A couple of years ago I visited with my friend Richard Stanley at the Fayette County Historical Museum in Connersville. The museum is just east of downtown on the S.W. corner of E. 5th Street (SR44) and S. Vine Street (SR1).
Connersville had a presence in early twentieth century auto manufacturing with 10 models made there from 1905 to 1937. Some makes are familiar like Auburn and Cord. Others are more obscure with Ansted and Lexington. The museum’s collection contains a number of Connersville-built cars including: a 1913 Empire, 1921 and 1922 Lexingtons, and a 1924 McFarlan town car. Displays around the outer walls exhibited items from various Connersville industries like Stant Manufacturing and Roots, both of which are operational today. They also have the Penrose Trophy won by Lexington in the 1924 Pikes Peak hill climb.
Other vehicles in the collection are a McFarlan carriage, which is being restored, and a Rex Doctor’s buggy. Another room had exhibits documenting Connersville life in the nineteenth century.
You can visit the museum on Sundays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. or call for appointment.
As this illustrates, your local history museum is a great resource. If you have something in your collection that might be informative to others, by all means, contact a curator. Your donation may start someone else’s journey or research into the past.
For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.
On a trip to the Gilmore Car Museum, and I was reminded that it has to be one of the top car museums in the country. Over the years, the Gilmore has grown from a car collection displayed in a number of huge barns to a 14-building campus exhibiting cars from the early 1900s through the 1960s.
Exhibits and collections include:
• Classic Car Club of America Museum
• Pierce-Arrow Museum
• Franklin Collection
• Cadillac-LaSalle Club Museum
• Model A Ford Museum
• Lincoln Motorcar Museum
• Tucker Historical Collection
• Checker Motors Archive
You experience our automotive heritage In addition to the cars themselves by visiting:
• 1930’s Shell Gas Station
• 1941 George & Sally’s Blue Moon Diner
• One of North America’s largest hood ornament and mascot collections
• 1967 Disney movie magic from “The Gnome-Mobile”
• Kalamazoo – The Other Motor City
Your experience starts in the Gilmore Heritage Center, which includes six galleries beginning with a model of Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park assembly line and then moves to cars built by Auburn, Duesenberg, Packard, and Rolls-Royce, plus others. Another gallery shows Chevrolet Corvettes, Shelby Cobras, and Hostetler’s Hudson Collection. The 1900’s & 1910’s gallery features examples from a 1903 “Curved Dash” Oldsmobile, a range of Ford Model T’s, an original-unrestored 1912 Cadillac showing 1380 miles. The 1950’s to 1960’s gallery included a 1957 Chevrolet convertible, a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, and a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, and the Franklin Collection highlights America’s premier air-cooled car.
The Model A Ford Museum is a recreation of a 1929 Ford dealership complete with vintage gas pumps, a service bay, and a parts department sharing the story of the iconic Model A. It was interesting to see that Indianapolis had one of the 35 branch assembly plants during this era. I especially enjoyed the cut-away engine and chassis display.
The 1897 Campania barn features autos from the 1930’s and 1940’s, including a 1934 Chrysler Airflow, a 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, a 1937 Studebaker Coupe Express truck, a 1940 Lincoln Continental, and a 1946 Stout Scarab. The Cadillac-LaSalle Collection features cars from the 1910’s through the 1960’s.
The Pierce-Arrow Museum gives an overview of the namesake’s automobiles between 1901 and 1938. Some paint is flaking off the unrestored 1931 Model 41 Limousine. That is not necessarily bad, because it gives us a view of aluminum body construction of the era.
The hood ornament and mascot collections are housed in two buildings. This has to be one of the most comprehensive collections around. The Classic Car Club of America Museum highlights cars of the classic era, including Indiana-built offerings Auburn, Cord, Studebaker, Stutz and Marmon.
At the 1930’s Shell gas station a service attendant was explaining a “full-service” gasoline stop on a 1931 DeSoto four-door sedan to a group of school children. This was a blast from the past. I believe the pedal car collection had an example of most every pedal car offered.
We stopped at the restored George & Sally’s Blue Moon Diner for lunch and an afternoon snack. I had a Coney dog for lunch and blueberry pie for my snack. It was like stepping back to that era of unhurried travel food across America.
I heartedly recommend visiting the Gilmore Car Museum to celebrate our car culture. Check it out for part of a day or spend a longer time for a total automotive heritage experience. Every time you visit, it is new.
For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.
We are again excited about exploring a new auto-related subject that we believe hasn’t received much attention at least in recent years. We’re not sure where this exploration may lead, but the discovery process should be interesting and challenging. But, it is a good time to review where our journey in celebrating car culture has led us.
Our exploration and celebration our car culture took a serious turn about 10 years ago when we published Indiana Cars: A history of the automobile in Indiana. In 2013, we updated the book and published a second edition. Inside we take a look of the innovations and pioneers who made a tremendous difference in the industry.
Next was Hoosier Tour: A 1913 Indiana to Pacific Tour. The book examines how an intrepid group from the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers’ Association traveled primitive pathways to help generate interest for building roads, like the proposed Ocean-to-Ocean Rock Highway later to be known as the Lincoln Highway. At that time, the IAMA Tour was one of the largest continental tours attempted in the United States.
Hoosier Tour led to a couple of other small books. For example, Tales of a Pathfinder is AL Westgard’s own account of exploring the trails that eventually led to improved highways. We were very impressed his pioneering work and wanted to share that with other car fanatics.
From a historical perspective the Inaugural Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational has to be one of the best motorsports events in the country. Where else can you get an up-close view of over 600 vintage race cars from the early 1910s to the present in addition to watching the racing and exhibition events?
Two of the earliest entries were the 1911 Nationals built here in Indianapolis. Imagine the sound of these 450 cubic-inch behemoths. It was like being transported back to that era 105 years ago.
For Indy 500 roadster aficionados, there were numerous examples from pre-war offerings up to a 1964 Sheraton Thompson Special tribute car of the last winning front-engine roadster. Probably my favorite roadster was the 1960 Dowgard – Watson roadster.
The cars were on display on the infield and open to all fans, providing up-close access to the race cars. The owners and crews were very welcoming in sharing the stories of their particular cars. I was able to relive many stories from my Indy 500 memories.
For all you vintage racing enthusiasts, you have to put the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational on your bucket list for 2017.
For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.
This installment continues our tour along Indiana’s Historic National Road on Indianapolis’ near eastside. Ford Motor Company operated its Indianapolis Branch Assembly Plant at 1307-1323 E. Washington Street from 1914 to 1932. In its heyday, the plant’s capacity of 300 assembled cars per day was the highest output of any Indiana manufacturing plant.
Where Southeastern Avenue merges with East Washington Street, on the southwest corner, there is a monument erected in 1916 for Indiana’s Centennial with the following inscription: “The milestone marks the crossing of the National and Michigan Roads. Over these roads came many of the pioneers, who, by their courage and industry, founded the great commonwealth of Indiana.
The second near eastside auto plant was The Cole Motor Company at 730 E. Washington Street, which produced its line of prestige automobiles at 730 E. Washington Street from 1913 to 1925. For a brief period, Cole was second only to Cadillac in volume of sales in its price range.
At Meridian Street, turn right or (north) one block to visit Monument Circle. The Circle has always been the center of Indianapolis’ business and commercial life since the late 1820s. On October 9, 1908, Joseph J. Cole president of the Cole Carriage Company (predecessor of the Cole Motor Car Co.) completed his first “Solid Tire Auto.” He was so excited about the prospect of his “first drive” that he forgot that one important accessory was missing — the brakes — believe it or not. The 14 horsepower car was hitting on both cylinders as it was driven through the streets of Indianapolis. He spent most of his afternoon on this initial test run driving around and around Monument Circle until the car ran out of gas, providing the necessary means to stop the car.
In 1891, Charles H. Black garnered the dubious distinction of having Indiana’s first auto accidents while driving a German-made Benz on its maiden voyage in the commercial district just south of the Circle. During this six-block drive, Black crashed into a surrey when the horses became frightened-the first automobile accident. Damage to the surrey was approximately $85 which Mr. Black assumed, having it rebuilt at his carriage factory. At the next turn, the corner of Illinois and Washington Streets, Black lost control of the Benz and they crashed into a shop window in the Occidental Hotel-creating the second accident. Damage-$25. The third happened when they changed their course east on Washington Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. At this corner, control of the machine was lost again and another shop window was destroyed. Damage was another $25. Acting in accordance with the suggestions from the police, Black and his passengers drove back to his carriage factory, ending one of the first automobile journeys in America.
Go around the Circle and go South on Meridian Street one block and turn right or (west) back onto Washington Street.
Go west two blocks to the State Capitol. The State Capitol Lawn has two historical markers concerning the National Road. The first one, at the south entrance to the Indiana State Capitol along West Washington Street, celebrates the construction of the road from 1806 to 1839. The American Society of Civil Engineers National Road Monument dedicated in 1976, is located at the southwest corner of the State Capitol grounds.
Go one block west on the south side of Washington Street. The National Old Trails Association was formed in 1912 to mark the auto route and convince local and state officials to improve it. The National Old Trails Road originated on the East Coast and terminated on the West Coast at San Diego. In 1926, the Old National Route became the new U.S. 40. Completion of Interstate 70 in the 1960’s changed the importance of U.S. 40. Today, the National Road is a byway in Indiana’s transportation history.
The Old Trails Office Building at 309 W. Washington Street was designed by Pierre & Wright, was built in 1929. The building is an excellent sample of a terra cotta façade. Take a special note of the terra cotta features around the doors, near the top of the building, and in the vestibule. This romantic iconography is of Indiana heads and wagon trains that inspired early auto touring along the National Road.
Proceed west on Washington Street to White River State Park. One of the landmarks in the park is the Washington Street bridge. Built in 1916, the 844 foot concrete arched span replaced the original covered bridge that was built in the 1840s.
Go west on Washington Street to Harding Street and turn left or (south) to the Duesenberg complex at 1511 W. Washington Street. Prior to moving to Indianapolis, the Duesenberg brothers – Fred and August – built extremely high-quality and advanced engines and automobiles. Part of their reason for moving here was to return to their racing roots and be near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they had already enjoyed some success. They built the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company complex at 1511 W. Washington St in 1920. The only building remaining today from what is probably one of the most famous American built automobiles is this red brick Final Assembly building. The 1920 Model A Duesenberg was a luxurious car, which pioneered the use of straight eight-cylinder engines and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. E.L. Cord of Auburn, IN, acquired control of the company in1926. His mission, as he explained to Fred Duesenberg, was to develop the ultimate motorcar that would outclass all American makes.
The Model J, introduced at the New York Automobile Salon for the 1929 model year, was the most remarkable automobile in America: bigger, faster, more elaborate, and more expensive than any other car of its time. The make survived most of the Depression, but died in the collapse of the Cord Corporation in 1937. Model J production totaled 480 before the end. Over 75 percent of the original Model Js built are still roadworthy some 70 years later. No other American marque has been so fortunate. The complex was later used by Marmon-Herrington and American LaFrance companies for bus and truck manufacturing. Note the fading painted sign spelling out Duesenberg on the north side of the building.
This installment ends on Indianapolis’ near westside. Check back again to continue experiencing Indiana’s Historic National Road in the west central part of the state.
For more information on Indiana rides & drives follow this link.