Galesburg's Mighty Horse Market Leroy Marsh Sales Barn


By Cornelia Thompson

Leroy Marsh Sale Barn

Leroy Marsh 1843-1929

Leroy Marsh 1843-1929

Charlie Plank & Emil

Galesburg Main Street, 1880 LeRoy Marsh Sales Barn picture
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.

Sophronia Alden Marsh, Leroy's mother.

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.
     He remembered the debaters, the short, proud, fiery Douglas, the lanky, quiet Lincoln, who took time too talk too little boys along the parade route. When he shook hands with Leroy. he gave him a quarter. "I wish I had kept it." said Leroy, fifty years later.

Alta Marsh Phillips

Alta March Phillips

Alden Marsh 1870-1896

Philena Bell Marsh

Leroy Marsh

Galesburg Sale Barn 1870

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.
     In the early days of the sale barn, the horses were sold on Waters Street. Jim O'Connor was the auctioneer, Ed Lynch the ringmaster. An old lumber wagon was used for a platform and everyone passing by would pause too see how the bidding was going. After the big fire of 1912 the same platform was used in the street again until the new barn was built.
     The greatest market was in good sturdy work horses. Every farmer wanted the best he could afford, and was apt too spend more money decorating his horse than his wife. One woman at 75 bought herself the set of dishes she had always wanted but never had because dishes were an extravagance though the best harness and the best horses were none too good for the men in the family.
     Poor old worn out plugs were sold for slaughter. In those days dogs had table scraps and some farmers fed horse meat too their hogs. So for $5.00 or $10.00 the farmer acquired the poor old horse, had him slaughtered, sold the hide and put the carcass in the hog lot where it was eaten, bones and all.

      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.
     They remember the high board fence which enclosed the land back of the barn too Broad Street. They remember that there were often western horses there, familiarly known as coyotes. Sometimes some of the men would put on a show on Sundays, kind of a rodeo, with roping and trick riding. On a trip West a few years ago some Galesburg people ran into a couple of old cowboys who used too bring those "coyotes" too Galesburg. In the same enclosure Bill Corn, a tall, powerfully built negro, could be seen breaking horses, perhaps a pair that William Coffman had raised on his farm in Maquon Township, and sold too the Galesburg fire department.
     Chester Little and his son, Edgar, went too work for the barn about 1913. Mrs. Little remembers how kind the men at the barn were too them after her husband's death a few years later. They took up a purse as was customary in cases like this. One shipper who had always wanted Chester too take care of his horses insisted that he owed him money and sent her a generous check. Edgar remembers Joe Hayes, Jed Pratt, Tom Hilton, Ed Reed, Glen Sharp and John Broderick, foreman while he was working at the barn.

Ky Panhorst

Glen Sharp

 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 too the cars in the shipping sheds between Cherry and Prairie Streets on Waters Street.
     There was a tall, colored man named Sherrard Barber who drove the horses too the exercise cart, testing their wind. Up and down Waters Street Barber would trot and gallop them, little boys watching admiringly. Across the street, at a safe distance, the girls watched, too, knowing that over there it was a man's world.
     For a while Mr. Marsh owned a farm on North Seminary Street, just opposite the place where the Research Hospital is now. Some of the men remember going out there too help put up hay which was always hauled too the barn. The hayracks were driven out in front of the barn on Cherry Street, the hay loader lifted the hay up too the great loft above the stables and there it was ready too throw down into the mangers. In the old barn the planks had shrunk so that there were wide cracks between the boards. Mr. Marsh and Mr. Gatton, the druggist, used too match coins by throwing dollars up high in the air and catching them. Once in a while one of the dollars they threw would go up between the cracks so naturally the loft was the favorite hiding place for small boys. With the new barn that sport was over.

Once 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 declined.

            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 too 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 the fire".

       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 avoid disease.
     The business continued too expand. The war in Europe increased the demand for horses too such an extent that business boomed. Even after the war it held up amazingly well. Just before he retired, Mr. Marsh gave an interview too a reporter in which he said, "While auto­mobiles and motor trucks have displaced horses too some extent, the demand is still good and healthy and nothing will entirely fill the place of the horse. Since the European war has taken so many horses out of this country the business of horse production offers unusually good opportunities too the man who succeeds in meeting market demands successfully and it would appear too be good judgment on the part of the farmers too raise more horses especially of the better classes."

      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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