Beginnings of auto industry recognized
|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD It all started here.
In a building that once stood between Taylor and Worthington Streets, the American automotive industry was born over a century ago and now a renovated park and a new statue will call attention to Springfield's contribution to transportation history.
On Friday, local elected, civic and business leaders gathered at the Duryea Way park for the debut of a stainless steel life-size replica of the 1895 Duryea automobile the second American gasoline-powered car and the first automobile that didn't use carriage parts.
Putnam Vocational High School teacher Richard Stevens built the statue. Over 10 years ago, Stevens built a working replica of the 1893 Duryea to mark the centennial of the technological achievement. That vehicle was at the Friday ceremony as well.
The Springfield Business Improvement District, J.S. Consulting and Evan Plotkin of Samuel D. Plotkin & Associates, Inc underwrote the statue's cost.
Stevens told Reminder Publications that Frank and Charles Duryea have not received the kind of recognition they deserve as inventors and innovators. Too many people think that Henry Ford invented the automobile, he said, but explained that Ford's first car came three years after the Duryea vehicles.
The 1893 car was built in the Russell Machine Shop, the building that once stood where the park is now located. It was demolished as part of an urban renewal project in the 1960s. All that remains of the building is a wall that is part of the building that housed the former Pioneer Valley Brew Pub.
The 1895 car was started in the Russell Machine Shop, but was finished next door in the Stacy Building that still stands.
Stevens noted that the 1895 car was put to the test by Frank Duryea who drove it to Worcester, Northampton, Pittsfield and Hartford, Conn. In 1895, the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored one of the first auto races and the Duryea car won.
Stevens told the audience gathered for the unveiling that the 1895 Duryea car was significant as it has a two-cylinder engine, a three-speed transmission, pneumatic tires and brakes.
Stevens began work on the statue last September. It is constructed entirely from stainless steel tubing and plates and Stevens was assisted by Victor Santos, a fellow teacher at Putnam Vocational High School and Jim Koehler, a teacher at Gateway Regional High School.
Stevens is president of the Duryea Transportation Society and has been looking for a location in the city to establish a transportation museum. Springfield was also the location for the only Rolls-Royce assembly plant in the United States in the 1920s, the home of the first American motorcycle, and where the Granville brothers developed the famed GeeBee racing planes in the 1930s.
Mayor Charles Ryan, State Senators Stephen Buoniconti and Brian Lees and State Representative Cheryl Rivera attended the event.
Referring to the Duryea brothers' spirit of invention, Ryan told the crowd that "there is not reason why the kind of people who were 100 years ago couldn't be here in the next 10 to 20 years."