Hidden behind a gated apartment complex and a cobblestone road lies one of the last remaining horse stables in Kensington.
The Olde City Carriage Company at 2214 Blair St. was once home to more than 50 boarded horses. Now, the family-owned- and-operated company is down to three horses that work with Philadelphia Carriage Tours in Center City.
With the lack of horse stables in the area comes an equal lack of interest in buying horses and kids playing with them. Ben Starch, the stable’s current owner, has spent most of his 48 years around horses, so his interest has never faded.
“To me, it’s not a business or a farm,” Starch said. “I was born into this. I’ve taken care of horses my whole life, so it’s who I am.”
Every day, Starch performs the same ritual so that his three horses — Albert, 7, Lucy, 16 and Truman, 18 — can continue to thrive in the community. Starch feeds them, washes them and makes sure all of their hooves are trimmed. The hardest part of the day for Starch is when tours are about to set off. Even in the blistering heat, the stable master and the horses walk all the way from Blair St. and East Susquehanna Ave. to Fifth and Sixth streets between Chestnut and Market.
Starch said hard work has always been a tradition of the Starch family.
“My grandfather was an iceman and he delivered ice by horse and carriage,” Starch said.
It was Starch’s father, Frank, who originally got the horses involved in horse-drawn tours, and the younger Starch has continued the business despite hard times in the neighborhood.
Bill Jordan, a lifelong resident of Kensington and watchman for the stable, makes sure intruders don’t come in.
“Olde City may be one of the only horse stables left in Kensington, but it’s certainly the best in the city,” Jordan said. “Ben has the best-maintained and healthiest horses in town. He’s great with his horses and he goes beyond what he should do with them.”
To ensure customers always feel safe during their rides, Starch plans to restore his black and white carriages, a job that will cost $12,000. The black carriages are made of pure wood, while the white carriages are made of fiberglass and can hold more weight.
When the horses aren’t pulling tourists around the city, they walk around the neighborhood for everyone to see.
Michele Cobb, a neighbor whose balcony overlooks the stables, said she loves that there is still a stable in Kensington.
“It’s great to have a stable close by, as others have closed in the past,” Cobb said. “It almost transports you back to the 1800s.”
Even though the family business may come to an end, as Starch has no one to carry on the business after he leaves, he said he hopes for his community to have more interest in horses in the future.
“Nobody sees this place anymore,” Starch said. “I’d like to see more horses around the city and more kids going on rides like they use to.”