Sandusky, before there were cars

Ron Davidson
Aug 19, 2013

 

As with just about every city in the United States, Sandusky has been built around modes of transportation. We will discuss Sandusky as a multifaceted transportation hub in the future, but for now let’s talk about a more basic form of transportation for people in early Sandusky. Sometimes we forget about things that were common in the past – the automobile has been around for only a little more than a hundred years, and trolleys began only a short time earlier, so, before then, if you wanted to get around town, you had to rely on the power of your own two legs or the four legs of a horse.

Yes, it might be difficult to imagine in our time of the ever-present automobile, but just a little more than a century ago, Sandusky’s streets and back lots were filled with horses. So of course, some of the city’s most common businesses were livery stables, blacksmiths, horse shoers, and carriage makers.

If you went into downtown Sandusky 125 years ago, in 1888, you would see many posts, every few feet, along the curbs of the streets; some of these posts might have iron rings attached to them. They were the “parking places” for your horse, better known as hitching posts. If you went around to the back alley of a block (nearly every block had a back alley then), you were likely to find a livery stable, where horses and carriages were kept (for a fee, of course), while their owners were working , shopping, or visiting the area. Of course, if you lived nearby, you might store your horses and carriage at one of these stables, especially if you could not afford to own a carriage house or stable of your own. Jay Bogert and Warren Smith had their livery businesses right in the heart of downtown, along Jackson Street and Columbus Avenue, but there were several others in other parts of town as well.

And of course, you would need to occasionally patronize “service stations” to repair and maintain your vehicle (carriage) and its engine (horse), there were several blacksmith shops and carriage makers in town. Some of these were probably family businesses handed down from father to son. In 1888, Sandusky had at least 11 blacksmiths and six horse shoeing businesses within the city limits. If you wanted a new carriage, you could choose from five carriage manufacturers. Even the Post Office used a local carriage maker for its mail wagons.

It may surprise you, but some of these businesses lasted well into the 20th century. There were even more blacksmiths in town (12) in 1915 than there were in 1888, and there were still four Sandusky blacksmiths in business as late as 1935. Others converted their businesses to logical alternatives – carriage makers George Bing and J.A. Loeffler both began making “horseless carriages” (i.e., automobiles) when the carriage business faded. And you can be sure that the remaining blacksmiths were making fewer horseshoes and more machine parts and other items for the modern economy.