Where Have All the Horses Gone?

The building on 89th Street, New York City, that once housed the Claremont Stables

When we lived in Manhattan we were just two blocks from the Claremont Stables.  In 2007 the stables closed its doors—to horses, that is. Today the yellow brick building with its large rounded entrances houses a private school.

At the time it closed, the Claremont was the oldest continuing operating stable in New York City. It was built in 1892 as a livery stable where wealthy folks could board their horse and store their carriage between outings. Other not-so-wealthy folks could rent a horse and carriage by the hour. In 1928, because of its proximity to the bridle path in Central Park and the fact that the introduction of the automobile had meant the reduction in the need for horses, the Claremont Stables became the Claremont Riding Academy where you could rent a horse for a ride in Central Park for $55 an hour or board your own horse if you happened to own one.

The horses lived on the second floor and in the basement and were led down (or up) to the main floor on cleated ramps. There they were hitched to the carriages, which were kept on the third floor and brought down in an oversized elevator.

I missed the stables partly because it was always such a pleasant surprise to meet with a horse outside on the sidewalk or to spot a horse and rider crossing busy Central Park West on their way to the bridle path.

But the thing I missed most  was the smell.  Passing by the stables connected me in a small way to  the 19th century when the smell of horse was everywhere. But what wafted out from the interior of the Claremont stables in 2007 was a far cry from the olfactory assault experienced at the turn of the 19th century when 130,000 city horses pulled carriages, street cars, omnibuses, and wagons  delivering freight of all kinds.

Talk about environmental pollution! A city horse produced between fifteen and thirty-five pounds of manure per day and about a quart of urine. Well, you do the math. Street cleaning was sporadic and inefficient. Manure piles were scattered throughout the city and gangs were contracted to turn the large piles periodically (like compost). Some farmers hauled manure from city streets to their farms in Long Island. When it rained, a liquid mess ran through the streets, and when it didn’t rain, iron wheels pulverized the manure which then blew into faces and windows.

And no, people  did not become acclimated to it. They complained about it all the time, particularly the smell, which they thought caused disease. It doesn’t, of course, but they had reason to be worried about the manure piles, for although they didn’t know it, it was actually the flies attracted by the manure that were the vectors of disease.

And I won’t even go into the problem of dead horses only to say that in 1880, the city removed 15,000 of them from the streets.

What changed things for the better was the coming of the automobile.

And now, on the horizon, here come cars that drive themselves! Time marches on.

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