Monday, August 31, 2009

Cutting Edge Technology in Hastings: The Automobile

The Society's earliest photograph of a car, probably taken before 1907 (click on any photograph for more information)

On Memorial Day of 1896, Hastings residents were thrilled by an event that had, until then, only been witnessed by residents of Paris, London, and Chicago – a horseless carriage race! The race began at about 2PM at King’s Bridge and passed along Broadway through Yonkers, Hastings, and Dobbs Ferry, with the finishing line in front of the veranda of the Ardsley Country Club. The judges waiting on the veranda included John Jacob Astor, Chauncey Depew (President of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad) and Frank Thomson (Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad). Here is how this momentous occasion was described in a 1929 article from the Hastings News:

“John Brisbane Walker, then editor of the Cosmopolitan, living at Irvington on an estate near what is now the Chevrolet factory and in a house built by Stanford White, offered ... $1,000 to anyone who could ride from New York City to Irvington in one of the new-fangled “horseless carriages.” No time limit was stipulated. All the contestants had to do was to get to Irvington. People from miles around … gathered in anticipation of the momentous ride.

All Hastings jammed its way along the road. From New York seven [according to the New York Times, there were only six] determined riders started out. Riding before them on horse back were couriers who were to clear the way and to see that no on was hurt by the speeding monsters. Hours passed. People on the Handy porch [at Broadway and Warburton] craned their necks. There was a tremendous noise, as if a dozen threshing machines were in action. Around the bend two puffing, steaming horseless carriages were coming at a terrific rate of 8 miles an hour. Cheers broke out.

Eventually one of the two got to Irvington. The Columbus got Mr. Walker’s $1,000.”
The winner of the race was Frank Duryea. He was driving one of his company’s Duryea Motor Wagons, which were among the first “motor-vehicles” powered by gasoline. Frank covered the 13 miles from King’s Bridge to Ardsley in one hour, five minutes, and forty-two and two-fifths seconds. A year earlier, Frank had won the Chicago Times Herald race with an even better speed -- 7.5 miles an hour.

In 1895 the horseless carriage was called “a pack of French nonsense,” which could never replace a horse. In 1910 a series of photographs were taken of the lively Hastings - Dobbs Ferry Auto Club, documenting the first stirrings of Hastings’ addiction to the newfangled machine.

The Hastings - Dobbs Ferry Auto Club on Broadway near the Hastings - Dobbs Ferry boundary in 1910. Many Hastings residents were members, including Irving Smith, Frederick Charles Sr., Thomas F. Reynolds, Walter Keys, Henry Collins Brown, and the actor Walker Whiteside. These were some of the wealthier members of our community, and it’s not surprising to find them all in the auto club, since they were the ones who could afford to purchase automobiles.

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