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.