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I notice that people who live on Third Street (and other streets downtown) have to park on the street. They don’t have garages – or room for them. When the houses were built, did people have horses? Where did they keep them?

Ben Steelman

You’re right. Wilmington’s downtown Historic District is pre-automotive. Most of the churches and houses on South Third Street, between Market and Queen, were built in the 1800s, although the DuBois-Boatwright House at 14 S. Third St., Wilmington [Map this], dates from 1765. (The Bridgers House, at 100 S. Third St., Wilmington [Map this], is a relatively modern upstart, dating from 1905.)

Automobiles weren’t common on North Carolina streets and roads until around the time of World War I. (The Encyclopedia of North Carolina estimates there were just 50 “horseless carriages” in the whole state in 1900, and by 1909 — the first year auto licensing was required under state law — North Carolina had just 1,600 motor vehicles.)

Thus, as the questioner correctly guessed, most short-distance transportation was based on the horse. You can still see old metal horse-watering troughs on the South Third Street median between Orange and Ann streets and between Ann and Nun. (Instead of water, they now contain flowers.) Another horse-watering trough, which used to stand between Dock and Orange streets, is now in the garden of the Latimer House at 126 S. Third St., Wilmington [Map this].

By the mid-1800s, most families of some means owned carriages with teams of horses. (Those who were less well off made do with mules and wagons.)

The questioner is correct that few, if any, Third Street houses have garages. In the old days, though, they had stables — usually on the back of the lot and accessible to the street by means of alleys. The Latimers kept a stable on their property, noted Candace McGreevey of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, which occupies the Latimer House today. At the Bellamy Mansion, 503 Market St., Wilmington [Map this], the Bellamys maintained a large stable off the street, holding not only their carriage horses, but mules who drove wagons from the family’s Groveley plantation, bringing produce to the house in town. According to Ellen Douglas Bellamy (1852-1946) in her 1937 memoir “Back With the Tide,” the Bellamys even kept a cow in their stable, which was side-by-side with a chicken coop.

These stables seem to have been mostly plain, utilitarian structures, and not many survived long into the 20th century. A few, however, are still with us. Look up the driveway of the Martin-Huggins House, 412 Market St., Wilmington [Map this], and you can still see the old stable in back. The most famous surviving private stable, howeer, is the Hart Carriage House at 309 Cottage Lane, Wilmington [Map this], not far from First Presbyterian Church. Built in 1852 by architect James F. Post, it was renovated and served for many years as the headquarters of the Junior League of Wilmington. Since 1965, it has been the property of First Presbyterian Church.

What if you didn’t have room for a stable, or couldn’t afford one? Then you boarded your horse with one of the local livery stables, commercial enterprises that were part garages for horses and part pre-automotive rental agencies. Need a horse? You could borrow one here, for a fee.

The 1885 City Directory listed four livery stables in town: J.H. Jones’ at 312 Princess, St., Wilmington; R.C. Orrell’s at 420 N. Third St., Wilmington [Map this], near the corner of Fourth and Mulberry (later Grace Street); Benjamin Scott’s at 517 Walnut St., Wilmington [Map this]; and T.J. Southerland’s at 109-110 N. Second St., Wilmington [Map this]. (The directory put a “(C)” by Scott’s name, indicating he was African American.) “Personal Attention Given to Boarding Horses,” read the ad for Orrell’s Livery Stable in the directory.

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4 Responses to “ I notice that people who live on Third Street (and other streets downtown) have to park on the street. They don’t have garages – or room for them. When the houses were built, did people have horses? Where did they keep them?”

  1. On January 6, 2010 at 10:56 pm anon. wrote:

    I’m pretty sure the Livery Apartments @ 100 block of Dock St. was originally a livery stable.

  2. On January 18, 2010 at 8:22 am Martha wrote:

    Thanks for this history lesson; I enjoy reading the history of Wilmington.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. On January 18, 2010 at 11:00 am Catherine Schottman wrote:

    I enjoy this posting very much.

  4. On November 18, 2011 at 5:50 am Anne Russell wrote:

    My family’s home at 11 South Third Street, next to St. James Church and one of the oldest houses in Wilmington, had a narrow driveway on the right side of the house which led to the carriage house in the back.
    And my great-grandmother made good use of the horse droppings from Third Street, using this manure as fertilizer for her backyard garden. (Anne Russell, author “Wilmington, A Pictorial History,” and play “The Porch,” set at this home in 1946)

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