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article number 135
article date 06-21-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
They Won’t Replace Horses but Automobile Fever Comes to DeLand Illinois, 1908
by Myrta Grace Paugh

From the book, Biggest Little Town on Earth. DeLand Illinois Centennial, 1873 – 1973.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article from the Deland Illinois 1973 Centennial book is from a section regarding buildings of DeLand, Illinois. When the author gets to auto garages, she gives us a great feel for the craze and use of early autos. No wonder … she took her first ride in one of the autos described in the article. We will discover that early cars were a novelty, not usable for dependable, all weather transportation. There was a new need for speed limits and of course repair garages. It is interesting to note: Automobile enthusiasts were called “autoists”.


The Smith garage of today (1973) was built by Cooper Bowsher and run by him until his death. His brother Cecil was in business with him and continued for awhile after Coop’s death. He sold to Clarence Smith who has now been in business for himself there for 34 years. Smith worked for Bowshers from 1919 to 1936. Coop Bowsher also built the building to the south for the local electric light plant.

The Bowshers were the first automobile agency in town. Who owned the first automobile is not known. An item in the newspaper mentioned a young man, but I have been unable to find his name. And Dr. McDeed, who practiced in DeLand from 1904 to 1907 was “noted for his high wheeled Holtzman automobile whose troubles were numerous.” “The horsepower was uncertain, the spark plugs more so, but Mac pioneered with high wheels and deserves the credit.”


But interest in automobiles did not really begin here until about 1908. To begin with, people didn’t seriously believe that automobiles would ever be practical enough to displace the good old horse and buggy. They couldn’t travel in mud or snow of which the area had plenty, and they would always be breaking down. You couldn’t fix them with a piece baling wire as you could a buggy and corn was cheaper than gasoline. Folks laughed and pointed when an auto passed and shouted “Get a horse.”

But by September of 1908, the village boasted four automobiles with good prospects of more before snow flew. The craze had certainly struck DeLand. I.C. Bowsher, George Hursh and Smith Wisegarver arrived in town one Friday almost covered with dust from their 250 mile trip from the factory at Kenosha, Wisconsin each with a Rambler Touring car. Excuses for not getting a car were many, “Can’t afford it,” “Couldn’t run one if I had it.” Cooper Bowsher took the agency for the Rambler and after a trip to Indianapolis to inspect the Overland car, took the agency for it also. It was then that he decided to build the garage.

Overland car factory, Indianapolis Indiana.

On the site of the woodworking shop he built a concrete building 40 by 60 feet, one story high. The building had many visitors as it went up. It was the first building of its kind both in material and use. Elder and Mansfield did the concrete block work. It was practically fireproof. It was well lighted having several windows including a large plate glass front. There was room for about fifteen cars. He installed a gasoline engine to run a dynamo to generate electricity to light the building and furnish power to run a pump, a vulcanizer, an air pump for filling tires and other machinery that might be added later.

The fifth machine was a Northern owned by Arwine Reed. Later in 1909, three more ramblers were sold bringing the total to eight. E.E. Reed, G.R. Trenchard and V.G. Stephenson succumbed to the craze. Trenchard, Stephenson and George Hursh made the trip to Kenosha for these cars. Three experts drove the autos home.

In December, Howard Kahler went to Kenosha to take his Rambler there for repairs. He got it as far as Wilmington on the trip home before the roads stopped him. He left it there until spring.


The automobile fever resulted in the Championship for tennis going by default to Porter and Rinehart. It seems that McMillen and Bowsher, the other team, had not time for tennis as McMillen had automobile fever and he and Bowsher went to Kenosha for another Rambler at a critical point in the game!

I. W. Gantz bought a Rambler in 1909. This writer had her first ride in an automobile when Marie took her Sunday School class in it to the woods for a picnic. The Gantz car arrived here after many difficulties. Bowsher and J.C. Bickel went after it.

On the road home they encountered mud, ran out of gas four miles from a town and had to walk to get more to get the car into Joliet Illinois. By that time they were out of funds so they wired home for money which was sent but they had no identification and the bank there refused them the money. Finally they got into communication with a friend nearby who came to their rescue. They left the car there, came home by train and went back the next week to get it. It had taken a week to get the car here and delivered.

Advertisement for 1908 Rambler.

J.L. Parrish bought a Cadillac in June of 1909 which was the 25th car in DeLand. And so the car craze continued. Cars became so common that people no longer rushed to the window to see whose car was passing by. And complaints began to roll in. The autos went too fast (the speed limit on Main Street was 15 miles an hour) and they were dangerous. And my, how they did roll up the dust! Most of the complaints came from south of the tracks. Autoists began increasing their speed there (just as they do today) and coming into town they didn’t slow down until they got to the tracks (just as they do today).

Slow down before you enter town, guys! DeLand had to post a 15 MPH speed limit to keep those early drivers under control.

Most of the time until they began oiling the roads and streets, the automobile was useless in the winter time. They were usually put up on blocks in the garage and barn and stayed there until spring. But the weatherman favored the autoist in 1909 and 10. Everyone was able to run his car till Christmas time.

Over time, autos were delivered by railroad thus eliminating the dealer’s needs to drive people to the factory then driving them to DeLand.

The first automobile accident recorded was in June of 1909. W.H. Chapin and son Dr. C.W. Chapin of Weldon started to Weldon with the older man practicing driving. He lost control of it and ran into a ditch, plunging so deeply into mud and water that I. C. Bowsher had to be called to pull him out.

The first fatal accident: A Mrs. Swigart and another woman came to DeLand to visit Mrs. John Olson two miles south of town. Clark Olson met them at the train with a carriage. At the edge of town the horses shied at an auto and ran. Mrs. Swigart panicked and jumped from the carriage. She was carried into the home of L.B. Hursht where she died.

A building built by Wilson Webb for an implement business after Mr. Bickel died has also been used as a garage. It stands at the end of the block north of Smith’s but is vacant now. Adolph Headlee once had a garage there.

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