Stockyards closure is the end of an era

By Janet Kubat Willette

SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. — An era has ended.

The last cattle to sell at South St. Paul’s stockyards moved through the auction ring Friday.

Founded in 1886, South St. Paul’s stockyards were once the world’s largest. They were half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, with 80 acres of pens.


The stockyards shrank in size in recent years due to commercial development pressure, increasing traffic congestion, high taxes and high sewer bills. Urban sprawl also played a role. Livestock moved farther away from the market as houses, businesses and neighborhoods sprouted in what were once farms and fields.

The last sale was business as usual for cattle buyer Harold Stewart. Stewart sat in his special cushioned chair in the third row of the auction barn, watching the action in the ring and answering the phone installed to his left.

Auctioneer Paul Behr, who worked at the stockyards from 1973 to 1990, said Stewart could have a phone in both ears yet still catch a mistake in the ring. He was one of many visiting auctioneers who took a turn at the microphone during a benefit auction of stockyards memorabilia.

Behr, now of Denver, said the stockyards were a big part of his life.

"When I heard the date was April 11, I circled it," Behr said. "I wouldn’t miss it."

The 27.3-acre stockyards were sold to Interstate Partners in 2006, but Central Livestock Association, which purchased the yards in 1999, retains leased possession through April 30, said Jeff Reed, CLA’s chief operating officer.

Interstate Partners will demolish the buildings after it takes possession on May 1 and clear the site for an extension of the BridgePort Business Park.

The CLA office and about 10 staff members are moving to a new office down the street. Seven or eight employees took jobs at the CLA-Zumbrota Market, Reed said. There will also be 22 layoffs, including a number of part-time employees. All were offered a severance package.

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