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At the Livery Barn

The livery barn was the place to be in 1899.

| March 2014

  • The livery barn in a restored gold rush town in Columbia (Calif.) State Park.
    Photo by Carol M. Highsmith
  • The Onteora livery barn in Tannersville, N.Y., in 1899.
    Photo courtesy Sam Moore
  • The gang down at the old livery barn.
    Photo courtesy Sam Moore
  • A sale bill from a livery barn going out of business in 1918 that shows how a small town facility might have been equipped.
    Illustration courtesy Sam Moore

Roscoe Pedlar, a patent medicine drummer, arrived in town on the 5:17 p.m. from Pittsburgh. With his valise (containing clean socks, a clean shirt and a couple of fresh celluloid collars, along with a comforting bottle of white lightning) in one hand and his sample case (bulging with alcohol-laced tonics and morphine-fortified pills for every ailment known to man and woman) in the other, he walked up the street to the new Reeves Hotel where he got a $2 room. (Roscoe was on an expense account.)

After a 75-cent supper in the hotel dining room, he visited Clem Wilson’s livery barn three doors down, where, for $5, he hired a horse and buggy for early the next morning to carry him on a sales expedition to all the small villages and hamlets in the area.

Jedediah Smith had arrived in town in early afternoon with a wagon load of corn from his farm 15 miles out in the country. After a delay getting unloaded at Herm Wilson’s feed mill, Jed decided it was too late to head home so he found a 25-cent bed at the Walker House, an old hotel that had long ago passed its glory days. He had a 25-cent meal at Vinnie’s Tavern, but his team required better care so he took it to Clem and arranged for oats, hay, water and a stall for the night, which cost him $1.

Young Bobby Arden had been courting pretty Miss Meribah Flowers for a while and had finally convinced her to go riding with him Saturday afternoon. His dad’s plug horses and old farm wagon wouldn’t do, so Bobby took the money he’d been saving and went to Clem’s, where he hired a $3 team of “high steppin’ strutters” and a “shiny surrey with a fringe on top,” which set him back another $3 – a lot of money, but Miss Meribah was worth it.

Boston Billy, the tramp who had jumped off the 7:47 a.m. freight train and asked Clem for work, was washing Clem’s new phaeton before he began mucking out the stalls and dumping the results on the odiferous manure pile in the alley.

Livery barn loafers

On this warm evening, Bert Adams, Wash Reed and the rest of the half-dozen or so loafers that were always at Clem’s were sitting tilted back on wooden chairs along the front of the barn, lying and joking and arguing among themselves, while idly whittling or watching and commenting on the village people who walked by. Miss Primly, the organist down at the First Reformed Presbyterian, swept by with her nose in the air, holding up her skirts to keep them from being contaminated by the tobacco juice on the boardwalk or the looks and laughter of the men. In cold weather, this same crew would be huddled around the potbellied stove in Clem’s tiny office, so many of them sometimes that Clem could hardly get to his desk to scratch an entry in his smudged and ink-stained old ledger.


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