Henderson history: Ingram Street auto dealership destroyed by fire in 1923
Two of Henderson’s earliest auto dealerships were located on Ingram Street when one of them went up in flames 100 years ago.
With the information available to me currently – and further investigation could prove me wrong -- I’m pretty sure the first Henderson building erected as an auto dealership stands at the corner of First and Ingram streets. It’s vacant now but was last used as a furniture store.
There were auto repair garages that dealt in auto sales before that, but the Henderson Daily Journal of Oct. 15, 1914, reported that John Delker was erecting that building and that it was going to be used as an auto dealership by the White-King Motor Co. to sell Fords and Hupmobiles.
The contract called for it to be completed by Nov. 10. The Journal of Feb. 24, 1915, carried an advertisement from White-King saying that the next day a Dodge car would go on display at First and Ingram.
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Cars are such a big part of our lives today that it’s difficult to grasp a time when they weren’t. Henderson County had only a handful of cars between 1900 and 1905. The Gleaner of April 17, 1910, said local car sales were increasing. “There are over 100 machines in the county, while five years ago there were only two.” The number increased to about 150 by 1916.
But it wasn’t until the 1920s that the automobile really came into its own. And Floyd Miller and H.F. Chambers of Owensboro decided to cash in on the demand. They ran an ad in Gleaner of Nov. 12, 1922, announcing they were the local dealership for the Durant and Star automobiles.
They were operating out of temporary quarters at 222 N. Main St. but expected to be in their new building at 121-125 N. Ingram St. by early December. More about the Ingram Street site after I digress a moment.
William C. Durant was co-founder of General Motors and used it to build Buick into the nation’s best-selling brand – and the core of GM -- although he was forced out twice before he founded Durant Motors and unveiled his new line of Durant cars in August 1921. They were a mid-level car that competed directly against Dodge.
In 1922 he added a lower-priced car aimed at taking on Henry Ford’s Model T. The Star was priced similar to the Tin Lizzie but was slightly bigger and had 35 horsepower as compared to Ford’s 20. The Star, by the way, offered the first stationwagon complete from the factory. Before that, ordering a stationwagon required buying the car’s skeleton and having it sent to another firm for custom body work.
It's also worth noting that Durant developed the idea of franchising auto dealerships.
But back to the Miller-Chambers auto dealership, because a fire there that burned 35 vehicles is what prompted all this early car history.
The Ingram Street building, which measured about 100 by 75 feet, was less than three months old when it was destroyed by fire, according to The Gleaner of March 20, 1923. The origin was unknown, but it was discovered about 2 a.m. by Louis Schoepflin, night watchman at the Delker Bros. Buggy Co.
Firefighters from both fire stations responded quickly, “but the flames had such headway, and with a high wind blowing, the (firefighters) could not save the garage but kept the fire confined to that building.”
And it was difficult to keep several blocks from burning down. The wind – and exploding tanks of gasoline – blew burning materials onto the roofs of buildings as far away as Third and Green streets. Dr. J.U. Ridley, who lived across Ingram Street, had several holes burned in his roof. The roofs of houses on the north side of Second Street also caught fire, although those fires were extinguished with chemicals.
“The fire was spectacular,” The Gleaner reported. “For a while it seemed that a number of buildings would be lost…. Tanks of gasoline exploded with loud detonations and (firefighters) were in danger fighting the blaze. The explosions awakened many persons and few could get near the blaze for falling sparks.”
John J. Delker, the owner of the building, said his loss was about $22,000. Even though it was not covered by insurance, he said, he planned to rebuild immediately.
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The Gleaner of March 21 listed all of the vehicles lost and their owners. Nine different makes of cars – six of which no longer exist – were destroyed that night.
The Miller-Chambers company lost 13 Durants and Stars, although all of them were insured. Bob Cimini’s Durant also was insured, as was the Star of R.N. Evans.
Will Buchanan, Joe Ballard, Jesse Farley, and John Hart had no insurance on their Fords.
Kice Motor Co. lost four Buicks, all of which were insured, although Shelby Gerard had no coverage on his Buick.
Other insured vehicles included E.R. Conway’s Packard and W.W. Thompson’s Studebaker.
C.L. Eastwood, and Walker Smith had no insurance on their Oaklands and neither did A.T. Kockritz on his Hudson.
C.J. Fleming and W.F. Knowles both lost Dodges. Fleming’s was insured.
The fire also burned the Eclipse Laundry truck, B.B. Gibson’s ice truck, and the Baskett Grain Co.’s truck.
The March 24 Gleaner reported a crew of men were hard at work clearing the site so Delker could rebuild. It also said Miller was looking at several different sites as a temporary location. An advertisement in the April 23 Gleaner noted Miller had found one in the old Rudy-Rowland livery at First and Green streets.
The Gleaner of June 10 noted the dealership was back in business at its old site. The story noted only a few months earlier the site had been “smoking ruins” that “smote the eyes of the crowd that stood by and watched the flames eating the heart out of the building.
“But before the conflagration had ceased to glow, plans for rebuilding were discussed and the next day workmen were busy clearing away the debris preparing for replacement.”
The Miller-Chambers firm bought a full-page ad in the same issue, with depictions of the entire line-up of Durants and the enclosed models of the Star. A Durant roadster or touring car with canvas top could be had for as little as $960. The enclosed sedan went for $1,595. In modern dollars that would be just under $28,000.
The Star roadster and touring models went for $520. The enclosed sedan went for $790. An ad in the June 17 edition bragged, “The Star sedan is the lowest priced four-door closed car in the world – bar none.”
Both marques had relatively short lives. The Star ceased production in 1928. The Durant’s last model year was 1932 and the Great Depression squeezed the life out of the company in 1933.
Delker’s new building didn’t survive even that long. According to the 1923 Sanborn fire insurance map, it was built right up to the property lines with the walls supported by pilasters. But the 1931 edition shows the current house at 121 N. Ingram and nothing at all at 125 N. Ingram.
75 YEARS AGO
The Gleaner of March 23, 1948, said the 22nd annual Easter Sunrise Service would be held at Audubon State Park and that Rev. Charles E. Dietze would deliver the sermon.
A follow-up article in the March 27 edition said Dietze had assumed the pulpit at First Christian Church on Feb. 15.
He came to Henderson after serving a year as associate secretary-treasurer for the Christian Churches of Kentucky. During his tenure at the local church he helped lead the fight against commercialized illegal gambling here and later wrote a book about it called “The Henderson Crusade.”
(A correction: A couple of times in the past I’ve given Dietze partial credit for founding St. Anthony’s Hospice in 1982. I’ve since learned that is incorrect.)
50 YEARS AGO
A special mass was scheduled at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic church March 25, 1973, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the church’s Altar Society, according to The Gleaner of that date.
The Most Rev. Henry Soenneker, bishop of the Owensboro diocese, was scheduled to celebrate the mass.
The Altar Society is responsible for the care and upkeep of the altar, the sacristy (the room where sacred utensils and vestments are kept), the sanctuary, linens, and other items pertaining to worship.
Dues for the society remained the same for 100 years: 10 cents a month.
25 YEARS AGO
The beautiful Italianate villa style house at Powell and South Elm Street was torn down because of deterioration after a fire May 3, 1997, according to The Gleaner of March 24, 1998.
It had been built about 1868 by William Barret and the Barret family remained there until it was sold to a church in 1951.
On Jan. 5, 1978, it became the first property in Henderson to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Readers of The Gleaner can reach Frank Boyett at YesNews42@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @BoyettFrank.
This article originally appeared on Henderson Gleaner: Henderson history: Ingram Street auto dealership destroyed by fire in 1923