The End of the Beginning


While the bill to ban Chicago’s horse drawn carriages seems mired in the murky backwaters of City Hall, another more insidious threat looms. Chicago’s runaway construction boom has forced 2 of the city’s 3 carriage companies out of their home at the old Noble Horse Theatre.


Dating back to the late 1800’s, the two-story stable at 1410 N. Orleans was one of several built for access to the riding paths of nearby Lincoln Park. Over the years, the others disappeared but the Orleans barn survived, at one point becoming an auto chop shop. An enterprising horsewoman later converted the garage into a small riding stable, which offered limited boarding and riding lessons (showjumper Kent Farrington was an early student).

After Mayor Jane Byrne reintroduced commercial horse drawn carriages to the city in 1980, Dan Sampson and his father were invited by the barn owner to move their company, Coach Horse Livery, into the facility. Sampson later purchased the entire property, renaming the stable and his company The Noble Horse. Along with the boarding and lessons, Noble operated 25 carriages in the downtown area and dominated the heyday of the Chicago industry.

The Noble Horse fell on hard times in 1991, and Clyde Engle, the owner of Coronet Insurance, purchased the bankrupt Noble Horse properties including a farm in LaSalle County Illinois, allowing Sampson to continue business as usual.

noble1Ironically, Coronet went bankrupt in late 1996 and the property was seized and set for asset liquidation by the Illinois Department of Insurance. Sampson went to court and challenged the sale of the stable, hinging his argument on the historic value of the property. He won the right to purchase the barn with a bank loan for $1.5 million and a $275,000 investment by a group called “friends of the stable.” His goal? Expand the arena and build a 500-seat theater to host equestrian events and house a medieval dinner show.

By 2000, the plan was a success and The Noble Horse dinner Theatre became a quaint addition to the neighborhood.

Alas, Sampson failed to keep up with his loan payments, and the owner of the neighboring Marshall Fields housing project, Sheldon Baskin, picked up the bank note. Baskin hoped to turn the housing project into condominiums, earmarking 1410 N. Orleans for a parking structure. He allowed Sampson to stay on and The Noble Horse again survived.

But in 2008, the economy tanked and so did Baskin’s construction plans. He no longer needed the Orleans lot, but shrewdly sat on the property until the market recovered. The Noble Horse limped on, but slowly the requirements of maintaining the facility, the carriages, the horses, and the staff took its toll.

In 2011, Antique Coach & Carriage moved in to the stable, sharing space with the now-failing Noble Horse. By 2014, Sampson’s theatre and carriage company had run afoul of the city a few too many times, failing to secure the proper licenses necessary to legally continue public shows and carriage operations; The Noble Horse carriage company relinquished its licenses and went out of business. The theatre followed shortly thereafter.

Tough Times

On February 6, 2015 arsonists broke into the stable on Orleans, deliberately torching 14 Noblefirecarriages and vandalizing the barn. Antique Coach & Carriage owner Debbie Hay salvaged her company by replacing her 12 carriages. Despite cries of insurance fraud, the carriages were never insured for fire damage, and the business shelled out over $100,000 to stay afloat. The other 2 belonged to Great Lakes Horse and Carriage, and owner Jim Rogers struggled to replace carriages, as well. The FBI still has no suspects despite a $10,000 reward.

Adding insult to injury, Chicago’s real estate market rebounded in 2015. Fueled by a record setting property tax, the rising popularity of the stable’s Old Town neighborhood, and a red-hot development plan called the Sedgewick Corridor, investors have offered Baskin $9 million, a price far beyond the means of small business owners like Hay and Rogers. As of April 1, the last original horse stable in the city of Chicago is set for demolition.

Looking Ahead

FuneralThe fate of our urban carriage horses closely mirrors the rest of the horse industry. Without society’s commitment to protecting the open spaces suitable for farms, riding trails, and equestrian parks, and earmarking real estate affordable enough for small business owners like carriage companies, riding stables, and livery outfits, those of us passionate about our horses will soon find ourselves gone the way of 1410 N. Orleans—plowed under to make room for a modern existence of overcrowded monotony.

Both Antique and Great Lakes have struggled to find appropriate housing for their businesses. The same economic storm that gobbled up the old barn makes new property almost unattainable. Hay finally managed to secure a small space but the distance from downtown is a whopping 3.8 miles, or an hour by horse. Rogers has a small space to store his carriages but must truck his horses to and from the city for work.

The last horse leaves the Noble Horse Theater

Article originally published by CONA

7 thoughts on “The End of the Beginning”

  1. 😦 Wish money could be raised by arts, historic and horse groups (the city and state, too) to keep the noble horse show available and stables in the city so our future generations could have the access of human, animal nature connection verses switching everything to automatic and technology….we are so loosing and becoming detached as a population

  2. Wow! Spoken like a person who cares more about money than the health and welfare of a horse. Why don’t you go out and pull those carriages? Then you can see what it feels like to stand behind a vehicle and breathe in toxic exhaust fumes all day. Or better yet… get hit by a car.

    1. Ally,

      If you’re concerned about the weight of the carriages, check out this video:

      The average urban carriage horse weighs perhaps 1500+ lbs. That’s more than 10x the weight of the man in the video.

      As for breathing toxic exhaust fumes, drivers work in the same environments as their horses. So do the children being pushed in strollers, the dogs being walked by their owners, urban dwellers, police, police horses, firemen, tourists, and the wildlife that call cities home. If you are concerned about auto pollution, press your council members to enforce stronger emissions controls. However, I can personally guarantee that the natural dust found in stables, no matter how upscale they may be, are far more irritating than open air of the streets. More lesson and show horses suffer from COPD than carriage horses because of the hours they spend in their stalls and working in dusty arenas.

      Hit by a car? Do you realize that over 3000 pedestrians were struck in 2009, so many that the city commissioned a study to evaluate the problem?

      In 2014, the city was so concerned about the problem they put out billboards and safety warnings at major sidewalk crossings urging pedestrians to be more careful.

      The last carriage accident in Chicago was in 2014 when an uninsured driver with unrestrained children in the back of her car rear ended a horse drawn carriage headed home after its shift. Milo the horse was uninjured but checked over by Chicago’s Animal Care & Control and the company’s vet before being declared unscathed and cleared to return to work. The carriage driver broke both wrists but was otherwise fine.

      While your sentiments are well worn and oft repeated by all animal rights advocates, your concerns are both baseless and biased. You don’t know us. You don’t know our horses. Criticizing our commitment to them and speculating about what we value is ridiculous, and quite frankly, insulting. Until you can name every working horse in Chicago, along with their ages, preferences, histories, peculiarities, personalities, and all the reasons why we love them, don’t bother. You’ll never understand why we do what we do.

      1. People like you would say anything to justify exploiting animals for your own gain.. a kid in a stroller doesn’t spend hours upon hours in heavy exhaust fumes, neither do dogs being taken for a quick walkies.. police horses fare as badly as horses forced to pull lazy people in carriages ..forced to carry some heavy human on their delicate backs.. backs… NOT seats.. like they want to??? You do what you do because the horses can’t stop you, use and harm is use and harm! Yes i know you, we all know people like you.. you are an animal abuser.. just like any animal abuser you are making excuses because it benefits you personally to use animals.. Get a real job stop slaving animals for coin

      2. Delicate backs? Feel free to check out the skeletal system of the horse and get back to us. “Quick walkies?” Over and over every day when they live in the city. I’ll tell you the same thing as I told the other one: please post links to actual data regarding Chicago carriage horses, not the talking points from animal rights websites. I want veterinary reports like the ones given to our horses every 3 months. Did you know that? Every working Chicago horse must pass a veterinary inspection 5x per year, 4 from licensed vets and 1 from Animal Care and Control. So please link to the ones showing poor health. You should also call the Chicago Police Department regarding their horses. As for horses not being able to stop us, that’s laughable, and written like someone who’s never been around a horse for any reasonable time EVER. They’re 1500+ lbs. you can’t force them to do anything. You educate and then intelligently work with them to achieve the desired outcome. We work with horses to make our living, yes. What do you do for a living in the UK?

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