Horse Feathers: Coming Full Circle

Wagon and carriage manufacturers failed to take the automobile seriously, at least in the beginning. More than one of them dismissed it as a passing fad like the 1860s “bone shaker” velocipede, or the 1880s high-wheel bicycle.

Thomas A. Kinney, The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America

The Model T made its debut in 1908 with a purchase price of $825.00. Over ten thousand were sold in its first year, establishing a new record.

Henry Ford Changes the World

One-hundred years ago, automobiles began to crowd horse-drawn carriages off the streets of downtown San Antonio. Downtown retail flourished as people living on surrounding farms and ranches could actually make a round-trip to buy necessities and luxuries in less than a day. Car dealers replaced carriage sellers; parking lots replaced livery stables.

By the middle of the century, the automobile began to transport people farther and farther out from the center of the city.  Toward the end of the 20th century, the abundant car dealerships around the fringes of downtown had followed the customers outward in the sprawling city.

But lately, the horse seems to be having the last whinny downtown. The repurposing of Automotive Accents on Avenue B always makes me smile when I pedal by in the mornings.

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I enjoy the tortoise and hare concept of the slow-plodding horse taking over the automotive barn. The man managing the horses and carriages under the Mr. Goodwrench sign even wears a Star Motors shirt indicating his former occupation.

It’s not that I’m particularly fond of horses and carriages. Don’t recall riding  in one since I was a child in Colonial Williamsburg. But for me, their clip-clopping along Madison and King William Streets represents people slowing down to enjoy the city itself, people walking and riding bikes to appreciate San Antonio’s urban amenities instead of racing past them.

The horses better enjoy their hay while they can, though. Another cycle could be on the horizon. Some politicians in New York City are threatening to replace the horse carriages circling Central Park with hybrid replicas of vintage Model Ts.

The fight continues, but The Gothamist reported that the head of the Horse and Carriage Association summed up the feelings of many:

No one wants to replace clip-clop, clip-clop with chitty chitty bang bang.

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