The rise and fall of Downey's stagecoaches


It appears in sweeping intervals throughout the neighborhood, in either a cloud of dust or barrage of flying mud. The latest mode of modern travel: the stagecoach.

This line, running with a series of horse changes from San Diego to Los Angeles, was then regarded in much the same light that people of torday regard crack streamline trains. Nearest station to the present site of Downey was the town of Gallatin. There the passengers rubbed the bruises caused by riding the lunging vehicle and gave thanks to the gods of the wayfarers. In Gallatin, the Los Angeles bound stage changed horses for the last stretch -- passengers gritted their teeth anew and away the vehicle plunged.

Coaches were of the standard type that saw in their day all of the Old West. With four horses in fair weather and six in foul, they carried six passengers inside and as many on top as could find room.

Even stagecoaches stepped aside with the onward march of progress. When the railway passed through the district, it was of small matter to the town of Gallatin that it passed over a mile away. The entire city was put on skids and in a matter of a few months, was moved to its present location where it became part of the new town of Downey.

Here into the comfort of transportation a softening civilization as provided by a wood-burning locomotive and a string of cars. To the stagecoaches, the throne of speed was too powerful. With their greatest source of revenue gone, the mail contracts awarded to the trains and their old customers flocking to the comfort offered by transportation that belched smoke and cinders and that kept a schedule accurate to the hour.

The stagecoaches saw the handwriting on the wall and folded their tents.

Information in this story was taken from the Downey LiveWire, dated July 21, 1938.

On Dec. 21, 2018, the Downey Historical Society received from Bill Hansen a typed letter about some wonderful memories of his growing up in Downey.

Bill stated he is 90 years of age now and wanted to share some of his memories.

Bill was born in 1928 and the newsletter from the Downey Historical Society of November 2018 sparked recognition of many names:

“Ed Hansen was my uncle; his daughter -- my cousin - married Snub (Bob) Pollard, the son of Robert Pollard. Fred Bowlus was froma family who were founders of Whittier. The Bowlus family created an early acation trailer that was a prototype of the Airstream. After Ed Hansen died, Fred Bowlus married Ed’s widow, Grace.

“When I was a child, the Friedman family opened their store late one Christmas Eve for my father to buy a belated Christmas gift. Vic Lwhorn was the uncle of my best friend, Bill Lawhorn (we were both born in 1928). Bill’s father, Heinie Lawhorn, taught me to sail.

“Caeser Mattei was the high school choir director. On one occasion, he directed the choir at the funeral of Bobby Walker, the young son of William Walker, the high school principal. The funeral was in the old Methodist church.

“Larry Price was a neighbor of the Lawhorns. The Skidmores owned the lumber yard on 1st Street (Firestone). My father, Otto Hansen, designed homes from his office which was then in the lumberyard building. My father was a Kiwanis member.

“I believe that the Wardmans lived next door to my family when I was born and where we first lived on north La Reina Street. Dr. Welcome was our doctor until Dr. Steeres arrived in town. Dr. Steeres was our neighbor on La Reina before moving to the Ball Mansion on Cherokee Drive.

“Rearding the article in the newsletter of November 2018, Judith McKellar was a legend in her own time. Her name was a part of our family vocabulary and Wallace McKellar was our florist. I’m not sure what relation Wally was to Judith. I rememer the Willeford mansion on north Downey Avenue because I lost a wheel from my Model A rounding the corner from Florence.”

Bill stated that good memories from the distant past are fun to contemplate.

Bobbi Bruce is a docent with the Downey Historical Society.

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