The Sioux City stockyards will end this spring, not with a bang but with a whimper. Or maybe a moo, bleat or oink.
It's strange to think that after 115 years an institution so responsible for the growth of this city and many others will vanish from the landscape. The stockyards will go the way of the livery stable, blacksmith and harness maker.
It has survived floods from the Missouri, floods from the Floyd, drought, two economic depressions, drought, two World Wars. It could not survive the times.
The stockyards was long past its prime when I arrived in Sioux City. I could only wonder at the crumbling glory of the Hog Hotel and the stairway to nowhere (it once ran above Cunningham Drive to the now-defunct Armour Plant.) The expanse of pens, three stories high where millions of hogs and cattle spent the purgatory between farm and meatpacker, was torn down.
The livestock exchange building designed by Robert Elmslie and added on to over the years burned in 1997. It has not been reoccupied and will eventually be razed. I hope they can save the decorative artwork that makes the building so distinctive.
But once -- ah, but once:
A photograph from 1955 shows the stockyards complex covering the area south of the Gordon Drive viaduct between the Missouri River, current Floyd River and the mouth of the Floyd diversion channel. If you stood at the Cunningham and walked west down Dace by the old Payless Cashways building, you'd have to walk about two blocks to reach the end of the pens. Past that was a railroad switching yard whose main business at one time was serving the stockyards.
On the east bank of the diversion channel stood packing plants: Armour, Cudahy, Swift (the present KD Station). In the middle of this vast complex stood the Livestock Exchange Building.
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The livestock industry supported 5,000 jobs and by extension, 20,000 people in Sioux City in 1955 when it was the fifth-largest stockyards in the nation. It pumped enough water to supply a city of 30,000 for a year. Nearly 4 million head of livestock went through the pens that year. An average of between 900 and 1,000 trucks each day of the year came into the stockyards.
If placed head-to-tail, a Journal reporter wrote in 1955, the prior year's worth of cattle would stretch from Sioux City to Tampa, Fla.; the hogs would stretch from Sioux City to Corpus Christi, Texas; the sheep, from Sioux City to Davenport.
In 1949, the stockyards had accumulated a 12-acre pile of manure along the Missouri River from 20 to 35 feet deep.
In 1973, the Sioux City stockyards was the largest in the nation with 2.6 million head, bigger than Chicago, bigger than Omaha.
The stockyards pulled in immigrants, it pulled in money, it pulled in national notice. It's probably not too much of a stretch to say without the stockyards, Sioux City would not be the city it is today.
And soon it will be gone.
The reasons for its demise are many, complex and gradual. There are fewer livestock producers, fewer packing plants. Plants like John Morrell and IBP have discovered different ways to acquire animals than via the stockyards. The industrial base is more diverse. Even the Missouri and Floyd rivers have changed channels.
Next year, Home Depot will be the anchor store in that area. Others will follow. The area one day will be a bright, clean commercial area with no one suspecting the history of the area.
Somewhere in the area, there should be a monument, maybe even a museum to the stockyards. KD Station is a likely place, it's already collected some of the history. Photo studies of the old fire station and horse barns that are still down there should be done before they face the wrecking ball.
History is the past preserved.