Friends of St. Joseph

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History of the Livestock Exchange

The Livestock Exchange Building, at 601 Illinois Avenue, sits as the once-proud embodiment of much of what made St. Joseph great. This imposing edifice, still impressive in a melancholy sort of way, stands at the center of what was one of the busiest stockyards in the nation.

As the nineteenth century came to a close, the St. Joseph Stockyards Company was riding high. St. Joseph stood at the crossroads of the nation and great fortunes were being made. Much of that wealth was coming in on four legs through the thriving livestock markets.

Swift, Armour, and the Anchor Beef Packing Company once called the area around the stockyards home.

In 1898, the Stockyards Company gave the noted St. Joseph architect Edmund J. Eckel the commission to build a new Exchange Building. From the plans drawn up by Eckel, it is clear that the brief was to impress.

Eckel’s plans called for a four-story neoclassical brick building. Local contractor Phillip P. Buddy, built the structure at a cost of $125,000.

The St. Joseph Daily Herald reported that “the interior of the building is finished in polished oak and marble. The trimmings of the chandeliers,, elevator cages and stairways are of japanned iron. The steps in front of the building lead to a magnificent rotunda, 80×80 feet covered by a skylight. This space contains the telegraph office, cigar stands, and other conveniences.”

The building served as the center of commercial life in the Southend of St. Joseph, and many people still wax lyrical about the vitality of the building when it was in its heyday; card games as farmers waited for their checks, the amazing cinnamon rolls at the café, the friendly banter of the barber in the lobby.

As late as 2004, there were tenants in the building and it functioned in original capacity. The St. Joseph Stockyards Company, which naturally was one of the initial tenants, still occupied substantial office space. Other tenants at that time were Farmers State Bank in the spot originally held by the St. Joseph Stockyards Bank, and a small diner had space on the first floor. Most of the space on the second floor was taken up with USDA office, but other smaller concerns, including a church rented space there. In 2004, the third and fourth floors were already abandoned, ostensibly awaiting rehabilitation. Before the end of the year all of the tenants left and the building was left to decay.

Today, after a long struggle, there is hope that the building will once again occupy its rightful place in the economy of south St. Joseph.

2 Comments

  1. I’m excited at the thought that something might be done to save this building. My dad, Tony Lord, started the Home Insurance Agency (later to become Tony Lord Insurance) in the lobby of the Exchange Building back around 1944. I worked there after school and holidays from the time I was 12 years old through high school (graduated Central 1970). By the time Dad retired (I’m thinking that was around 1980 maybe), the place had been divided up a lot and lot of the beautiful marble was thrown into piles of broken pieces. Dad salvaged a piece of it and I carted it around (not an easy task) from place to place until my husband and I had an oak table built and had the marble cut to fit the top of that table. By the time it was shaped, it wasn’t a very big piece, but it’s something I treasure from the building and my memories there. Anyway, I live in Wisconsin now but I still have a brother in St. Joe and I drive past the Exchange Building every time I come to visit. Thank you for whatever you’re doing to save the place!

    • friendsofstjoe

      October 3, 2016 at 9:17 am

      This is such a great story! One of the things that becomes clear as we work on this project is just how much of a role that building played in the lives of so many people. This is why it is important to make sure that it stands proud for many years to come!

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