The livery stable was an essential part of the business district of any 19th century community. Sedalia had several livery stables both downtown and in the smaller business district near Engineer Avenue in East Sedalia. Not only did livery stables provide horses and carriages or buggies for rent, they boarded horses for travelers who rode into Sedalia. They also provided a gathering place for men, who congregated there to swap stories, smoke cigars, and indulge in sips of whiskey. They were, according to historian Louis Atherton, a wonderfully attractive place for boys to visit, in part because they could hear the stories the men told, but also because they knew their mothers heartily disapproved.
One of East Sedalia’s livery stables was managed by Richard M. Olmstead. The barn, located at 313 South Hancock Avenue, was 45 feet by 90 feet and could house thirty horses. Olmstead also managed a transfer company, arranging shipping of goods by horse and wagon. With the profits from his stable and transfer company, Olmstead was able to invest in real estate; he owned six houses besides his residence and owned farm lands outside the city.
Like many of Sedalia’s businessmen, Olmstead’s family came to Sedalia from the east. His paternal grandfather was born in New York state, as was his father. When Olmstead’s father was young, the family moved to Jersey County, Illinois. Olmstead’s father died at the age of 28 and his mother married P. S. Prentice, who later brought his wife, stepsons, and four children to Sedalia.
Richard Olmstead was both in Illinois in 1848 and attended rural schools there. While living in Illinois, he worked as a teamster and later as a brakeman for the Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad. In 1871, he moved to Versailles, Missouri, where he farmed. In 1873, seeing the opportunities in the rapidly growing town of Sedalia, he moved to Sedalia, where he worked as a teamster until he opened his livery stable in 1883.
In 1875, Olmstead married M. Bowlin. The couple had two sons and a daughter before her death. In 1887, Olmstead married Eudora Marvin, a Sedalia native.
Active in civic clubs and fraternal societies, Olmstead was a member of the Equity Lodge, No. 26, of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, of the Woodmen of the World, and of the Knights of the Macabees.
Olmstead was best known for his participation in local politics. In 1886, he was elected City Alderman from the Third Ward. During his term, he served as Chairman of the Streets and Alleys Committee and the Cemetery Committee. After his term, he remained out of politics for a year, then ran and was elected for two-year term. Again he served as Chairman of the Streets and Alleys and Sewers Committee.
He remained out of office two years after completing his term, and in 1893 began another two year term. He was Chairman of the Sanitary Committee and the Printing Committee, and was a member of the Streets and Alleys committee. His work as a teamster and with the transfer company no doubt influenced him to encourage the paving of Sedalia’s streets. According to the Portrait and Biographical Record of Johnson and Pettis Counties, Olmstead was a proactive man who could “always be found on the side of progress.”
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.