It has always been a truism throughout history that if you have money, life can be good. This doesn’t end with humans, either. Living with people with money has also proved to be the good life for a treasured animal, as well. By 1900, horses were no longer necessary for everyday transportation. Most people, even the wealthy, were familiar with public transportation: the trolleys, elevated trains, commuter lines like the LIRR, and the beginnings of the underground subway system. The automobile had been invented, and was just beginning to grab the public attention.
But for the wealthy, with their mansions in the wealthy enclaves of the Heights, the Hill, the Slope and the St. Marks District, carriage houses and stables for their horses and carriages were still de rigeur, and what stables they were! The Brooklyn Eagle ran a series of articles about men about town and their stables. They highlighted two, one in Clinton Hill, and the other in Park Slope. The articles are an interesting commentary on their times, and how being a rich man’s prized horse, or his groom, was not a bad Brooklyn life, at all.
The first article begins with this statement: “Many of the Brooklyn horse lovers have stables which in point of convenience, and often in cost, are rivals to the homes they live in themselves. Some of these stables could be mistaken for handsome private dwellings were it not for the big double door in the front and the corrugated sidewalks leading from the street.”
Many of Brooklyn’s wealthy men kept show horses in the city, thoroughbreds that could be hitched to fancy rigs and promenaded down roads such as Eastern Parkway or Ocean Avenue, or in Prospect Park. Many also had coach horses for more everyday use, where a private carriage was the Town Car of yesterday. Mr. E.T. Bedford of 181 Clinton Avenue, in Clinton Hill was such a man, and the subject of the first article. Both his home on Clinton, and the stable, which faced Waverley Avenue, are now gone, replaced by the Clinton Avenue Co-ops, built in the 1940’s.They were designed by the great Montrose W. Morris, and were, of course the best money could buy. E.T., one of Charles Pratt’s oil partners, had plenty of money. The stable front was 50’ wide, and the building, which had a mansard roof, was three stories. The accompanying photograph shows the ground floor area, which housed his six coach horses’ standing stalls, the box stalls of the four Bedford show horses, and the wagon house.
The article goes on to say, “The floor is concrete-artificial stone- cut in squares, to prevent the horses from slipping on the smooth surface. In the center is a large air shaft which keeps the atmosphere of the stable pure and wholesome from early morning to late at night…The floor is sloped to the center, where there is a grate, and everything is swept into the sewer…The portion of the stable to the left is devoted to the carriages, and is somewhat crowded, as large as it is, as Mr. Bedford has a profusion of all sorts of vehicles…Upstairs on the first floor is the regular harness room, and here all polishing and repairing is done. Here and on the third floor, which is a mansard roof, are the rooms of the coachmen, footmen, stable superintendent and stablemen. The rooms are sumptuously furnished and many a man on a good salary would think himself fortunate to possess such a home. The entrance to the living apartments is entirely separate from the stable, and after passing halfway up the stairs there is no more odor of the stable than there would be in any other private dwelling.”
Over in Park Slope, another wealthy man did well by his horses, too. J. Robinson Beard, according to the Eagle, had one of the best private stables in Brooklyn. It was located on Union Street, between 6th and 7th Avenue, in a two story building of “yellow brick”, with double doors. Mr. Beard’s stable used to belong to Lt. Governor Timothy L. Woodruff, who housed his championship horses there, before his entry into politics. Beard himself housed his champion show horses there, a pair named Pride and Prejudice, which won first prize at Madison Square Garden and at the Brooklyn Horse show in 1899. Also living at the stable were two other prize horses named Privateer and Premiere.
The writer of the Eagle article heaped much fulsome praise on the stable building. “The stable in which so many famous horses have lived is worthy of much praise…The quarters for the horses take up the rear half of the ground floor and consist of box and standing stalls. The front portion of the building is used as a carriage house and for harness closets, etc. It is separated from the stable by a big glass sliding door. In the center of the stable portion of the building is a square air and light shaft, about ten feet square, which extends up through the second story to the roof and which keeps the air of the entire stable pure and wholesome.
On the ground floor of the stable only the vehicles actually in use are kept. In one corner of this carriage house is an elevator large enough to accommodate a four-in-hand coach. This leads to the basement where about a dozen of Mr. Beard’s vehicles are kept. Two large harness closets, with sliding glass doors, are a useful and ornamental feature of the carriage house…In one corner of the room is a telephone so that Mr. Beard can communicate with his stable at anywhere and anytime. The carriage house floor is wood and is covered with a heavy hemp carpet…The second floor, which is entirely separate from the stable, and is entered by a separate door from the street, contains the sleeping apartments of the coachman, footmen, grooms, etc., and is just as convenient and free from stable odors as though it were another building. Taken all together, it is a model stable and if one were asked to mention a possible improvement, it would be difficult to do so.”
Little did the author, or the men interviewed and featured, know that the age of the horse was fast coming to an end, and in ten years, cars would replace fast horses as the promenade vehicle of choice. I wonder how long the handsome stables remained, especially the one on Union, with its glass partitions and elevator to the basement. How long, as well, until the coachmen became chauffeurs, and the groomsmen, auto mechanics?
Update, sort of: Here in Troy, on Second Street, where some of Troy’s weathiest citizens once lived, sits a historic house now belonging to Jack Casey, a well-known local lawyer, author and musician. When he bought the house, he also bought the carriage house that went with it. It turned out to be an untouched period treasure trove. Like the stables and carriage houses in Brooklyn, the horses here lived better than most people. Jack is in the process of restoring the stable with the help of a craftsman from where else, but Brooklyn, of course. I’ll be reporting on that project in detail in a separate article, but here are some great photographs, taken by Tonya Massey of TRM Photos, and reprinted with permission. These illustrate the kind of luxury given to a few lucky horses in the Victorian Age, in both Brooklyn and Troy. (Photograph above: Jack Casey’s stable in Troy, by Tonya Massey of TRM Photos)