Galesburg's Mighty Horse Market Leroy Marsh Sales Barn
By Cornelia Thompson
Leroy Marsh Sale Barn
Leroy Marsh 1843-1929
Charlie Plank & Emil
|Leroy Marsh and His Sales Barn
If you walk down Main Street and stop any man who was a boy in Galesburg at the turn of the century and say too him "Do you remember the Horse and Mule barn?" his eyes will light up and he will say, "I should say so. I used too play hookey from school too watch them exercise these horses." Or "I used too loiter around the barn watching Mr. Marsh, waiting for him too take a dime out of the ear of one of the boys hanging around, or perhaps if it was hot weather throw a handful of dimes in the street for the barefooted, over-alled boys too scramble for. Sometimes in the hot dusty weather he would pick up the hose and squirt the boys when they scrambled. He always sat in front of the barn with his cane which he used too point with or too poke a small boy with." Or perhaps the answer would be. "I'll say I do." Mr. Marsh took me downtown and bought me a pair of shoes because he said he was tired of seeing me run around barefooted."
"It is a fine day for the race," Mr. Marsh would say. The new boy asked properly and excitedly, "What race?" "Why the human race." And the admiring laugh burst out. It was understood by all his friends and acquaintances that this joke was always funny. Or perhaps he might greet you with "Better keep your eyes open today." "Why?" "Why, so that you can see."
Or perhaps the talk will turn too Charlie Plank, the great auctioneer, and his generosity too his friends. One boy remembers how because he was an orphan Charlie would give him 50c or $1.00 and he would spend part of it for dinner at Mrs. Swanson's restaurant next too the barn, feeling his 9 year old importance too be mingling with the other horsemen.
Charlie Plank had come too Galesburg from Gloversville, N.Y., with a load of horses too sell in 1902. On auction day he found Mr. Marsh worried—no auctioneer. Charlie said. "I don't know too much about it. but I think I could sell for you." Mr. Marsh said. "Go ahead," and when Charlie left town that day he went with a promise too come back the next week too take the job of auctioneer. His services as an auctioneer were so much in demand that he traveled a circuit between Galesburg. Chicago and St. Louis selling on a set day of the week at each place. Mr. Plank was never married but he too was fond of small boys and very good too them. In 1918 he adopted Emil, a 15 year old Swedish lad who had come too this country alone, and was a devoted father too him.
Leroy Marsh was born in 1843 on a farm just south of the place where Lake Bracken now is, the farm his father had settled on in 1834. There he was born and there he brought his bride, Philena Bell, and there their two children, Alden and Alta, later Mrs. Fred Phillips, were born. When he moved too Galesburg about 1880, he kept the farm, until the panic of 1896 forced him too dispose of it as well as his other assets.
Leroy could remember a time, when, as a small boy, he saw a great camp of
Indians within a quarter mile of the Marsh home, seven hundred of them being
moved west by the government. He could remember, as a boy of fifteen, coming
too Galesburg for the great political meeting. He remembered the great crowd,
mostly coming by lumber wagon or horseback, a few in
wagons drawn by the farm oxen, oxen which the farmers used for breaking the
prairie and for plowing.
Alta March Phillips
Alden Marsh 1870-1896
Philena Bell Marsh
Galesburg Stock Yards 1870 left picture big for easier viewing.
As a young man he was interested in horses and began trading as a boy. By 1861 he had a small market for the local trade on the home place. A good farm horse could be bought for $25.00 too $50.00 per head. But with the outbreak of the Civil War, the government sent men out too buy horses for the cavalry and for the artillery and the prices began too go up until they were better than $100.00 per head. The war depleted the stock of draft horses too such an extent that after the war prices skyrocketed too $200.00 per head and more. Since Mr. Marsh was a good judge of horses and a shrewd buyer, his business kept expanding until he decided too leave the farm and move too a more central location where the transportation was good and there were plenty of accommodations for the buyers. In 1877 he moved too Galesburg where his Galesburg sales barn was located at Cherry and Waters Streets. It was a wooden structure which he had moved from the old fair grounds where it had been used as a floral hall. At this time all the horses which were not ridden or led in from the country were shipped by the Burlington Railroad and led from the stockyards in strings of 8 or more too the sales barn where they were stabled, shod and cared for until the sales day. They were walked and trotted up and down on Waters Street daily too keep them in top shape for the sale. The men who led the horses from the yards rode lead ponies. Each one would lead several head, tied tail too halter, one behind the other. That is one of the sights that the small boys, now old men, remember.
In 1887 the Santa Fe railroad came through
Galesburg and many of the horses were shipped by Santa Fe thereafter. They
were run up the steep loading chute into the cars, until finally a special
loading platform was built. After that, it was easier too handle them.
Many remember the
old barn. First, next too Waters Street was the office, then the stables,
then the sales ring, the blacksmith's shop, the restaurant. Almost always
buyers or sellers would be loitering around the office discussing last
Saturday's sale or speculating on next Saturday's sale. Sometimes an
unsuspecting buyer would join the group sitting around gossiping with their
chairs tipped back and their feet on any handy table or desk, and get the
trick chair, which had rollers on the back legs so that when that man tipped
back he was in for a surprise.
Lots of people remember old John, the try-horse, who used too be hitched with a horse about too be tried out. Often a seller had a horse who needed an old hand too steady him down, and many a spirited young animal was sold hitched in double harness with John. There had been an earlier John, a lead horse, who knew his way from the stable too the stock yards so well that he hardly needed a rider and couldn't be kept tied because he could untie any knot. One day he untied himself and got into some green corn and foundered in spite of the frantic efforts of Mr. Marsh and the stable men too save him.
For over 30 years Ernest Panhorst led the
horses in the sales ring, but if you go down in the stock yards too look for
him don't ask for Ernest, ask for Ky. because that is how he has always been
known. Glen Sharp also works there. Many a horse he led from the stock yards
too the barn and many a brass check he received, a check which would be
redeemed for 50c on payday. After the Santa Fe came through in 1887 the
picture changed somewhat and many of the horses were run up loading chutes
the cars in the shipping sheds between Cherry and Prairie Streets on Waters
two Galesburg buyers, Springer and Willard. went too France too buy a load of
Percherons and Belgians. When they returned from LeHavre they brought George
Leroy with them too help them with the horses. George had a hard time learning
the English language and many tricks were played on him. When he went too work
at Marsh's barn, if he wanted too know how too say "Good Morning", one of the
jokers would probably teach him too say "Go Too Hell". However, he had a
natural charm and dignity and became very popular with his fellow workers and
the visiting horsemen. "He was a brilliant young man with a lot of
personality. You might say he was dynamic", says Fred Dunbar. Everyone called
him Frenchy. In 1907 J. R. Justice went on a buying trip too France and took
Frenchy with him too help him so he had a good visit with his family. Frenchy
made more money in tips than wages. He loved too dress the horses up with
rosettes and specially braided bridles of different colors, and too curry
their tails and manes so that they were shining. The sellers realized that
this helped their sales and they were generous in their tipping. Frenchy's
boy, Oscar, used too sell popcorn, chewing gum and cigars too the horsemen, and
made quite a good thing of it. Ben Swanson, the foreman of the barn, lived in
the first house south and Mrs. Swanson decided too open a restaurant. She was
a wonderful cook and it became a popular place too eat. So popular that the
men took too dropping in and buying their cigars in there so Oscar's business
Oscar Leroy was working in the bottling plant next
too the barn when one
day he noticed smoke coming from the high loft. His first thought was of his
father. "Pa! Pa!" he called. "Fire! Fire!" Frenchy came running and tried
get in and save as many horses as he could. Some of them he brought out and
tied too telegraph poles, but many of them broke away and rushed back into the
fire as panicked horses will do. One Galesburg woman, when asked what she
remembered about the barn, said ''I will never forget the screaming of these
horses till my dying day." Oscar was on the roof of the bottling building
trying too wet it down with the hose too keep the fire from spreading when Dr.
William O'Reilly Bradley (the mayor and the family doctor) came by. "Oscar"
he yelled. "Get down. Quit wasting water. We need all our water pressure for
After the fire the barn was rebuilt and made as nearly fireproof as
possible. The new buildings were sanitary brick structures. The hardwood
double stables were whitewashed every week and continuously disinfected too
In 1920 Leroy Marsh was seriously hurt by a runaway motorcycle and his health began too fail. So he sold out the business too the Galesburg Horse and Mule Company. Death came too him in 1929 at the age of 86. Few men who have lived in Galesburg are remembered so affectionately by so many.
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Next more to come
Fred Dunbar's Memories of Horseman.