Automobiles Make Their Appearance in Patterson


The invention of the automobile, and its affordability, allowed Americans to travel beyond their neighborhoods, towns and villages, and states. Motor vehicles could travel farther and faster than horses, and allowed their owners to travel anywhere roads could be built, unlike the fixed routes of railroads. The automobile changed the demographics of Patterson. Town residents could easily travel to shop other towns and cities, like nearby Danbury, Connecticut, to the detriment of its own local businesses. The automobile also opened Patterson to commuters, transforming it from a farming community to that of a bedroom community - a suburb of the job sites in New York City and Westchester County. The convenience of the interstate highways in Patterson led to construction of hundreds of new homes on what was once farm land or forests.

The history of self-propelled vehicles goes back much farther than many may realize, and the automobile we know today is the result of the inventions of dozens of people across the globe.

As early as 1680, Dutch physicist Christian Huygens designed an internal combustion engine that was meant to be fueled by gunpowder. He never built it. In 1769, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot of France built what many consider the first automobile-like transportation machine, and it used a steam engine. The contraption was heavy and hard to control, and needed to stop frequently to allow the steam to build up. Other inventors continued to refine the steam engine concept, using a variety of fuels including petroleum, gasoline, and coal gas. In the early 19th century, much research involved steam engines, which were already being used successfully for railroad locomotives. But the bulk and temperamental nature of the steam engine caused inventors to look for other types of engines to power vehicles.

In the mid 1830s, Robert Anderson of Scotland experimented with a primitive electric engine. He produced an electric carriage powered by a small electric motor fueled by rechargeable batteries. The vehicles were heavy, slow, and required frequent recharging. But, with technology improvements, electric powered vehicles were still widely used at the turn of the 20th century. But throughout the end of the 19th century, research was progressing on another type of engine: the gasoline powered internal combustion engine. In 1876, German Nicolaus August Otto produced a gasoline powered motor which became the first practical four-stroke internal combustion engine. Otto installed his invention into a motorcycle. His design was adapted by other inventors. Fellow German Karl Benz, a mechanical engineer, produced the first practical automobile based on the internal combustion engine in 1886. Benz's invention became a company that was the largest manufacturer of automobiles by 1900. And still another German, Gottlieb Daimler, refined Otto's design and produced what is considered the forerunner of the modern gasoline engine.

American inventors and entrepreneurs were busy too. Ransom Eli Olds built the first mass-produced automobile sold in the Unites States, the "Curved Dash Oldsmobile", in 1901. Old is credited with inventing the factory assembly line, and his assembly plant was the beginning of the Detroit automobile industry. Henry Ford improved on the assembly line concept by incorporating a moving conveyer belt, and built a Michigan plant in 1913. His assembly line process greatly reduced the price of an automobile. Ford's "Model T" became an immediate success when it was introduced in 1908. Ford soon became the largest American manufacturer of automobiles.

Automobiles Make an Appearance in Patterson

Patterson's early roads were not hospitable to automobiles. The roads were muddy and narrow, and winded and twisted their way around obstacles like trees, streams and ponds, and boulders. A horse might be able to make its way along those roads, but an automobile could not.

Pliney Olds in the first REO (Smithsonian Institution, Blakely Collection, Negative #: 88-6362) Pendleton & Townsend, owners of a successful Patterson factory producing sash, blinds, doors, and moldings, also became automobile dealers in 1908 when they began selling the REO Automobile line. This ad appeared in the March 20, 1908 edition of the Putnam County Courier. Two women pose in their automobile in this 1914 postcard taken in front of Crosby's Store and Post Office in Towners.

In September, 1901, Patterson resident Mortimer Glover made the news when he purchased what was described as a "very fine automobile". Automobiles on the roads of Patterson were a novelty in the early 20th century. The October 4, 1901 edition of The Putnam County Courier reported that two "handsome" automobiles passed through Patterson and attracted curious townspeople. The paper reported that one of these vehicles had been seen in the Dutchess County Town of Millbrook a few days earlier, where its owner stopped to purchase a supply of coal. The owner of one of the automobiles gave three lucky Patterson residents rides in the new contraptions - their first time riding in a "horseless carriage". The lucky Patterson men were John O. Light, A. O. Tilton, and James Cruthers of Birch Hill. Each of them indicated that they were so impressed that they would soon place their own orders for an automobile. The paper reported that the cars were capable of speeds that even a "trotter with a record" could not match.

John E. Carey is Patterson's local Socony fuel dealer when this ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on April 7, 1916. With the increasing popularity of the automobile and the larger number of automobile owners in Patterson, the town has three Socony dealers by the time this ad appeared in the August 5, 1921 edition of the Putnam County Courier. Matrician's Service Station announced its grand opening in the September 19, 1957 edition of the Putnam County Courier. The station was located at the intersection of NYS Routes 22 and 311.

Rumors of a new depot and other improvements at the Patterson Railroad Station were given some validity in May, 1902, when a couple of strangers arrived at the station and began to examine the area. There was no doubt that these were important men because they arrived in an automobile, attracting considerable attention. Mortimer Glover made the news again in May, 1902, when he drove his vehicle to Patterson from New York City. He was surrounded by a group of curious Patterson residents on horseback, who were surprised to see that the horses were not frightened by Glover's vehicle.

Automobiles remained a curiosity in July, 1905, when an automobile traveling from the White Mountains of New England to New York City broke down in Patterson near the East District schoolhouse on a quiet Sunday morning. Since there were few automobiles in the area, there were no automobile mechanics to repair the disabled vehicle. Two mechanics were dispatched to Patterson from New York City to repair the car, which was able to continue on its way Monday afternoon. The five occupants of the vehicle became the guests of Henry Stephens until they were able to continue their journey.

Patterson had its own automobile dealership by February, 1908. Pendleton & Townsend, owners of a large Patterson factory, became dealers for the REO Automobile Company. The REO was the creation of Ransom Eli Olds ("REO"), builder of the first mass produced American automobile. Olds founded the Olds Motor Works in Lansing Michigan in 1897, but abruptly left his company in 1904 to found the REO Motor Car Company. The company produced hundreds of thousands of vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses, and military vehicles. Some of the most famous models were the REO Royale car and the REO Speed Wagon truck. REO cars were steady sellers through the Depression years, but car production ended in 1936. Truck manufacturing continued through 1975. In 1960, REO was purchased by the White Motor Company. Pendleton & Townsend erected a new garage for their dealership in January, 1908. In February, 1908, Pendleton & Townsend took possession of three REO automobiles; two were already sold and the third studied carefully by potential buyers.

Charles Akin was the Patterson dealer for the Ford Motor Company in 1913. The Akinside Filling Station issued this receipt in April, 1930, but not for automotive products. It is for tickets sold for a Patterson Grange event. Fabulous buys on new cars were offered to Patterson residents by these area dealers. The Ford ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on January 4, 1924. The GM ad appeared in the Courier on January 10, 1930.

As motorized vehicles became more common, and they intermingled with horse traffic and pedestrians, road safety regulations began to be drafted. In 1914, the highway laws were amended to require front and rear lights on all wheeled vehicles traveling on public highways. The lights were required to be turned on one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise. The only exclusions to the regulation were hand driven carts, and hay wagons - but only while the wagons were actually transporting hay. The regulation provided for a $5 fine for violators, to be collected by the town or village in which the violation occurred. The new regulation was not enforced, but voluntary compliance was encouraged.

Philip F. Buxbaum, Jr. was the Patterson dealer for the British Roote Group, makers of such brands as Hillman, Singer, Alpine, Humber, Hillman-Commer and Sunbeam. The dealership also represented domestic brands Nash and Rambler. Buxbaum's business, known as Phil's Auto Sales, operated from 1947 through the 1970s, and also sold used cars and offered car repairs. The business was located on Front Street, adjacent to the Judd/Brunow building at Center Street. The two ads appeared in the Putnam County Courier on May 2, 1957. In April, 1958, Phil's opened a new dealership on NYS Route 22, about 1.5 miles south of the Village of Pawling. The ad for the Humber automobile, appearing in the June 4, 1959 edition of the Courier, shows both the Pawling and the Front Street, Patterson, locations.

As Patterson continues to be transformed from rural to suburban in nature, its road network continues to see more automobile traffic with resulting traffic jams during peak periods. The automobile continues to be the dominant mode of transportation in Patterson, easily surpassing commuter rail and County bus service.