Nation's oldest carriage service no more

Published On: Mar 18 2013 04:31:23 PM EDT
Updated On: Mar 18 2013 06:42:35 PM EDT

The owner of St. Augustine Transfer Company says a bitter argument with the city and major financial problems are forcing him to close.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -

Not everyone rides the carriages in St. Augustine, but nearly everyone sees them.

What fun-loving tourists in the nation's oldest city were not seeing Monday is the sad and divisive end to the city's oldest business -- the oldest operating carriage service in the country -- the St. Augustine Transfer Company.

"It's as if your father died or something," company owner Murphy McDaniel said. "It's gone."

McDaniel has operated the carriage service as Avalon Carriage since 1982. Not long after buying the business, he started having serious legal disagreements with the city.

There is no doubt in his mind that his grave financial problems are the direct result of the city changing the permit rules after he had already made a huge investment under the old rules.

He says the city ran him out of town.

"I would say 100 percent, yes they did," McDaniel said.

"No, we wanted the carriage industry to thrive, but those things that are beyond our control are beyond our control," St. Augustine city manager John Regan said.

Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine St. Augustine without its historic horse-drawn carriages. It's a highlight of the trip for Connecticut resident Kaleigh Rusgrave and her grandmother, Charlene.

"Especially in a more historic place like this, it's nice to see it's still operating," Rusgrave said.

McDaniel currently holds half of the city's 30 permits, so that means 15 of them will eventually be up for grabs.

"You want to be a little careful how you just release the permits so we don't have too many carriages on the road," Regan said. "But I assure you that we'll be putting permits back into circulation."

As for McDaniel, all of Avalon's carriages are parked at the stables, a facility about to go into foreclosure. McDaniel is still scraping money together to feed the horses until he can sell them or get them adopted.

It was a difficult day for him.

"In some ways, I'm blessed. I'm still alive. I'm healthy. I'm standing up," he said. "There's a future of some sort. I don't know what it is, but it could be a lot worse."

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