My paper on the development of stockyards in the eastern United States (and ultimately, Chicago) was presented at the 2009 Vernacular Architecture Forum conference in Butte, Montana.
Last week I learned that a revised and expanded version will be published later this year. Details to come. The paper was published in Western Pennsylvania History: Model for the Nation: Sale, Slaughter and Processing at the East Liberty Stockyards (2010).
In the meantime, here’s an illustrated version of the 2009 VAF paper abstract:
Cowboys in the City: Eastern Stockyards and the Urban Fabric
Nineteenth century cities needed animals for food and work. Between the rural farms and ranges where livestock was raised and the urban markets where hogs, cattle, and sheep were sold and slaughtered there were places where drovers, farmers, shippers, dealers, and butchers stopped to rest and transact business. These places sprang up along rural turnpikes and near railroad depots and terminals. For much of their history these sites were little more than inns with enclosed pens and outbuildings to service the passing droves. In the 1850s animals increasingly moved from the roads to the rails as the railroads closed the gaps between eastern cities and the expanding western frontier.
The meat-producing and livestock industries share a common origin narrative in which the world’s first union stockyards opened in Chicago in 1865. The opening of the Chicago Union Stock Yards is widely hailed as a turning point in American history because for the first time a city’s dispersed drove yards were concentrated into a single integrated shipping and sales facility. For much of the twentieth century the Chicago stockyards were considered the prototype for all of the union stockyards that opened after them.
Less well-known, however were the union stockyards opened in February 1864 by the Pennsylvania Railroad in a farm field six miles east of Pittsburgh. The East Liberty stockyards were built to reduce the costs involved in switching eastbound animals arriving in Pittsburgh via the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railroad bound for Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Owned by the railroad, the East Liberty stockyards were managed by a firm comprised of partners who had spent decades in livestock shipping and in the drove yard business in New York City and Chicago. The business done at East Liberty provided the basis for founding the Chicago Union Stock Yards. After East Liberty and Chicago, the partners and their associates opened additional stockyards for the Pennsylvania Railroad and its leading competitors, the New York Central and the Erie Railroads, in Philadelphia, Albany, Buffalo, Suspension Bridge (New York), Jersey City, Weehawken (New Jersey), and East St. Louis.
This paper casts new light on the East Liberty stockyards and their significance. In the creation and early operation of the East Liberty stockyards we can see the integration strategies deployed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in consolidating livestock operations in urban areas. These efforts influenced the development of cultural landscapes in cities throughout the United States where dispersed drove yards morphed into consolidated union stockyards. The newly reconfigured industry’s first movers were among the most influential and powerful livestock entrepreneurs in American history. Like the livestock industry’s physical assets, the human assets involved in the organization of the East Liberty stockyards and its sister facilities have been eclipsed by better known personalities like Philip Armour, Gustavus Swift, and Nelson Morris.
© 2010 David S. Rotenstein