Horses were everywhere in nineteenth century Elgin. Early in the morning they could be seen hauling milk from neighboring farms to the Borden condenser and the butter factory. They drew the wagons that carried freight from the railroad stations to the stores and shops and made household deliveries. They pulled the buses that transported watch workers to and from the big plant on National Street and powered the street cars that began running in 1878.
Many residents were employed in businesses that served horse owners
and their customers. The 1892 city directory listed livery, sale and boarding
stables; teamsters and expressmen; three trainers; seven harness shops;
eight carriage and wagon makers; five shoers; and one breeder, as well
as several feed suppliers.
One of the biggest harness shops was established in 1872 by Henry Muntz. At the turn of the century, his Elgin Saddlery and Harness Company had developed into a major wholesaler and employed over a score of men in a two-story factory he had built in 1889 on Brook Street.
The Elgin Horse Protective Society was chartered in 1876 for "the Prosecution and punishment of horse thieves." Thefts were reported to the captain of the Society's police patrol. A posse of members gave chase, and if unsuccessful, letters were sent to Police departments in the surrounding cities, and private detectives were hired to trace the stolen horses.
The most widely admired horses were those seen going to fires or rounding the turns at the track. It took about three or four months for afire horse to be thoroughly trained and to know the difference between the daily practice and a real alarm. A fast fire company could slide down the pole from the sleeping rooms to the main floor, hitch up the team, and have the front wheels Outside the door of the barn in less than 22 seconds after the alarm sounded. Then the spirited horses dashed off, the clanging gong clearing the way. In 1892, when the companies operated out of the central station on North Spring Street, near East Chicago, a fire broke out at Laurel and Liberty. The teams and drivers arrived in three and one-half minutes and were at work in less that four minutes.
One of the best known fire horses was Nig, who served for 16 years. He became a favorite of the marshals, pulling their carriages to all the alarms. "He was a natural-born fire horse,~ commented one of the fire fighters when Nig was retired in 1910. "Not all are fire horses. Like the genius, the fire horse is born not developed. The task of picking out a good fire horse is a science, as not one horse out of every hundred, no matter how good or what its appearance, will make a good servant in our department."
The horse cars were replaced by electric street cars in 1890, and on June 10, 1899, the Daily News reported an event that signaled a new era. "A four wheeled motorcycle, run by a gasoline engine" arrived from Evanston en route to Rockford. "The outfit created much comment as it sped along, accompanied by a bevy of cyclists. Horse teams that were met scarcely knew what manner of thing it was, drawn by an invisible horse and they plunged about more or less."
The first locally owned automobile made its appearance on October 18, 1900. By July, 1905, there were 60 motor vehicles registered in Elgin; at the end of 1915, the year the city purchased its first patrol car, there were more than 900. A Packard truck moved into Fire Station No. 1 early in 1916, and the last livery closed in 1918. In less than 20 years, the once familiar horse had ceased to be a local transportation necessity.
Elgin was once a "cow town", although not as uproarious as Abilene and Dodge City, Kansas, where steers driven up from Texas were shipped by rail to Chicago. Our cattle were most1Y dairy cows which supplied milk for the Borden condenser and butter factories in the surrounding areas. Elgin milk was first shipped to Chicago in 1852, four years before the arrival of Texas cattle in that city's packing plants.
Cows were not confined to the rural vicinity. In the 1850s and 1860s, cattle were fed on distillery mash in pens along the West bank of the Fox River above the dam. S. S. Mann's farms were near Burlington and Hampshire, but be kept a herd of holsteins in a huge barn in back of a home on Division Street. Butchers once slaughtered cattle in the open air on the edge of the Woods along the road to St. Charles near Poplar Creek. The carcasses were drawn up and suspended from tree limbs for skinning and dressing.
Dairymen's cattle were herded to and from the Elgin rail stations, and the drovers may have refreshed themselves at the city=s saloons. The stench coming from the holding yards at the west side of North Western on at least one occasion aroused a protest to the City Council.
When the Democrats organized a torchlight parade in the presidential
election of 1864, Martin Needham's wandering cow joined in the procession,
much to the amusement of Republican onlookers.
"Seeing cattle so frequently perambulating the streets unmolested causes us to inquire why the city ordinance respecting such freedom isn't enforced," commented an Elgin newspaper in 1878. "Several cows strayed into the academy yard this morning."
Residents on Chicago Street complained in 1885 about, "wild cowboys who insist upon driving cattle over sidewalks, yards and gardens. Then they drive their horses after and play tag with the frolicsome bovines on the lawns."
When the city fathers impounded strays belonging to Delia Loomis, she bitterly protested, but it wasn't just one or two wanderers. The poundmaster had rounded up 17 of her animals, including a bull, cows, calves, and yearling heifers.
Cattle breeding became a flourishing local business with the introduction of Holsteins from the Netherlands. Samuel N. Wright, James Hoag, and Dr. Joseph Tefft purchased the first registered Holstein bull in Kane County, Van Spekye 3rd, in 1874, Wright became an authority on Holsteins, serving as an inspector Of imported animals and a judge at state fairs. He was the owner of the famed Bracelet 1567. Tefft's first registered cow, Z11aan, was a local wonder. When she was ten years old, they weighed her output daily for 293 days in which she was credited with 12,610 Pounds, four ounces of milk.
By 1882, there were 875 head of black and whites in the %n-Dundee vicinity, and two years later, under the leadership of Tefft and Wright, the Illinois Holstein Breeders Association was formed in Elgin. George E. Brown, who was to develop On, of the nation's largest operations, moved to Elgin 'In 1875 Another prominent local breeder was Dr. W. A. Pratt, whose farm was just north of the city. Pratt's Lady Beechwood 3rd gave 1,542 pounds of milk in 30 days in the winter of 1889-90.
Cows were responsible for major property damage in December, 1868. The bridge at Chicago Street, then the only one in the city, had about eight inches of snow on the surface when more than 90head of cattle crossed the span. They weighed from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds each, and part of the bridge collapsed under the load.
As late as 1902, according to the Daily News, the west side "was startled by a long-horned steer that broke out of its barn at No. 66 South Jackson and galloped around the neighborhood for two hours, bellowing and cutting the air with sweeps of its borns." Just like Texas.
Some Lions and an Elephant
Humans have shared the Elgin space with other animals, In days gone by these included Tom and Prince, the big gentle horses who pulled the fire apparatus out of Station Number 4; the deer who crashed into the window of a downtown shoe store; and the two-headed calf who was stuffed and became a popular attraction in the museum at Lords Park. There were also some lions and an elephant.
In October, 1937, a police patrolman walking his downtown beat along Douglas Avenue was startled by a deafening roar that came from the basement of the Triangle Garage. Shining his flashlight through a window, be discovered three full-grown African lions in heavily barred cages. The lions-Tarzan, Lucky, and Greta-belonged to an animal trainer, Lorraine Wallace, who employed two men to care for them between performances at indoor circuses. Although officials were concerned, the city attorney could find no ordinance prohibiting their residence, and they were allowed to stay through the winter.
King playing in the back yard of 1047 Morton Avenue
Then there was King, who was purchased when just a cub by C.T. Anderson and shared his home at 1047 Morton Avenue. During his sojourn in Elgin, King devoured eleven cans of dog foodand threegallons ofmilk daily. He slept in the basement and exercised in the back yard. King never bit anyone, although he frequently bowled over those who were bold enough to play with him, His claws were an inch long. When neighbors became apprehensive he was donated to Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo in 1952. Marlin Perkins, who was then the zoo's director, renamed hiln Samson and placed him in a cage next to a lioness named Delilah, Anderson, who also owned a boa constrictor, replaced h'a Pet with an ocelot.
Another lion club arrived at the Lords Park zoo in 1964, the gift of the Franzen family of Libertyville who had used him in their magic act. He was then a year old and weighed about 190 pounds. In a city-wide contest for school children he was named Lord Spark. He became the zoo's featured attraction. Because of inadequate facilities and the lack of sufficient safeguards for both the public and Spark, he was donated to Brookfield Zoo it, 1968. There he distinguished himself by siring 19 cubs.
Cora arrived in Elgin one night back in 1942 and soon had dozens of men chasing her. She was a hefty 5,200-pound, 17year-old elephant with the Wallace Brothers Circus. About 11 p.m., when the circus was unloading along McLean Boulevard for the next day's shows, she was frightened by a bellowing cow. Cora broke away in panic and for three hours trampled over two square miles of the west side.
From McLean west to State Street and from south of Grant School to north
of Orange Street, Cora ruined gardens and lawns, broke fences and flattened
bushes and hedges. The frightened pachyderm ran through obstructions rather
than around them. She sprinted through the open door of one garage and
continued right on out the rear wall. An astounded motorist, turning into
his driveway on South Melrose, spotted her on his sidewalk and gave the
alarm. Two police squad cars joined circus employees in pursuit. Finally
tiring of her escapade, Cora was cornered and captured at Hawkins and Harvey
Streets. Word spread quickly, and the next day Cora was the star exhibit
at both the matinee and evening performances of the circus.
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