Businesses on Main Street: The Livery Stable and Blacksmith Shop

Horse travel was the most common method of transportation in the 1800s. Just as most towns today have a convenience store where travelers refuel their vehicles, early Iowa towns had livery stables where travelers “refueled” their horses.

Visitors could leave their horses at the livery stable while staying in town. It was a hotel for horses where the animals were fed, watered and provided with a stall. At the livery stable people who did not own a horse could rent one. Buggies, wagons and sleighs could be rented too.

Men often gathered at the livery stable to talk. It was a place where they relaxed, told stories or exchanged information and ideas.

The Blacksmith

A person of great skill worked in the blacksmith shop. One Iowa blacksmith was Matthew Edel. Edel was born in Germany in 1856, and came to America in 1873, moving to Iowa in the late 1870s. In 1883 he opened his own blacksmith shop in Haverhill, near Marshalltown. 

Blacksmiths would commonly repair farm implements and wagon-wheel rims, and shoe the horses of local farmers. Like other blacksmiths Edel could shape iron into tools and as a result, he himself produced most of the tools to carry out his blacksmith's duties. Many of these tools were so unique and innovative he was able to patent the invention. 

By the mid-1900s there was no longer a need for livery stables and blacksmiths. Some blacksmiths and blacksmiths shops transitioned to vehicle repair shops. This was the case for Matthew Edel, who in 1915 expanding his business to include automobile repair.

The Needs Disappear

The livery stable and the blacksmith shop were two businesses found in most Iowa communities in the early 1900s. Both provided services that people needed. The skill and hard work required of the owners was valued by most people. 


  • Iowa Historical Moment Fact Sheet. State Historical Society of Iowa, 1991. 
  • Lisa K. Abel, Nena Smiddy, Jane Mitchell, Christie Dailey, “The Livery and Blacksmith,” The Goldfinch 3, no. 3 (February 1982): 10.


A "livery stable" was a place where travelers could shelter, feed, and water their horses while traveling.

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