On a chilly Saturday night outside of the Pfister Hotel, I met Nick, a grey Percheron carriage horse.
He stood patiently across the street from the hotel’s valets, ears curiously perked. He was kind and had dark brown eyes. Nick’s driver handed me a tub of cookies, and I couldn’t hand them to Nick fast enough. He shook his head up and down and searched my gloved hands for the very last crumbs. As his driver led him away for a picturesque stroll downtown, I vowed to visit him when he wasn’t on the clock.
Grant Chromy, owner of Milwaukee Coach and Carriage, welcomes me to a large stucco building just south of the Third Ward. The operation “sort of fell into my lap,” says Chromy. While working as a commercial banker, he wanted to purchase a piece of investment property, maybe buy a condo development. After meeting with a real estate agent to see a lot on East National Avenue, she quickly let him know, “This is a package deal – the business and the building.” This deal would expand his family – a wife and four kids – by 17 draft horses and gave Chromy a hay habit that can top out at 800 pounds a day.
He put in an offer and soon became the owner of Milwaukee Coach and Carriage. Chromy admits he didn’t grow up a horse person, and this was all new to him. But this isn’t just an investment; that’s apparent with each story he tells. He laughs and cracks a grin as he recounts tales of his “Houdinis” escaping from their stalls for greener pastures. Even 41-year-old retiree, Shemus, is known for his wily ways.
From the streets, Coach and Carriage looks like a nondescript industrial building. It’s only when one gets up close that you spy the Milwaukee Police Department horse trailers parked behind an iron-clad gate. Stepping inside the building, the smells of horses, hay and dirt fill the air. The stable’s office is large and well-lit, a corner office horse lovers dream of. We took a walk through the facility, weaving through a hallway, then coming to a large open room that is big enough for an indoor arena.
MPD leases horses from the stable, and along one wall sit two squad cars. An odd find in a barn, one might think. Intricate carriages line another wall. The lower level of the barn houses a stall for each horse to retreat to when bad weather strikes. On nicer days, the herd can be found outside in a large paddock, looking up at the Milwaukee skyline.
The building was built in 1906 and was originally used for manufacturing. One of its several tenants throughout the years was Standard Oil Company, founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1870. For the last 30 years, it’s since been used as a modern-day livery stable, housing carriage and police horses like Tanner (left) and Casey (right).