Ernest Ketcham, Fred Brewster, Charles Powell, Wellington Powell, Arthur Sammis,
John Powell, and Matthew Finigan posed in front of the Powell Livery, just before
motorized vans started to replace the horse-drawn vechicles.
the close of the 19th century 24,000,000 horses and mules worked Americas
farms. This figure had dropped to 18,000,000 by 1957, yet some authorities
contend that there are more horses (draft and otherwise) in America today
than ever before. Horse breeds are superior too.
One need only go to a state fair to see Percherons and Morgans and Belgians leaning into the traces and moving loads no team could have budged a century ago. Selective breeding has paid off-- too late for Long Islanders with businesses that used to require working stock, but soon enough for lumbermen in the north country and herders in the west, among others. In 1885 when horses were an important factor in Americas expansion as an industrial nation, most towns of one hundred or more population had at least two liveries. Amityville was typical. Charles and Wellington Powell, uncle and nephew, operated liveries in two parts of the town. They hitched or saddled horses behind old Amity Inn on lower Broadway and in the rear of the Powell residence at 215 Broadway.
The need in those days was for strong animals, vigorous enough to stand up day after day to muddy lanes in spring and snow-drifted roads in winter. Charles Powell traveled as far north as Canada to buy the mares and geldings used in the trade. He seldom came home with the bulkier breeds, Percherons, Belgians, Shires, and Clydesdales. He preferred medium-sized horses, nearer to the Morgan cut. True, heavier breeds could pull more, but they were less enduring. Thirty miles a day was the distance expected of a livery horse; the big breeds would tire from carrying their own weight and therefore could not measure up to that standard.
Before 1910 most Long Island roads were dirt or plank roads. All things considered, dirt roads are best for horses. A horse is likely to break down on too hard a surface. The going on dirt roads is tougher, though. So there is much to be said on both sides.
What was the average lively stable like? The authors of this article never saw one in use, although one member of the team is nearing sixty. Photographs and the memory of Mr. Charles Powell, the son of Wellington, provide a good picture. The original building at 245 Broadway was larger, we imagine, than most structures of this kind - a sprawling, one story, fifty by seventy-five foot carriage house with a higher haymow over the stable portion in the rear.The livery which replaced this structure in 1905 was the same size, but had a thirty by sixty foot stable as well. One can see in the above Photograph that the new building rose two stories under a gable roof which contained almost enough space for a third story. Centrally located on the ground floor were the sliding stable doors, and above them an open, railed balcony which could accommodate two new buggies, much as an automobile agency might display its wares behind glass windows today. Under the eaves of this building was a rectangular sign, reading W. Powells."
Wellington who operated the business alone after his uncle retired about 1890, had come to Amityville from Farmingdale. He had been born at what was known as the Wait Powell farm. The house, originally built by Wait in the 1740s, stood on the north side of Bethpage Road (between Round Swamp Road and Main Street) and was razed when the lands became part of Bethpage State Park.
Before entering the livery business Wellington Powell had been postmaster in Farmingdale. Grover Cleveland was president then and made the appointment. Wellington later operated a livery at Laurelton (Laurel Hollow) which was part of Cold Spring Harbor. He also spent some winters in Jacksonville, Florida, operating a stage which carried guests from the railroad station to the resort hotels.
As part of the delivery business which he conducted alone from 1890 on, he and his employees hauled freight, baggage, express, and any other loads which fell to hand. One of his main services was the moving of household goods, town to town, or to the freight station when the distance was beyond the range of a team of horses.
Along with these activities he was also an agent for carriage and wagon companies. Crated, knocked - down carriages would arrive by freight. Wheels and shafts would have been removed and packed separately. Assembling these carriages provided winter work for the drivers, and delivery men, on slow days. Usually farm wagons came from the Milburn Company which was located in Toledo, Ohio; carriages from Martin Carriage Company in York, Pennsylvania, or from the Moyer Company in Syracuse, New York. Equipping these carriages provided another phase of the business. Whips made in Westfield, Massachusetts, and harness of all kinds weresold, including bells for the cutters which outsold carriages when snow was on the ground.
Some carriages and wagons were fabricated locally in the shop of Franklin S. Purdy. He was a wheelwright of exceptional skill and built the stages used by Wellington and his sons (John, Wellington Jr., Charles, and Herbert) to carry passengers from the railroad station to The New Point Inn at Amityville which had 100 rooms, all with a view of the bay. In fact Franklin Purdys craftsmanship was so highly regarded that orders for his carriages came from as far away as Connecticut.
Charles Powell recalls accompanying his father to Port Jefferson with freight for shipment by ferry to Bridgeport, Connecticut. It took all day to make the trip by circuitous routes. Then, finding the horses still remarkably fresh after traveling almost forty miles, his father said, "You know, I believe the team could make it back home without a layover." Sure enough it did, covering a total of eighty miles and reaching Amitville in the early hours of the morning.
The Powell Livery not only conveyed passengers to and from the New Point Inn, but also took care of the Inns stables where the patrons own horses and carriages were kept. From fifty to one hundred horses would be cared for there in summer, day and night, with feed for the animals delivered by the carload. In its prime the Powell business required most of the time of the local blacksmith -- George Oakley at first, followed by Charles Ashdown.
One interesting sidelight on the stage business is that the proprietor of the inn provided his patrons with red tickets, good for a return ride to the railroad station. These tickets were later exchanged by the Powells at the inn, two tickets for twenty-five cents. In 1914 Wellington Powell, always an innovative, progressive man, built a small garage beside his livery and began to introduce automobiles into his transport business. Two years later he acquired some motor vans for moving household goods, and in 1920 auctioned off all his working stock and completely motorized his business.
Wellington retired in 1921, leaving his four sons to further expand the business he and they had developed together over the years. A new name, "W. Powell and Sons" went up on the building at 245 Broadway, and the firm was incorporated. In 1939 it became the local agent for the Aero-Mayfiower Transit Company of Indianapolis and moved Long Island families to every state in the Union.
Today the business, purchased in 1969 by Mr. William P. Thorn, a descendant of the Massapequa Floyd-Jones family, is carried on under the name of W. Powell and Sons, Inc.
An interesting point is that the original livery stable erected in 1905 is still in use. The enormous beams so skillfully crafted into place by long-ago carpenters can with ease take the loads imposed on them by the motor vans of today. Also, as one drives by, there are those small windows along the side of the building which once provided sunlight and air to the stalls. The stalls are gone and the horses are gone, yet, ironically enough, men who drive the trucks still measure the performance of their engines in what is termed horse-power.
First appearing in the LI Forum 1973 No Copyright Information Data Found