Vanished Winchester: Noonan’s Livery (and Related Businesses)

Noonan’s Livery is one of the vanished Winchester locations that has to date not been well-documented in secondary source materials. We hope to rectify this with our first installation in the “Vanished Winchester” blog series.

According to Wikipedia, “[t]he livery stable was a necessary institution of every American town, but its role has been generally overlooked by historians. … With the advent of the automobile after 1910, the livery stables quietly disappeared.” [1] American livery stables generally offered horses and wagons for hire, as well as offering short term boarding for privately-owned horses. As such they were generally located near a hotel to provide services to travelers. Many liveries also offered feed for sale and other horse-related services.

Noonan’s Livery hits most of these points (with one notable exception which we will touch on toward the end of our investigation). There was almost always a livery stable of some flavor attached or affiliated with the Taylor Hotel from the time of Bushrod Taylor’s ownership, and it is likely a stable was also part of the amenities for the earlier McGuire’s ordinary at the same location. A livery near the Taylor Hotel seems to have been run in part or in full by a Noonan family member beginning around 1865. The earliest mention we have found corroborating this is a notice to return a strayed mare to the Taylor Hotel stables, under the care of Potter & Noonan, in 1867. [2] In 1868, the stables were operated by Noonan & Quinn [3], and finally by 1871 the business was solely operated by B. Noonan, who bought out his partner’s share and continued the business in the same location. [4]

Sanborn map of 1885; Noonan’s Livery is the livery building numbered 112 near the center of the detail. The Taylor Hotel is located off-picture, above the warehouses lining Indian Alley.

Most early information is limited to the usual short advertising blurbs to rent coaches, board horses, and special rates for travelers staying at the Taylor Hotel. Although an exact date has not been located yet, by 1891 Mr. Noonan had passed away and the business was now being operated by his wife, still in the same location behind the Taylor Hotel. [5]

A brief note in the Daily Item newspaper, July 18, 1896, indicates the stable was recently whitewashed. [6] Although no signage is visible on the building, we believe this image showing a white stable behind 104 N. Braddock St. is the Taylor Hotel stable and Noonan Livery.

Sanborn map of 1897 shows Noonan’s Livery has moved to the opposite side of Amherst Street, still near the Taylor Hotel.

By 1897, however, the Noonan Livery had relocated across the street and expanded their services (the original stable now being operated by Joseph Wright, Jr.). The numerous smaller sheds and buildings were torn down and a larger stable, blacksmith, and a veterinary practice now occupy the entire south side of Amherst between Braddock and Indian Alley. It is likely around this time Henry and/or J. Mack Noonan assumed the family business from their mother.

For most livery operators, this was a time of decline as automobiles replaced the horse as the standard of over land transportation and their services were no longer required. One would expect to see a horse-based business phased out by the late 1910s or early 1920s. Indeed, that happened, but the Noonan family transferred their skills to an “auto livery.” In 1916, note is made that J. Mack Noonan relocated from the south side of Amherst back to the “old Taylor Hotel stables, which have undergone extensive improvements. Mr. Noonan also has considerable space for his automobile trade.” [7]

Earlier in 1916, J. Mack Noonan’s brother Henry Noonan was killed in an automobile accident. [8] Instead of turning against automobiles, he seems to have embraced their life-saving potential by partnering with Gibson Baker and replacing the horse-drawn ambulance for Winchester Memorial Hospital with a motorized vehicle costing $3,000 (about $50,140 today) in 1921. [9] Numerous mentions are found of him acting as ambulance driver and making impressive times to injured people in newspaper accounts through the 1920s.

Sanborn 1927, showing the old Taylor Hotel stables as an auto livery with repair services, and a new two story garage on the south side of Amherst, erected in 1919. This building was known as the Firestone Building by the late 1960s.

He was involved with many civic events in this era as well, offering essentially taxi services and organizing carpools to events like Apple Blossom. He also appeared to have taken up managing a bus line, much like the old days of Bushrod Taylor’s stagecoach lines. [10]

J. Mack Noonan passed away in 1930, but his taxi business continued to be operated by his wife after his death, similar to how his own mother operated the original livery. [11] Around 1935, it seems the old wooden Taylor Hotel stables were replaced with a new brick structure at approximately the same location, known as the Valley Service Station, later Valley Distributors. [12] When she finally closed Noonan’s Taxi Service for the last time, September 18, 1952, the newspaper stated it was one of the oldest businesses in Winchester. [13] Certainly that was an accomplishment for what could have been an obsolete business forty years earlier.

Both sites of Noonan’s Livery (Valley Distributors and the Firestone Building) were purchased by Winchester Parking Authority for the Braddock Street Auto Park in the late 1960s. In the February 15, 1966 newspaper article, the Valley Distributors building was considered for a partial demolition and adaptive reuse to a civic lounge. According to the article, a 36′ section of the building fronting Amherst would be retained for “public restrooms, waiting lounge, public lockers, soft drink dispensers and serve as a downtown bus stop.” An alternate idea could have seen the space used as a Chamber of Commerce office. The Firestone Building on the south side of Amherst was slated for complete demolition. The desire was to consolidate the two parcels and incorporate it into one complex (as we know now did happen) and to provide a covered walkway for pedestrians to McCrory’s in the old Taylor Hotel (which did not exactly happen.)

The Braddock Street Auto Park was constructed in 1972, according to a plaque mounted on the building. While all physical traces of the livery businesses that once operated here are gone, it is an interesting footnote that the site continues to offer short and long term boarding solutions to our modern day transportation needs.

The Braddock Street Auto Park, 30 N. Braddock St., digitized from a slide dated 1978.

Introduction to Vanished Winchester 2.0

One of our internal long term goals is to update our information on “Vanished Winchester,” one of our popular programs that originated with an exhibit held in the Kurtz Cultural Center in 1994. The display was initially open to the public October 1-November 11 and featured photographs of buildings either demolished or severely altered, with many of the photographs originating from the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives. Versions of this program have been hosted in the decades since and remain highly engaging.

Compiling demolished sites for the “Vanished Winchester” program dates back to at least early 1990. Stewart Bell, Jr. provided his list of significant buildings lost before the formation of PHW to us along with a handwritten note to Pat Zontine, PHW’s President at the time, and Anna Thomson, then Executive Director:

Dear Pat and Anna –
Here is my list of houses lost (mostly before the Conrad House controversy) that I personally remember. Each one I thought of as having some unique interest – either architectural or historical.
Of course it isn’t documented and should be used publicly.
I am pleased to share this list with you, because it supports my belief that my friends in P.H.W. should date this major victory (almost no significant buildings lost since Conrad House) from the Conrad controversy.
Maj. Whitehorne[?] observed in the Geo. Washington [history?] that most great military commanders had experienced significant defeat before achieving fame and success.
I think only Rose Hill, Willow Lawn, Miss Annie Reese’s house, and Mrs. Barton’s house are [lost?] since the Conrad House.

-Stewart Bell, Jr.

In the spring of 1994, John G. Lewis and Virginia Miller appear to have further expanded the initial list provided by Stewart Bell, Jr. It appears they used a combination of page by page marking photographs of demolished building in Images of the Past, combined with their knowledge of downtown Winchester from their work on the 1976 architectural survey. After two to three iterations of the list, 87 demolished or significantly altered buildings were identified, with nine additional sites posited to have possible documentation or to be marked for further investigation. About 60 photographs made it into the finished exhibit.

Unfortunately, only three of the exhibit panels seemed to have been photographed (“Most Endangered Buildings,” “Historic District,” and “Changed Vistas,”) and the text used for the image captions seems largely missing or to be very early draft copies. If you happen to have any more views of the exhibit or planning materials, we would be interested in obtaining more documents to flesh out the historic files.

We hope to make keep expanding our knowledge of some of these lost sites in a future series of blog posts. While we’re sure to cover some of the famous lost buildings like the Winchester Inn, the Cannonball House, and the Chanticleer Inn, we hope to also bring more recognition to other properties that have largely been forgotten or were lost too recently to have been covered in past programs. As the exhibit text stated in 1994, “We hope you find this exhibit both interesting and educational. We also hope that as you finish your [virtual] tour, you will agree that it is important that we all continue to work to safeguard our architectural heritage for future generations.”

Keep an eye out for the first featured building in a future post!