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2018-07-11 / Local News

History of Automobile in Newberry Rolls Along


Car of unknown manufacturer owned by Percy Foster of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This photo was taken at Whitefish Lake in Curtis in 1908. Foster owned Foster Construction Co. that built many of the buildings in Newberry including the Community building, present high school, and old elementary school built in 1908. (note steering wheel is on the right side and the driver with goggles on his hat). Car of unknown manufacturer owned by Percy Foster of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This photo was taken at Whitefish Lake in Curtis in 1908. Foster owned Foster Construction Co. that built many of the buildings in Newberry including the Community building, present high school, and old elementary school built in 1908. (note steering wheel is on the right side and the driver with goggles on his hat). Around the turn of the 19th century, many small towns across the country were starting to see the transition from the horse and buggy to the “horseless carriage.”

Business owners and wealthy people were the only ones who could afford to purchase them. It wasn’t until Henry Ford created the Model T that the average individual was able to buy one as well.

The earliest indication of an automobile in Newberry was in the local section of the Newberry News from 1904. This item stated, “Dr. H.E. Perry broke his wrist while attempting to crank his car.” In those days cars were started by cranking the engine. If the engine kicked and the crank was not held properly, it could cause someone to break his wrist or arm.

There were often humorous stories of what people thought of these new contraptions. An item in the Newberry News from May 12, 1905 reads, “While Doc’s touring car was autoing up the hill to the hospital last Sunday the ‘what-doyou call-it’ got tangled up with the ‘eccentric’ and slipped a cog, bringing the machine to a standstill.

“When the chef came along with ‘Kitty Belle,’ Doc asked for a tow, but the pony held her nose and refused to associate with such a vilesmelling vehicle.”

One of the other early autos in Newberry was owned by Dr. Gregory, a local dentist. He purchased an Orient buckboard, which featured a single-cylinder, air-cooled engine.

Newberry News editor William G. Fretz wrote an article in 1932 about his remembrances of Dr. Gregory’s auto. His inspiration for this article came when Ed Montcalm of Munising was heading to Detroit to enter his Orient car in the “Oldest Car in Michigan” contest at the Detroit Auto Show.

Fretz recalled that Newberry merchant John Shattuck protested those contraptions, saying they would scare the horses and cause the cows to produce sour milk.

The article also stated, “The village fathers, in a spirit of levity, passed a special ordinance stipulating that the contraption should not be left without tying, specifying a speed not to exceed two miles an hour [and] imposing severe penalties should it elect to climb any telephone poles.”

By May of 1912 there were 12 autos listed in Newberry, all owned by local merchants and doctors. Dr. E.H. Campbell, medical superintendent of the Upper Peninsula Hospital (later Newberry State Hospital), owned a 1908 REO touring car. John H. Hunter, local lumberman, drove a 1910 Cadillac.

In October of 1908 an item in the Newberry News said, “Dr. and Mrs. Campbell and Dr. and Mrs. Perry went to McMillan in the auto and attended the dedicatory services of the new Methodist Church. It was the first auto ever seen in McMillan and the enthusiasm it called forth rivaled the dedication.”

One of the first auto dealers in Newberry was James C. Foster, who owned Foster’s Hardware. He sold Fords, and then went to Buick automobiles. A new Ford car cost $495 and $595, and when purchasing a vehicle, the new owner had to pay so much per month before delivery was even made.

In 1916 Surrell’s Livery was renting autos, and by 1919 Matt Surrell, Sr., owner of Surrell’s Livery, opened a Chevrolet dealership.

In 1921 the old livery building burned, and Matt Surrell erected his new dealership and garage on the same location. This building, later Knauf Motors, was located on the present site of the Community Action Agency building.

In the late 1920s W.W. Carmody opened a Ford garage called Newberry Motor Company. This dealership and garage was located next to the Newberry Hotel, later known as The Falls Hotel. Carmody sold his business in 1950 to J.P. Rahilly.

In the wintertime auto owners would put their cars in storage. With plenty of farmers with horses and sleighs, that became the main form of transportation. Covered sleighs were used to transport kids to school, and the local grocery store would deliver groceries to customers also using horsedrawn sleighs.

In the early days there were many automobile accidents caused by inexperience and the conditions of the roads. There were also a few instances where horses were startled by the autos and people were thrown from their carriages.

The Newberry News reported many early accidents. In 1912 an automobile was running at a high rate of speed and collided with a stump. A year later an auto was passing a load of hay near Dollarville and the driver drove too close to the ditch, which caused the ground to break loose, and the car tipped over.

Other accidents were caused by driving at high speeds, driving without lights and collisions with trains.

A Newberry News article from the 1920s reported that two young brothers and their sisters were heading to Newberry from Deer Park at night. One of the sisters was standing on the running board with a flashlight so her brother could see where they were going, as the headlights were out of order.

Coming from the other direction was a horse and buggy, and it wasn’t until the horse hit the girl in the face that the siblings were aware of the danger. The girl was thrown back in the car and the horse ran away.

Despite the many accidents that occurred, the local section of the News also described many Sunday drives taken by Newberry residents that were popular with the early autoists. These included trips to Lakefield, Curtis, Rexton and other areas.

By the 1920s more automobiles were starting to appear around the Newberry area. With Model T Fords being available at an affordable rate, many area residents could purchase an auto.

Filling stations also started to appear, along with other auto dealerships over the years, including Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge Brothers, Oldsmobile and more.

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