’s Livery was on the other side of the Lackawanna train station. You can see the name “Clayton” on the pediment of the building that still stands on Lackawanna Plaza (aka Israel Crane Way). The building at 574 Valley Road that is now home to Talbot’s clothing store was once known as the Commonwealth Stables.
The building where Moving Insurance LLC is now at 209 Cooper Ave. was once Hart’s Livery. Many of the carriage houses that were part of our elegant turn-of-the-century estates still stand today. Farmers used horse-drawn wagons to pick up feed for their livestock at places like Pilsbury’s Grain Store that was on Bloomfield Avenue where the Crane Building is now (the east corner of Bloomfield and South Fullerton Avenues). Farmers would fill up the wagons after the harvest to bring their product to market. The coal that people used to heat their homes was brought from house to house by horse-drawn wagons. Just as in most towns across the country, horses were the most important way to get around.
A TWO-HORSE GARAGE?
The Montclairites who could afford more than one or two working horses had “trotters” that they would race, or show. These were magnificent animals that were well cared for. Their owners would bring them out on weekends or on summer evenings with light, single-person carriages made for racing. Bloomfield Avenue was macadamized (stones bound together with asphalt), but only in the center. There were clay strips about as wide as a small country road on either side. Samuel Watkins, who was very proud of his own Kentucky mare, wrote about how the show horse owners would parade their steeds up and down Bloomfield Avenue a few times to warm them up. Then the horse owners would drive down to the Lackawanna Station and race back up to Valley Road. According to Watkins, Peter Van Riper, who owned a butter and cheese distributorship in Manhattan, and owned several thoroughbred horses, was usually the winner. Watkin’s own thoroughbred mare came in first a few times. Bill Corby’s white mare who didn’t have the benefit of any special breeding often gave those horses a run for their money. When Bloomfield Avenue was snow-covered and there wasn’t any traffic these gentlemen would hitch their horses up to light sleighs and race across the whole width of the street.
TO BE CONTINUED