The Warren County Historical Society Logo newly adopted January 2015. Copyright 2015 Warren County Historical Society, Queensbury, NY. Design by www.orangeolive.com
Warren County Historical Society Presents …
The Digital Version “REWIND”
July 1, 2015
From 1959 through 1965, Howard Mason dictated his local history column to his daughter, who typed the material and sent it to the local newspapers for publication.
Howard had the good fortune to live in the greater Glens Falls area during a time of great change. Warren County and the Town of Queensbury changed from an agrarian to a suburban environment. Through his columns, he was able to tell this story of change and recall the hundreds of people whom he met during his lifetime.
The Warren County Historical Society has reprinted Howard Mason’s books, Backward Glances, Volumes I, II & III into one volume. Fully indexed, the new volume includes some new photographs. It is available from the Historical Society for $30.00, tax included (add $5 for shipping and handling). Call 743-0734 for details or stop in the office on Tuesday or Thursday from 9 am – 5 pm.
The following is an article taken from the original Backward Glances, Volume II, by Howard Mason, originally printed in 1964. New photographs have been added in the new edition.
FIRST AUTOMOBILES IN GLENS FALLS AND VICINITY
On a pleasant evening in August 1901 I was driving a high spirited team down Ridge Street when a strange looking object rounded the corner of May Street and headed toward Bank Square. This was the first thing I ever saw move under its own power on land or water, except by steam. At the sight of the unusual object, the horses froze in their tracks. But I think I was more startled than they were.
I learned soon after that this was an Oldsmobile with a 6 1/2 horsepower gasoline motor hidden under the single seat. It had a dashboard but no whip socket. And it steered with a handle! A man and his wife were riding in it. The man was Everett Harrison who owned and operated a mince meat factory in upper South Street at the time. Wally Cowan’s father, Earle, was the plant manager. Mrs. Harrison was the daughter of Ezra Hartman, shoe dealer in Glens Falls for many years.
The first automobile dealer in Glens Falls, as I recall, was Walter T. Dickinson, at the corner of Hunter and Bay Streets. He sold the one-cylinder Cadillac invented by Alanson P. Brush. Mr. Dickinson started the first taxi cab business in Glens Falls with these same Cadillacs.
The Miller brothers entered the field at about the same time with the Buick. They built the first large commercial garage in Glens Falls and held the first automobile show in their new building in April of 1908. At that time I bought my first automobile, a one-cylinder Cadillac from Walter Dickinson. These cars were geared so low they would climb the steepest hill. In fact, Mr. Dickinson’s big talking point was that they would go up “Top of the World” mountain where his brother Charles lived at that time.
More than once, when coming up Glen Street hill, from the river, I had people pass me while walking on the sidewalk. They would look back at me smilingly. Ernest Miller took me for a ride in one of his Buicks before I bought the Cadillac and headed straight for Miller Hill to show me it would climb it in high gear. It did. The Cadillac wouldn’t but I bought it anyhow. It seemed like such a safe and gentle creature. However, people made so much fun of my “One-lunger”, as they were called, that I traded it for a two-cylinder Rambler. This gave me so much trouble that I went back to one-cylinder Cadillacs – two more in fact.
My first real car was a four-cylinder Berliet made in France. It was later made in this country under the French patents and sold under the name of Locomobile.
I believe Dan Cowles and Frank Starbuck bought the Joubert and White buckboard factory where the Empire building now stands and began selling Fords about 1906. These were known as the Model-R’s. My next door neighbor, Clayton W. Jenkins, bought one of them in 1908, shortly after I bought my first car. Ford quickly followed this with the Model-S, a snappy looking little car. I recall that Ed Angell had one of these – his first car.
Empire Auto on Warren St in Glens Falls Interior/Exterior.
The Model-T came out in 1910 and from then on became most everyone’s first car. Mr. Cowles and Mr. Starbuck went on to build a big garage in Warren Street. The peak year for the sale of Model-T’s was in 1917 when that great triumvirate of salesmen, W. Stanislaus Kelleher, Rollin Fisher and Joseph Socia, sold 840 of them.
My father bought his first car that year at a price of $378, delivered in Glens Falls.
Edward F. Irish was one of the pioneers in the automobile business here. He got his start in a barn on Bay Street with Winfield Harris as a partner and soon after, in 1908, erected a building which now houses the Burns News Agency. Mr. Irish carried on the business for a few years as the Glens Falls Automobile Company, and then sold it to Dana Bissell and J. Clinton Smith, I believe.
John R. Loomis Jr. and Charles B. Dix were also very early automobile enthusiasts. They shunned Fords for the bigger cars. Mr. Loomis had a summer camp for years on Lake Crossett in the upper part of Hogtown near Bee’s Dude Ranch. Cars were not very dependable in those days and more than once I was called on to carry the
Loomis or Dix parties in or out with horses and a surrey with a fringe on top when the cars failed to negotiate those steep hills.
Tires caused more trouble as I remember than motors did in those early days. There was no guarantee on those fabric treads and you were lucky if they lasted 2,000 miles.
Model T Ford, courtey Internet.
For several years the Europeans were ahead of us in quality and design of automobiles. I especially remember Jere T. Finch’s $15,000 Mercedes and Winfield A. Huppoch of Hudson Falls bought a Winton. I can still recall his son, little Milton, driving it so proudly in a parade.
Winton Automobile Internet Photo.
George A. Ferris of Hudson Falls had the first Thomas Flyer, named after the famous E. R. Thomas who was the first man to drive an automobile around the world, I believe.
Thoma Flyer, courtesy Internet.
Many prominent families also began to buy the three “P’s”, the Peerless, Packard and Pierce Arrow – all gone now.
There was not much pleasure in owning or driving a car 50 or 60 years ago. Roads were bad by today’s standards and in mid-summer the dust was terrible. The only stretch of hard surface near Glens Falls in 1906 was an 8-foot wide strip of macadam from South Glens Falls to Saratoga. Tires blew out frequently and drivers had to carry a flock of those little dry cell batteries to replace the one in the ignition that ran down.
Until the Model-T Ford got going in such a big way scarcely anyone thought the automobile was here to stay. As shrewd a businessman as W. Irving Griffing, one-time Mayor, built what about 1907 was a salesroom and repository for fine carriages and horse goods. The entire basement was laid out exclusively for horses. He once said to me, “There is one part of this business (livery) the automobile will never take away from us – funerals!” It seemed too undignified to hurry anyone to the grave in one of those noisy contraptions.
George S. Devine, who owned the Palace Livery Stables in Hudson Falls, expressed about the same opinion.
Daniel F. Griffin, the most far-sighted business man I ever knew, when showing me his first car (one of those first Franklins with the sloping hood) said to me, “This won’t last long. It’s only a fad. It will go out like the bicycle did.”
So it is no wonder banks wouldn’t lend money for the purchase of an automobile in those early days.
Automobiles and their drivers were not popular at all 50 or 60 years ago. Horses were deathly afraid of the cars and, as I recall, the law required a driver to not only stop his car but to shut off the motor if the driver of a horse or team raised his hand, warning that his horse was frightened. If I had time I always got out and helped the driver get his horse or team past without accident. Even so, I once scared Jerry Golden and his horse so badly they went
over a low stone wall. Luckily, the buggy stayed on its four wheels and away they went across a big field.
I repeat, there wasn’t much pleasure in owning or driving an automobile in those “good old days”.
© July 1 2015, Warren County Historical Society.
Rewind maintained by Gary Evans 1 July 2015