Posts Tagged ‘Horses in New York City’

What remains of the horses that powered Gilded Age New York City

July 11, 2022

If you could time-travel back to the 1880s, you’d notice all the horses first. (Second would be all the horse manure, but that’s another story.) At the time, an estimated 170,000 horses pulled the streetcars, delivery wagons, and carriages that allowed New Yorkers to get around the metropolis.

Cedarhurst Stables, 83rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues

But the era of horse-powered transportation was coming to a close. Elevated trains were whisking passengers across Manhattan and Brooklyn; cable cars began replacing some horse-drawn streetcar lines. The subway arrived in 1904, and by the 1910s, the motor car (or “devil wagon,” as haters called it) sidelined horses from Gotham’s streets.

Considering that much of New York’s infrastructure was built when horsepower ruled the roads, surprisingly little of the equine era remains.

The carriage roads of Riverside Drive are still with us, as are horse water fountains in some city parks. Manhole covers with patterns to prevent horse hoofs from skidding exist as well. Stable blocks and mews where the wealthy once parked their broughams have been converted to (pricey) homes for humans.

The former stable at 49 Market Street

Yet sometimes you see an ornamental ghost from the horse-powered past. Look up at 157 West 83rd Street to the red brick car garage—and a handsome horse head on the facade will delight you.

The garage used to be Cedarhurst Boarding Stables. Cedarhurst first appeared in city directories in 1892, according to Walter Grutchfield. Just 16 years later, the four-story stable became Cedarhurst Garage, for automobiles.

Another decorative horse head can graces 49 Market Street on the Lower East Side. The site is a lot less illustrious than the Cedarhurst, but it too was home to a stable in the Gilded Age—in 1894, according to Bowery Boogie.

And like the Cedarhurst, the stable didn’t last long, as the automobile era took hold. By 1915, “the two-story brick structure as we know it today was already in place,” per Bowery Boogie. The horse head—complete with bridle—remains high above this old New York street.

The Lenox Hill carriage houses from a fairytale

December 28, 2020

There’s nothing like walking through Manhattan during Christmastime and coming upon a row of elfin former carriage houses that look like they were made out of gingerbread and belong in a holiday fairytale.

This “stable row,” as it was known in the late 19th century, is on East 69th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues.

The north side of the street is home to several conjoined carriage houses of different architectural styles and sizes—but all with the traditional arched entryway to fit not just horses but the tall carriages they pulled.

It’s not Lenox Hill’s only row of carriage houses. As Upper Fifth Avenue became the city’s new millionaire mile during the Gilded Age, these new rich New Yorkers built not only resplendent mansions for themselves but decorative stables for their equipage and the workers who took care of them.

These wealthy owners wanted their stables nearby—but not so near that they had to smell and hear their horses. Other stable rows are on East 73rd Street and East 66th Street, and they tend to be east of Lexington Avenue (and thus closer to the tenements and elevated trains, not to mention on the other side of Park Avenue, where the New York Central Railroad had its tracks).

Number 147, the first in the row closest to Lexington, was built by a banker named Herbert Bishop in 1880, according to Christopher Gray a 2014 New York Times article, which delves into the backstories of some of the carriage houses on the block. Bishop lived on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street.

A dye company owner, Adolph Kuttroff, built numbers 153-157 a few years later, according to Gray. John Sloane, of the department family Sloanes (owners of the W.J. Sloane rug and furnishings store on Broadway and 19th Street), parked his vehicle and horses at 159.

“In 1896 came the most remarkable stable on the Upper East Side, when the streetcar millionaire Charles T. Yerkes, whose large house was at 69th and Fifth, had the otherwise little-known Frank Drischler design a three-story-high stable with a broad, double-height arch, gabled front at No. 149,” wrote Gray.

Number 161 has the initials “BB” in the keystone, notes the AIA Guide to New York City. Those initials are for William Bruce-Brown, brother of wealthy sportsman David Loney Bruce-Brown. His obituary says Bruce-Brown resided at 13 East 70th Street, but the Upper East Side Historical District Designation Report from 1981 says he lived in the upper floors of the stable.

George G. Heye, collector and founder of the Museum of the American Indian, owned number 167 (described as “plodding eclectic” by the AIA).

Horses and carriages (and their grooms and drivers) didn’t occupy these stables for much longer. By the teens, they started getting converted into garages for automobiles, then remade into living quarters for people—including Mark Rothko, who lived and had his studio in 157 until his death by suicide in 1970.

Lately, these Victorian, Georgian, and Romanesque stables have changed hands for big money. Art dealer Larry Gagosian sold number 147 for $18 million, according to 6sqfeet.

They’re remodeled, restored, and really, really pricey. But from the street you can imagine them as part of a fairy tale village, or the kind of delightful structures you find in a snow globe—very appropriate for the holiday season.

[Fourth photo: MCNY 1976 2013.3.2.716]

The 1904 horse auction house in the East Village

June 30, 2016

Lets say you’re a Vanderbilt, a Belmont, or a Delano, or a member of one of New York’s other super rich families at the turn of the century.


You have your mansion on upper Fifth Avenue, and for fancy dinners, only Delmonico’s will do. But when it come to transportation, polo, and racing, where do you get your horses and carriages?

The Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart was one option.

13thstreethorsesmcny1910Formed as a general auction house in the 1870s, the company began specializing in show horses and fine carriages for the city’s elite, operating several equine auction buildings along East 13th Street.

With the era of the horse still in swing in 1903, Van Tassell and Kearney commissioned a new showroom and auction building at 126-128 East 13th Street.

After knocking down three row houses, the architects were tasked with creating a lovely structure roomy enough to show and stable horses but so elegant that it attracted the city’s wealthiest clientele.

The new building, completed in 1904, was an unusual beauty. “The central arched window is set within a wide coved band that widens and becomes more three-dimensional near the top,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in its 2012 report deeming it a city landmark.


“Crowned by a prominent cartouche and keystone, this feature may have been influenced by the dramatic forms associated with the Art Nouveau style, or perhaps, the padded oval collars worn by horses.”

13thstreethorsesadThe horse auctions were short-lived. The building hosted its last one in 1916, a victim of the automobile age. The Vanderbilts and their brethren were now racing cars, not equines.

In subsequent years it housed a candy factory, a vocational school, and from 1978 to 2005 the studio of painter and sculptor Frank Stella, who cleaned and restored the facade.

Today it’s a dance center, I believe, and one of the last remaining buildings in New York intended for staging horse auctions, a necessity when horses powered the city.

[Second image: MCNY, 1910; fourth image: The Rider and Driver, 1893]

New York’s mounted police go out on patrol

June 21, 2014

I don’t know where this postcard image was taken, but it shows us a squad of mounted police ready to hit the streets and keep the peace.


It’s dated 1905, about when automobiles are beginning to drastically change street traffic and police patrolling. [MCNY photo gallery]

A Village monument to a 19th century blacksmith

June 17, 2013

HallananinitialsLots of vestiges from the years when horses powered New York still remain: stables, horse drinking fountains, and the handsome nine-story loft built in 1897 as a monument to work horses and one Greenwich Village man who shoed them.

The clues are on the facade. Below the fourth floor, fancy insignias bearing the initials “MH” appear.


Who is MH? The letters stood for Michael Hallanan, a Galway-born blacksmith who came to the Village in the 1860s to open a horseshoe shop around the corner on Barrow Street.

HallananbuildingNo ordinary blacksmith, Hallanan invented a rubber horseshoe pad that prevented horses from slipping on ice.

That earned him kudos from the newly formed Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well as big profits, which he used to buy nearby real estate.

Nine Barrow Street was built by Hallanan—it’s hard to see, but the very top says “Hallanan Building” in green letters—and it “covers the plot where he had his original horseshoeing shop 60 years ago,” noted The New York Times in Hallanan’s 1926 obituary.

On the West 4th Street side, there’s an enormous bas relief of the horseshoe he invented, as well as its patent number.

Once a police precinct, now a West Village condo

April 22, 2013

How cool would it be to find out that your apartment was once a holding cell?

Some residents of 135 Charles Street can answer that question. This stately limestone and granite building is the former Ninth Precinct, a circa-1890s station house that since the late 1970s has been a residence near Greenwich Street called Le Gendarme (“the policeman”).


Dedicated in 1897 by police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, the precinct was the real deal, complete with holding pens, cell blocks, and stables for police horses.

Charlesstreetstation1928nyplApparently no notorious criminals were booked there. But over the years, several officers associated with the station were killed in the line of duty—not surprising, as this was a gritty, industrial area near the waterfront that probably saw its fair share of crime.

After the precinct closed in 1969, a developer “added a floor and created 42 apartments out of the police locker and meeting rooms and arraignment areas,” explained a 1978 New York Times article.

“But his imagination was really tested in figuring out how to convert the 32 holding pens into ‘luxury’ living quarters.”



Today the station, with a facade that’s changed very little over the years (see the photo above, from 1928), blends right into the upscale far West Village.

But signs of its police past abound: from the Ninth Precinct lettering carved above the entrance to the figures representing the city of New York seal to the plaque in the hallway marking is dedication in 1897 by police commissioner Roosevelt.

And then there’s the charming “police patrol” window on the building’s wing, a spot that reportedly held troughs for police horses, according to a longtime resident.


[Plaque photo: Ward Kelvin; 1928 photo: NYPL]

Le Gendarme isn’t the only police station repurposed into apartments. The former police headquarters on Centre Street is now a luxury residence.

The “horse walks” hiding in Greenwich Village

January 24, 2012

Anyone who has strolled down a Greenwich Village side street has probably seen a horse walk door—an unadorned, mysterious entrance without a stoop that opens to the sidewalk.

The horse walk door is the brown one to the left at this house at 7 Leroy Street, a Federal-style beauty built in 1831.

Behind this door is the horse walk, a narrow passageway through which a homeowner’s horse was led from the street to a separate carriage house or stable behind the main house.

Of course, it’s been a good century or so since anyone has used a horse walk for their own equine. Those back carriage houses are now sought-after private residences.

Here’s a listing for the carriage house behind 7 Leroy Street—yours for $16,000 a month.

This horse walk door to the right of the main entrance is part of another lovely Federal-style house built in 1819 at 83 Sullivan Street near Spring Street.

You can just imagine a horse being led to and from the door every day to what was probably a very muddy street, so his owner can use him as transportation to get around the growing city.

What horses left behind in the 19th century city

June 8, 2011

Without the estimated 170,000 horses pulling street cars and delivery wagons at any given time in the late 1800s, the city would never have become an economic powerhouse.

But all those equines created a filthy mess. Each horse produced several pounds of manure and more than a quart of urine a day—much of it deposited on city streets and sidewalks.

“Despite the presence of animals, the city had no systematic street-cleaning efforts,” wrote Columbia University professor David Rosner in an article called Portrait of an Unhealthy City: New York in the 1800s.

“During winter, neighborhoods sometimes rose between two and six feet in height because of the accumulation of waste and snow.”

“Dirt carters” would pick up the manure from the streets and haul it to specially designated “manure blocks,” where the waste attracted massive numbers of disease-transmitting flies.

Then there was the problem of working horses dropping dead in the street. “When a horse died, its carcass would be left to rot until it had disintegrated enough for someone to pick up the pieces,” wrote Rosner. “Children would play with dead horses lying in the street.” (As seen above, in an uncredited photo from 1900.)

In 1880, the city picked up 15,000 abandoned horse carcasses off the streets. With that in mind, the noise and pollution from vehicular traffic doesn’t seem so bad.

[photo at right: the last horsecar run in the city, July 1917, on Bleecker Street at Mercer]

Ghosts of 19th century New York horses

February 9, 2010

Reminders of the city’s horse-powered past are all over the place. Sometimes a horse head is mounted on the gate of a mews, a tribute to the creature who made his home there.

This one above is at the entrance to Sniffen Court—the pretty, circa-1860s mews-turned-private homes on 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. 

Or the head of an equine sticks out of the facade of an old stable. That’s where this Charles Street beauty keeps watch. Below the head is a faded sign featuring the name of the stable owner, H. Thalman.

Plenty of stable signage can still be found on old buildings, such as this Greenwich Street garage.

What would happen if a resident of Strivers’ Row in Central Harlem (above) decided to ride, not walk, his horse on the path behind the brownstone houses there?