Third Avenue West from 17th Street
In 1908, Rock Island was home to the annual statewide conclave of the Knights Templar, a Masonic organization that claims roots in the Crusades. The Knights began arriving on Monday, October 12. The following morning at 11, an estimated 1200 to 1500 Knights marched through downtown and nearby residential areas, wearing full regalia. The Argus reported that the white plumes on their hats waved in the breeze and their unsheathed swords glistened in the sun.
The three-mile long parade began at 15th Street and proceeded east down Third Avenue to 18th Street, where it turned south to 7th Avenue. It went a block east to 19th Street, another three blocks south to 10th Avenue, and then east to 20th Street. On 20th Street it went north to 7th Avenue, then east again to 23rd Street, north to 4th Avenue, west to 20th Street, north to Second Avenue and then west all the way to 14th Street. This “Real Photo” postcard captures the start of the parade on Third Avenue just west of 17th Street.
Although visiting ladies were provided their own reviewing stand on 7th Avenue near 21st Street, the official reviewing stand was near the end of the parade on Second Avenue and 15th Street. Second Avenue was decorated for the event with banners and flags hung from light poles and storefronts. Some of the marching groups brought their own military bands, and the Argus noted that “Onward Christian Soldiers” was played frequently during the parade.
The postcard captures an instant in that parade. The buildings in the background are shown very clearly. Except for Memorial Christian Church, the steeple and roof in the distance, all are now gone. The tall building obscuring the church was the Rosenfield Building. The Mansard-roofed house near the center of the photo was Judge Cornelius Lynde’s former home which was used for the Rock Island Club during the parade year.
Closer to the camera are row houses that faced 16th Street and a series of commercial buildings – you can even read some of their signs. C. J. Smith & Co. ran a print shop, taking over the business that Oscar Barnhart had owned in the 1890s. Then there’s a livery stable, the American Electric Company, and the Modern Tea Company, a grocery operated by the Gellerman brothers.
All of these buildings and their businesses could tell us a story, but now is the time to take a closer look at the livery stable, one of the half dozen that were downtown at the time. How many readers know exactly what a livery stable was? It was a combination carriage house and stable where horses and vehicles were kept for hire and where travelers would bring their horses and buggies to be fed and stored for a time. To make a modern analogy, we can say that a 1908 livery stable is like today’s auto parking lot combined with a car rental agency, with a repair garage thrown in on the side. It’s easy to see why several were needed to support a thriving downtown.
Argus reporter Charles Sanders wrote a lengthy story about Rock Island stables in 1952, after interviewing several old timers who remembered the early livery stables. Among those interviewed was 82 year old John Sears of the former Searstown, who at one time owned “several famous horses.” He recalled that on Saturday nights livery barns were a popular gathering spot for men. Informal groups would congregate to play cards and talk about everything from horses to politics. Children were never permitted inside because of the danger of being hurt if the horses became excited.
Livery stables were of necessity large and spacious, and contained as many as fifty horse stalls. Typically there were 25-30 horses for hire. Another interviewee said it was difficult to rent a surrey or buggy on Sundays because all of the “young men about town” had booked them to take their young ladies riding in the country. This would set them back about $1.50 for three hours. Weddings and funerals created a demand for large enclosed carriages called landaus. Rental for a landau was about $4. Saddle horses could also be rented.
Out-of-towners would leave their horses and wagons at the stable while they conducted their business. The horses would be unhitched, fed, and rehitched, all for about 25 cents. The many stable workers, who maintained the carriages and cared for the horses, were paid about $30 a month. They generally slept upstairs in the stable building.
The postcard stable first appears in the 1878 City Directories when it was operated by James and Joseph Copp, with Joseph living upstairs. They had earlier owned a stable on Second Avenue east of 18th Street. By 1885, Winslow P. Tindall owned the stable. Business must have been excellent – and competitive as well. Tindall’s Livery was one of the very few businesses to have a telephone in 1888, making it easy for those young bucks to reserve their Sunday buggy.
Brothers Edward and John Murrin, who operated the livery stable at the time of the postcard photo, purchased it from Tindall in the early 1900s. The Murrins had previously run a stable at 112 18th Street. Under Murrin ownership a veterinary surgeon was headquartered here as well. Such a mutual relationship was not uncommon.
The stepped false front that hides the gabled roof may have been a characteristic feature of livery stables. In this building, carriages were housed at the front while the actual horse stalls were at the rear. The postcard shows a painted building, yet a somewhat earlier photo when it was still owned by Tindall shows unpainted brick, except for the large sign.
In later years, the lower windows were changed, first by widening, then by covering them. but the original wide center doorway always remained. And the broad sign spanning the front was repainted throughout the years to reflect new uses and new owners.
As more people acquired autos, the stable use was discontinued in the teens. The building continued its life for many years as an auto repair and storage garage, an appropriate segue into the newer mode of transportation. In the 1950s, Rock Island Glass Company moved in and remained for three decades.
Stable and livery service downtown continued for a surprisingly long time. Two stables still operated in after World War I. In 1927, the last operating livery stable at 1608 4th Avenue closed. Until being demolished for a parking lot in the early 1990s, the livery stable on this postcard was the last identifiable structure of its kind in Rock Island.
This article, by Diane Oestreich, is slightly modified from the original, which appeared in the Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch on December 30, 2002.