Livery stables were still important places in cities and towns a century ago. You could rent a horse and wagon or board your horse when you were in town for a visit. The rise of the automobile, however, accompanied by the effort to clean up eyesores and pollution in the nation’s cities, marked them for extinction. The smell, the noise and the flies and vermin attracted by piles of horse dung in an era acutely sensitive to the spread of infectious diseases made stables undesirable neighbors. City beautification campaigns targeted these often decrepit wooden structures.
Bangor had 16 stables in 1899, the year before the automobile is said to have made its first appearance in town. By 1912, there were still a dozen, according to the Bangor City Directory. One of them was Frank L. Peavey’s “livery, boarding and transient” stable at 39 Columbia St. The legal battle to oust Peavey’s business from the neighborhood by declaring it a public nuisance shows how the times were changing in the Queen City of the East.
Columbia Street was becoming a classy thoroughfare. The location of the Columbia Building, the Adams Building and the Coe Building, “Columbia Street presented a stylish and highly urbane turn-of-the-century appearance, unequaled because of the agreement in type and basic style by any other streetscape in Bangor,” according to Deborah Thompson, in her history of Bangor’s architecture.
The Columbia Street Baptist Church and the First Church of Christ Science were also located there, giving the street’s protectors a moral authority that would be difficult to contest. Some important businesses, such as the Sawyer Moccasin Factory and the T.W. Burr Printing Co., added to the force of Peavey’s enemies.
PEAVEY’S STABLE IN THE SUPREME COURT LIMELIGHT, declared a headline on Feb. 21, 1913, in the Bangor Daily News announcing the beginning of the long awaited two-day court contest. “Mr. Peavey Tried for Maintaining a Nuisance, and an Army of Witnesses Are Summoned,” it continued. The courtroom “swarmed with witnesses and spectators.” The corridors were filled. “There were clergymen, physicians, prominent businessmen by the score,” said the newspaper. Many had to stand and some spectators were turned away.
County attorney Donald Snow opened his case with some history. “There were once five or six stables on Columbia Street, but the gradual progress of events — the development and extension of the city made it necessary to tear them down, and erect handsome and substantial business buildings on their sites,” he said. Columbia Street was “becoming one of the great business thoroughfares of the city.” When the new high school was completed on Harlow Street, hundreds of children would walk along the street on their way to and from their homes.
Amidst all these “substantial buildings, there remains the big wooden stable [later referred to as “an old wooden shack”] conducted by Mr. Peavey — a relic of former times.” Snow intended to show that “this stable is a nuisance. In certain seasons the odor makes it almost impossible for those in the Sawyer and Burr establishments to work in comfort, and when it is very warm they have to close the windows. Worshipers in the churches too are disturbed by these odors.”
Among those testifying for the prosecution were William S. Burbank, treasurer of the printing company; Andrew C. Sawyer, president of the Sawyer Boot & Shoe Co. and the nearby Christian Science Church; Roland J. Sawyer, vice president of the same company, and a host of employees of the two companies and members of the churches.
Offensive stable smells, especially in summer, were the common theme. One defense witness, a Dr. Freeman, said under cross-examination that it would be impossible for the Peavey stable to be run in a sanitary manner because it was “so old and saturated.”
Peavey’s lawyer, Albert Blanchard, questioned the witnesses’ olfactory biases in his defense, which ran most of the next day. Besides producing an array of witnesses who said they could not smell anything offensive in the area, Blanchard asked how the complainants knew they were not smelling the sewer that ran through the area or the cesspools or a nearby chicken pen?
“I may suggest that some people are gifted with noses that smell more than others — that some people are so anxious to smell odors for their own special purposes, that perhaps, after a time, they really think they do smell them.” He also accused Andrew Sawyer of pressuring his employees — “all his agents and servants” — to testify against the stable.
Blanchard argued there was a conspiracy on the part of prominent people to remove Peavey’s business from Columbia Street in order to increase the value of their own property. A “remonstrance” signed by church members and others had referred to the stable being “out of harmony with civic improvement, and of damage to other property.”
One of the signers was Dr. T.U. Coe, a prominent property owner in the area. The Coe Building was located across the street. “Perhaps, Dr. Coe wanted the stable out of the way so he could charge his tenants more rent,” said Blanchard.
After 25 minutes of deliberation, the jury delivered its verdict at 5:55 p.m. Peavey was declared guilty of operating a public nuisance. He agreed to remove the stable from Columbia Street by July 1.
By 1921, there were six boarding and livery stables listed in the Bangor City Directory. By 1930, there were only three. The streets of the Queen City were by then clogged with gasoline-powered vehicles.
Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. An illustrated collection, “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.