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 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NEWSLETTER
of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.

VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 2 (MAY, 2002)


The Dewitt Automobile Building

901 W. Main

This building was built with the assistance of local money late in 1908 to house the Dewitt automobile production facilities for V. L. DeWitt. The autos were of the high or buggy wheel type, at that time there being many who argued that would be the coming and the future type of cars. The first car was turned out in April of 1909, and The Journal of that date said it was a beautiful machine, all made in North Manchester; engine, body, upholstering and top, each part being the work of an experienced specialist. Capacity of the shop was estimated at four cars a day. Before that production was reached the public begn to look with disfavor on the high wheels and the dream faded. A fire a short time later made a nightmare of the dream. Ironical as it may be, three of the cars had been exchanged for fire insurance.

The business was closed out and the building was repaired for a


handle factory for the Baldwin Tool Works of Parkersburg, West Virginia. During this restructuring the top floor was removed. Jack Lennon was in charge. But ere long all the available ash timber hereabout was used and the handle factory machinery was moved away. For a time Lennon continued , making golf clubs, but the supply of hickory, too, was limited and the business was soon abandoned.

Again the building was refashioned and it became the site of Kenton Priser's Chrysler Products Agency. By 1976 Pudge Egolf was making a replica of the original DeWitt auto buggy there. Then after extensive renovating, the building became the home of Kirti Shah's Custom Magnetics, Inc.

 

**********

NEWSLETTER

OF THE NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, INC.

VOLUME III, NUMBER 2  (May 1986)

 

NORTH MANCHESTER’S AUTOMOBILE FACTORY

Condensed from various articles from

The Manchester Journal in 1908 & 1909

By Orrin Manifold

 

Perhaps North Manchester never did pose a serious threat for Detroit, but it did have an early automobile factory.  In 1909 a new factory here began manufacture of the DeWitt auto buggies, named for the owner and operator of the Factory.

 The year before, committees of local leaders were hard at work in a campaign to raise the money to attract the factory.  At length on July 5, 1908, the North Manchester Industrial Association signed a contract with V. L. DeWitt.  It provided that the Association would turn over to Mr. DeWitt what was then known as the Eagle lot, lying west of the Big Four tracks, south of Main Street.  In addition to this land, valued at $600, the Association would pay him $1,500.  Mr. DeWitt would erect a building of brick or cement blocks, not less than 35 feet by 125 feet, and two stories high.

 Mr. DeWitt had been driving an auto buggy, of the style he proposed to manufacture, about the streets of North Manchester.  It must have been manufactured by the W. H. Kiblinger Company at Auburn.  About this time the Auburn firm signed a contract with representatives of some business firms to supply them with almost a million dollars worth of auto buggies.  A million dollars was a lot of money in those days.

 At the time of the North Manchester agreement the site for the new factory was occupied by Fred Horne’s machine shop.  His lease expired at this time, and the Association agreed to move his shop to another lot, which he might select.  He selected a spot on the north side of Main Street east of Metzger’s Blacksmith Shop, and by the end of the month work began on the new DeWitt factory. 

 The factory was built of cement blocks held together with white mortar, which the North Manchester Journal said made a pretty appearance.  Every ten feet there were pilasters and, between each of these, large windows to provide ample light inside.  Instead of the roof sloping to the edge, it was in the then popular style of sloping to the center of the building, making a gutter in the middle of the roof.  A large engine room and blacksmith shop, one story high, was added to the back of the building.

 The Journal reported that there was generally more excitement elsewhere about North Manchester’s landing of the factory than at home.  For it was known that it had connections with the Auburn factory, which was having more work than it could handle.

 The first automobile was completed in early April.  It was red.  The top, storm front, and upholstering all harmonized nicely with the color.  The Journal declared that it was “easily the prettiest of the buggy machines ever seen hereabouts.”  Perhaps the most attractive part was that it was all made in North Manchester.

 Within less than a month from the production of the first machine there was a strike in the factory.  Irvin Kessler, a young man in the factory who tested the machines, had run one to Huntington in fifty minutes, which Mr. DeWitt had told him not to do, and had burned out the new bearings; and the machine had to be rebuilt.  Later Mr. DeWitt told Kessler to wire two more machines and he himself would test them.  Instead the young man wired one and took it out to test it himself.  So Mr. DeWitt fired him.  About a dozen of the machinists, reportedly without checking details, walked out, and the next day they left town.  But within a month of less time a full force of men was again at work, and automobiles were being turned out at the rate of four a week, and sold as fast as they were made—most of them elsewhere than North Manchester.

 About this time—in May 1909—the automobile owners of North Manchester met at the Olinger & Warvel garage and organized a club “for the mutual pleasure and protection of the members.”  Apparently there was a good bit of tension between those who owned autos and those who did not, especially some of the farmers.  The club had the dual purposes of insisting that its members be respectful of the rights of others on the roads but also of educating non-owners to be respectful of the rights of auto owners.

 Auto owners in the North Manchester vicinity included V. L. DeWitt, Dr. D. Ginther, George Burdge, Dr. G. L. Shoemaker, John Isenbarger, Olinger & Warvel, A. G. Lautzenhiser, Fletcher Kroft, Dr. W. H. Shaffer, J. B. Peabody, Allen Heck, A. E. Naber, Harmon Naber, Jacob Wolfe, Dr. L. H. Tennant, Thomas Berry, Dr. Z. M. Beaman, Ed Rittenhouse, Dr. J. L. Warvel, Tom Pinney, Aaron Ulrey, Logan Ulrey, John Snyder, Melvin Haines, Dr. F. S. Kitson, H. Kinsey, Oliver Fox, and Jordan Rhodes.

 The Journal carried a large ad reading:

 THE MOTOR BUGGY FOR ALL SEASONS

 The Dewitt Motor Buggy will come nearer giving you service every day in the year than any other motor vehicle on the market.  Its engines are air-cooled—no water to freeze and burst engine jackets.  The wheels are high and strong, traveling easily over rough roads.  Large cushion tires are used that are puncture proof.  The finish in every respect is the best attainable.  Upholstering and trimming is equal to that used in cars costing three or four thousand dollars.  Nothing but the best material is used in the construction of these machines, and the company stands back of its every machine and statement.

You are invited to go to the factory and see how they are made.  You will be given every attention and full information.

There is nothing cheap about the car but the price.  If you can use one, now is the time to get it.  The DeWitt car is a winter machine as well as a summer one.  It is the machine for the man who wants service.  Let us show you why.

DeWITT MOTOR VEHICLE CO.

North Manchester, Indiana

Factory Near Big Four Station

 Only a few vehicles were constructed before a fire wrecked the building and the business was closed out.  The second story was removed and the Baldwin Handle Factory and a sawmill occupied the building.  Further remodeling made it the site of Kenton Priser’s Chrysler Products Agency.  By 1976 Russell Egolf was making a replica of the original DeWitt auto buggy there.  Extensively renovated, the building is now the home of Kirti Shah’s Custom Magnetics, Inc.


 

Source: North Manchester Journal, September 1, 1910

CONSIDERING FACTORY BUILDING
Who shall Own the remains of the DeWitt Factory.

There was a meeting at the office of Isenbarger & Fleming Monday evening to determine what should be done with the DeWitt factory property. It will be remembered that a few weeks ago the property was purchased of Mr. DeWitt for the Industrial association, four men, John Isenbarger, Dr. G.L. shoemaker, George Burdge, and Ben Oppenheim, signing a note for $800 for the property. The situation is now that the note is due September 1 and the Industrial association has only about one hundred dollars in the treasury with which to meet it. The proposition at the meeting was to see about raising money to take up the note, but the meeting was not very largely attended and nothing was accomplished at that time.

The men who have signed the note have sold nearly $200 worth of material and the report was that there is enough machinery and property in the factory building that can be sold to nearly cover the entire amount of the noted. As a matter of fact the property seems cheap at $800, there being about four building lots besides what property and material there is in the factory building that can be used. It was generally conceded that the property was worth more than the price paid, but the question is to relieve these four men from their obligation in signing the noted. They stated that they would be well satisfied to take the property at the price on their own account, but having bought it for the association as a future factory site for any concern that might want to locate here they desired to be relieved of the responsibility for payment of the note, but if they were compelled to take up the note they would consider the property as their own private interests. Furthermore the four men wish to be relieved of any suspicion of underhanded dealing in their own interests. Having taken in the property in the interest of the industrial association and for the general benefit of the town all they want is to get their money out of it. The property is worth the money and it is up to the Industrial association and the business men of the town to decide whether the place will become a public factory site or a private one. It would seem that if the town expects to get more factories the property ought to be owned by the Industrial association, but that is a question the business men will have to decide when asked to make up the money. Another meeting will be held to further consider the matter as it is desired that it be settled by September 1, when the note falls due.

The second meeting to consider this matter was held Tuesday afternoon in the room at the rear of the Lawrence National bank, and about twenty business firms were represented. The conditions talked of at this meeting were substantially the same as above. The expression was that it would be a good business deal for the Industrial association to own the DeWitt building at $800. A committee consisting of Ernest Ebbinghous and J.A. Nagle was appointed to represent the association in the matter, and an extension of ten days was asked on the noted. With this action the meeting adjourned.



Source: North Manchester Journal, September 15, 1910

WILL REPAIR DEWITT FACTORY
Will Soon be Put in Condition to Stand Winter Weather.


Mention was made a couple of weeks ago of a meeting that was held to see if it was possible to arrange for the Industrial association to own the lot and ruins of the DeWitt automobile factory, and at that time an extension of ten days was asked of the men who held the notes against the place, or rather who had pledged the money for its purchase from V.L. DeWitt. This time was given, and expired Saturday, but it seems that the association did not care to take any steps to take care of the property, so on Tuesday the men who had signed the notes in the first place arranged to take it over to protect themselves. They are John W. Domer, Dr. G.L. Shoemaker, Ben Oppenheim, and George Burdge. In the first place they had signed a note for eight hundred dollars payable September 1 to V.L. DeWitt for all of his rights and interest in the property, buying it for the Industrial association, if it saw fit to take it from their hands. As no movement has been made to provide the money to care for the purchase on the part of the association, these men paid the note, and took the property as their protection. The condition of the property at the present time is such that a considerable sum of money will have to be spent on it at once to keep it from falling into ruins. The walls will have to be repaired before winter, or by next spring they will be of little value. That was one of the reasons these men wanted to know who was going to win the place. Work will have to be started at once to make these repairs before bad weather. Then there is a matter of taxes against the property, too, it appearing that the taxes have not been paid on the machinery that was in the building when it was assessed, and it seems to be the belief that an effort will be made to collect this tax from the building, even though the machinery has been moved away.

The new owners of the property do not know yet exactly what repairs will be made on the place.... [missing text]