City Horses


Consider this quiet moment in the summer of 1921- a postman about to begin his day of deliveries in a horse drawn cart which will clop along from the 12th street entrance of the Federal Building. As late as the 1920’s horses were still a familiar part of traffic in the downtown, where a network of streetcars tangled with automobiles, trucks, bicycles and random pedestrians. Most of the livestock traffic moved up and down commerce between the warehouse/brewery district and the northern edge of the downtown delivering perishable food and drink to the restaurants and hotels facing on Pacific and Broadway. Icemen, trash collectors, junkers and movers all stayed with horse drawn wagons into the Depression and livery stables, wagon works and blacksmiths still showed up in the 1930’s city directories clustered in the brewery district where fresh water springs provided open air watering troughs. By the early 1920’s Tacoma had skyscrapers, radio stations, light rail throughout the city, airports, movie palaces and lavish automobile showrooms. And at the same time there were delivery people who every morning harnessed up an urban equine who they talked to by name, animals that lived their whole working lives on pavement, surrounded by the noise and busy street rhythms of the city. The service corridor on Commerce, where light rail runs today, moved at the pace of draft animals well into the motor age. At the back doors of kitchens and bars downtown, people knew favorite horses by name and thought nothing of familiar four legged friends stopping their wagon exactly at the door each morning with no driver. A few minutes later the driver would walk up having taken in a delivery at the previous shop while the horse knew well where to stop next. And we think self guided vehicles are a thing of the future.


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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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