HISTORY OF THE STABLE
The current Huntoon Stables operation is being run by the third and fourth generation of Huntoons. The operation, in one form or another, dates back into the 19th century.
Of course, in those days, many people owned horses for transportation or work purposes, but there were still professional stables and horsemen and they were just as busy and popular then as they are now. Many towns had a livery stable or a boarding stable for people who lived in residential areas. Businesses needed a place to keep their horses and wagons for deliveries, and not all had space in their own buildings.
In the latter part of the 1800's, there was a Huntoon Livery Stable in downtown Aurora, IL for just such purposes. I'm sure they faced the same chores and daily problems as we do today, but there was one more unique to the times as noted in a poem found in a book at the Aurora Historical Society.
Aurora was also home to the Huntoon House, one of the premier hotels of its time. It was operated by Edward Huntoon, a cousin of the line of Huntoons who currently operate the stable. Edward was not a professional horseman but the picture of the hotel and the stagecoach is an interesting part of the family history. The building still stands. It is on a list of historical landmarks and is currently still used as a boarding house.
Hiram Huntoon was a farmer in Oswego, IL in the late 1800's. He raised dairy cattle, Percheron and Standardbred horses. And a family of eleven children - seven boys and four girls. While all of the boys were accomplished horsemen, four of them made the horse business their lifelong trade.
Alvin and Fred, the two oldest boys, both raised and raced Standardbreds near Princeton, IL for many years. Gerald and Howard, the two youngest boys, started a boarding and livery stable with a local farmer in Oswego, IL during the depths of the depression years of the 1930's. Fifty cents would get you an hour ride around the farm and surrounding areas of the Fox River valley.
A year or two later they left the farm in Oswego and each started their own operation in different locations. Howard married Margaret Conway in 1936, and moved to Geneva, IL where he operated his stable from Wheeler Park for several years. He also spent some time during these years working for Gordon Keogh where he was farm manager along with Hugh Byrne who was the Saddlebred trainer. (Hugh later married Leonna Harris and they had a daughter, Bonnie, who later went on to become very well known in the Saddlebred and pony world as a talented trainer and exhibitor).
In 1939, Howard and Margaret purchased Ridgewood Farm which consisted of nearly 270 acres near Sugar Grove, IL. They had eighteen stalls when they started and they trained Saddlebreds and Roadsters. They operated a general farm as well, raising hay, grain, hogs and cattle. Shortly after moving in they added more stalls and ran a small livery and lesson program.
In 1940 their only child, Carleton, was born and Gerald moved back with Howard. By the middle 1940's the two brothers had changed the operation to where they trained and showed mainly Roadster horses. They became famous with these horses having brought out, shown and sold some of the top horses of the time. They showed from Ohio to Georgia to Texas to Minnesota and many points in between and eventually created the largest Roadster show horse stable in the country.
About 1950, Gerald moved to the other side of town where he went to work for the George Alexander family. They bought, showed and sold Road horses, Saddlebreds and Hackney ponies. As time passed and the Alexander children grew up, they eventually switched to all road horses. In the '60's they phased out of the show end of the horse business and began a Standardbred breeding program which went on to earn them the honor of being considered one of the top, small breeding farms in the country. They produced about a dozen foals each year, many of which went on to very successful racing careers. Gerald passed away in the 1980's and Mr. Alexander shortly thereafter, ending an era of Huntoons in the Standardbred industry as Fred and Ali had also passed on by this time.
Meanwhile, Howard continued to show road horses throughout most of the 1950's, now joined part time by Carleton. They enlarged upon the livery business and by 1960 had about twenty horses in training and nearly forty horses for rent and lessons. Nearby Aurora, IL had nearly doubled in size from the time the Huntoons moved to Sugar Grove. Also, there were fewer and fewer places to board or trail ride. Ridgewood Farm was wooded in many areas with a 5-1/2 mile bridle path which made it an ideal location for such use.
In 1961, they built a new stable and indoor arena, one of the first in the Chicago suburban area. The barn had sixty-six stalls and became home for the livery string who had been living in a variety of makeshift stalls in older barns, corn cribs and lean-tos.
By 1963 there had been tremendous change in the business. The old stalls, which had recently been emptied, were refilled with an additional forty horses, bringing the total number to slightly over one-hundred twenty head. It was not unusual on a nice summer or fall day to have over three-hundred trail riders and lessons. The road horses were replaced by almost all American Saddlebred horses and the showing was becoming more and more the responsibility of Carleton.
In the middle 50's, Melinda Mann began trail riding at the Huntoon's stable. This led to lessons, then riding as trail guide. In 1967 Carleton and Melinda were married. A year later, the State of Illinois purchased Ridgewood Farm for the site of the newly formed Waubonsee Community College. Howard and Margaret 'retired' to a seven-hundred acre cattle ranch in southwest Missouri. Howard passed away in 1974 and Margaret remained in Missouri until her death in 2003.
Carleton and Melinda moved the operation to Oswego for over six years on rented property. Over the next nine years they operated from several different rented locations. New home construction was rampant during these times and land became too valuable to be kept as farm/stable land.
In 1979, their son, Christopher, was born. Three years later they moved to North Aurora into the property that had belonged to Hugh and Leonna Byrne. Bonnie Byrne still owned the stable, but had moved to Richmond, IL to work for Don and Marge Ferguson's Royal Scot Stable. Bonnie's step-father, Tommy Wilkinson, still had a couple of Hackney ponies at this location but having reached his 90's, only used a small portion of the stable. The Huntoons no longer offered trail rides but still gave many lessons, trained and took horses and students to shows throughout the mid-west area.
Meanwhile, one of the Huntoon's students had married. She and her new husband built a new stable and indoor arena just to the west of the Wilkinson property. A couple of years later, she and her husband divorced and their stable was rented to a prominent saddlehorse trainer, John Nix.
In 1989, Nix moved from the area. Just prior to his move, the Wilkinson property was sold for development. At this point, the Huntoons moved next door, to where Nix had been and have been in this, their current location, ever since.
Times have changed, communities have changed and the horse industry has changed. Trail riding operations mostly went out of business around 1972 because of insurance premiums skyrocketing. But the interest in horses has never been any higher than it is today. Melinda and Carleton eventually phased out training of outside owned horses and concentrated entirely on lessons. Their students could show the horses they took lessons on and they were giving nearly seventy private lessons weekly.
Christopher Huntoon has become part of the Huntoon Stables operation where he is currently building up a training operation. Melinda still gives around seventy lessons weekly. Carleton works some with the horses and runs the office and business affairs of the stable. Shows are still a large part of the operation, as well. We hope you have found our family's history in the horse business interesting. We are always happy to have people stop in to see the horses, look at the pictures of former and current students and visit.
Thanks for reading!