The advent of the automobile a century ago must have been an interesting era. Many people considered autos a novelty and didn't believe they'd ever be useful to civilization. Others thought they were the greatest thing ever, and devoted much time to learning all they could about horseless carriages.
Perhaps the first auto seen in the area was at the Huron County Fair in 1897. Very few were seen on the road, however, due to the poor road conditions and the imperfect abilities of the earliest autos to cope with reality. Aug. 16, 1899, must have been a big day in the county when two Winton automobiles passed through Norwalk en route from New York to Chicago. One of the Wintons was occupied by Alexander Winton and a (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reporter doing a story.
Running parallel to the two Wintons was a Davis auto, which stopped in Milan on the evening of the 16th and stayed until the next afternoon. The Davis was attempting to drive from New York to San Francisco, but I could not find a news story to confirm that it ever did so.
Just five years later, in the summer of 1904, the Wakeman Independent Press carried a story reporting 1,000 autos were due to pass through Wakeman and stop in Norwalk. They would be carrying 5,000 tourists from several eastern cities to the Chicago World's Fair. Horse drivers were warned to keep off the roads that day, as the horses usually were frightened by autos.
When I checked this story in the Norwalk papers I found that the truth was that this caravan amounted to about 38 autos with considerably less than 5,000 passengers. The first two cars to arrive from Cleveland threw out confetti to mark the route for those following. It had taken them 2.5 hours to drive here from downtown Cleveland. Most of the autos stopped for lunch at the St. Charles Hotel and then headed west to Toledo. One of the autos was driven by Harlan Whipple of Andover, Mass., president of the American Automobile Association.
Included in this 1904 caravan was a Napier auto driven by Charles Thomas for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Glidden of Boston. The Gliddens were in the process of driving around the world, but could only do so in the summer months. They planned to drive 40,000 miles, and had so far done only 17,000 miles when they arrived in Norwalk.
Mr. Glidden told a local reporter that the roads from Boston west were the worst they had encountered in the 17 counties they had already visited. They were the first motorists to cross the Arctic Circle when they drove across it in 1903, in Sweden. He estimated that their trip would be completed in 1906 or 1907.
Still in all, my favorite auto story is one I wrote on Feb. 9, 1996. Frank Lamkin lived at 108 W. Main St. in 1900 and wanted to buy an automobile. He went to New York City and bought a "Mobile" and decided to drive it home. This was easier said than done due to the poor roads, but he was game to try it.
His route was north to Albany from New York City and then west along the Mohawk River to Syracuse and on to Buffalo and Cleveland. Mrs. Lamkin met him there, and they drove to Norwalk to finish the trip just two weeks from when he started. His 746 miles was then the longest auto trip ever accomplished in the United States.
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Remember "My Just Like Old Times" books can be purchased at Colonial Flower & Gift Shoppe, 7 W. Main St. in uptown Norwalk. These fully indexed books preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.