(Photo courtesy of the Allen County Historical Museum)

Horseless carriages paved way into century

By CONNIE HAAS ZUBER of The News-Sentinel

As the century turned, the auto was arriving in Fort Wayne.

First were the "silent, gliding" electrics of the city's leading merchants, according to "The Columbia Street Story," a history of Fort Wayne's first main street written by Roy M. Bates and Kenneth B. Keller for Fort Wayne's bicentennial in 1994.

"Some remember the old battery station, at ... Washington and Broadway, where weird lights flickered all night as batteries for the electrics were charged for the next day's use," they write.

But the 20th century's first decade also saw the arrival of early cars on the city's mostly unpaved streets. Some of the local "horseless carriages" were purchased from Fort Wayne's first Ford dealer, or were made here, however briefly, by the Economy Motor Buggy Co.

Local historian Bob DeVinney found Economy Motor Buggy in the earliest city directories in his extensive collection. He has the company identified in 1908 and part of 1909 in a factory in what was called the Commercial Addition off Taylor Street, although he does not know an exact address.

J. Ferd and Kenneth H. Beuret were the owners.

DeVinney also has an old Cliff Richards column from The Journal Gazette that mentions Economy Motor Buggy, along with the two other makes of cars once built in Fort Wayne, the Wayne and the Huffman.

"But I couldn't find anything about them," he said.

The record is better for the city's first Ford dealer. That honor goes to Andy and Jesse Brosius, according to "The Columbia Street Story." DeVinney's 1910 city directory confirms the tale and adds the address of 117 E. Columbia St. for the Brosius-Sesline Auto Co.

"Their showroom was little more than a `hole in the wall,' ‘' Bates and Keller write.

DeVinney agrees that the city's first auto dealerships were modest affairs, more like agencies where buyers could make contact with the manufacturers than showrooms. His research also gives him the impression that early garages and dealerships were often allied with livery stables. It's likely the city's first automobile taxi service was allied with a livery business, too.

DeVinney's research turned up business listings for the Randall Motor Car Co., owned by Alfred Randall. "I think he is more like a taxi service in the old livery stable at 118 to 120 W. Wayne St. They had these touring cars that apparently had chauffeurs to drive them," he said.

Alfred C. Randall bought a biographical sketch listing in a city history published in 1917, in which he is described as "one of the prominent representatives of the automobile trade in Fort Wayne, his having been the first commercial garage established in the city."

Randall had been in the bicycle business since 1893, switching to an auto garage and salesroom in 1902. He sold the car business in 1916 but continued selling trucks.

The Brosiuses and Randall had plenty of competitors.

"In 1909 there was a Fort Wayne Auburn Auto Co. at 205 E. Columbia," DeVinney said. "They must have sold Auburn cars. The owners listed are Charles LaDue of New York City and J.M. Carmer. In 1909, Carmer was in Auburn, Ind."

A little off the Columbia Street beaten path but close to downtown was Ideal Auto Co. at 714 and 716 Maiden Lane and Roussey Automobile Co. at 219-223 Pearl St.

George D. Hall, F.K. Safford and M. Blitz are listed as the owners of Ideal in 1910.

A 1911 publication apparently designed to inspire economic development, called "Fort Wayne: Indiana's Busiest Happy City," had a special category in its patrons listing for Automobiles and Garages.

Despite its relentless cheery and progressive tone, one of the innovations the publication mentions gives readers a sense of how bumpy, dusty and muddy it must have been for motorists in Fort Wayne at the turn of the century.

"Each year the city is adding several miles of paved roads and sidewalks," it crows.

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