An Automobile Trip - 1915-Style

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2011,
Spring 2011
Original Images:




Spring 2011

Author: Janice Anschuetz

The label “Victorian woman” usually brings to mind a woman in a long gown with plenty of petticoats, a high neckline, long sleeves and gloves, sitting in an ornate parlor chair, drinking tea, and gossiping behind a hand-held fan. That was not the case, however, with Florence and Jessie Swaine. They are the adventuresome sisters who were born and lived in the Swaine House at the corner of North River and East Forest, and influenced many a youngster by becoming teachers.

In 1915, during their summer vacation from teaching, they traveled by car over 1,600 miles to see something of the country and share good times with friends. The ten-day circular trip took them from Ypsilanti, to Cleveland, to Pittsburgh, to Gettysburg, to Washington, D.C., to Atlantic City, to Philadelphia, and back to Cleveland, from where they returned to Detroit by boat. The following place-by-place account is their story. Although it is not signed, we can guess at its author, who at one point makes a reference to “mother and Florence.” That makes it probable that it was written by Bertha Smith, who appears to be the daughter of Mrs. F. E. Smith. We can also infer that Dudley Smith, “whose party it was,” and presumably the driver, is related to the other two passengers with the surname Smith.

This gem of a story allows us a look back into a time when an automobile offered a new way to travel and gasoline was about 14 cents a gallon. The narrative was found in the Ypsilanti Historical Museum archives, with other papers left to the museum by Florence and Jessie Swaine. Here it is, exactly as originally written:

AUTOMOBILE TRIP: June 27 to July 8, 1915 - The party was composed of Florence and Jessie Swaine, Edith Shaw, Mrs. F. E. Smith, Ruth and Bertha Smith and Dudley K. Smith, whose party it was. The car was a 1915 Paige Six.

The cities represented were Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Marshall, Detroit and Royal Oak; all of Michigan. The license of the car was 10031. The speedometer registered 524 miles when we left Ypsilanti.

The party left Ypsilanti at 10:30 Eastern Time and reached Toledo at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, stopping to eat lunch by the roadside at Dundee. Passed through Woodville, Fremont, Clude, Bellevue, Monroeville, Norwalk, where we stopped and had ice cream and Edith Shaw called on a cousin. The Smiths called on the Bacons at Toledo, Wakoman, Ripton, Elyria. Arrived at Cleveland at 9:00 p.m. 699 miles. Called on the Wicks, (that is, the Smiths did). Spent the night at the Hotel Regent on Euclid Avenue near 105 Street. Left there at 9:30 Monday morning, June 28th. Passed through Bedford, Twinsburg, Hudson, Darwinville, Kent, Ravenna, Palmyra, Youngstown, stopped there and had water-melon. Time 3:30. 781 miles. Jessie Swaine and Edith Shaw had a mutual friend on whom Edith called up there. From there on to Pittsburgh passing through Sowickley, a very beautiful place, on into Allegheny, where we had supper and across the river into Pittsburgh at 9:00. Spent the night there at Hotel Anderson, speedometer registered 852 miles. Left Tuesday morning June 29th at 8:45. Drove around Schenley Park, which is a very beautiful park high up. Pittsburgh is very hilly. Business portion very unattractive. Saw the block house of Fort Pitt, which was built in 1764 – now owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
From Pittsburgh we went on to Gettysburg on the Lincoln Highway. Lunched in a field on the way across from an old oil well which we examined and where Florence Swaine lost the heel of one of her slippers. On this ride we went over the Allegheny Mountains and on the way into Ligonier had a race up hills and down with some Elks on the way to a picnic. Beautiful ride.
Stopped at Grand View Point, which is considered to be the best view point between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and certainly was very fine. Passed through Bedford, Harrisonburg, bought lunch, bolony (bad). Wonderful view. Had supper at Chambersburg, had frog supper 9:15 p.m. Lost suitcase on way to Gettysburg over mountains. Arrived at Gettysburg 12:00 p.m. Stayed at Eagle Hotel, had Harry Long for guide around battlefield and places of interest. June 30th. Battlefield 16,000 acres, cost 7 million. Went to Round Top Hill, Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Cupps Hill. Saw where the fish hook line was, Spangler Spring and woods, Cemetery Hill and Seminary Hill. Left there at 12:45 p.m. Passed through Emmetsburg, Frederick (Barbara Fritchie), Hagertown, arriving at Washington through Chevy Chase at 5:00 p.m., going around Rock Creek Park and Zoological Park on the way in. Called on Mrs. Watling, rode around the city. Called for Mrs. Watling, took her with us, went in the Christian Science Church (note: Florence Swaine was a Christian Scientist), through the Congressional Library, new Post Office and Station. Left Washington Friday, July 2nd at 12:30 p.m. (Note: the writer uses “a.m.” for any time before 1 p.m. This is changed for clarity.) Spent two nights there at Hotel Ulster corner of 19th and Corcoran Streets. Thursday July 1st. Visited the Capitol, White House, National Museum where we saw Roosevelt’s African Expedition specimens of animals. Went in the Smithsonian Museum, were taken around the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, seeing them making stamps and bills. Went in the Office Building of the Representatives. In the afternoon went out to Mount Vernon, saw house, tomb, kitchen, coach house, fine view. From there to Fort Meyer and Arlington Cemetery, Robert Lee’s old home. Drove around the Potomac River on way back. Beautiful.
Started for Atlantic City, July 2nd, passed through Baltimore, distinguished by its red brick houses with marble steps and blue shades. 11:20. Some of the party visited the market and purchased cherries. Went through Belair and Osborne. Had lunch at Havre De Grace, 10 cent sandwiches. Watermelon down by the river. Crossed Susquehanna river over long bridge, Toll $1.00. Beautiful view. Left 4:00 o’clock. Passed through Elkton, Md., Newark, Del. Arrived at Wilmington Del. at 6:00 o’clock, just in time to take the Ferry across Delaware River, arriving at Heon’s Grove at 6:40. Got 3 ½ miles out of the way just before reaching May’s Landing. Rode into Pleasantville at the rate of 61 miles an hour some of the way. Very exciting. Splendid roads. Had tire trouble at Pleasantville causing delay of ¾ hour. Reached Boardwalk Atlantic City at 11:00 p.m., where we stayed until 1:00 a.m. Spent the night at Majestic Hotel. Had supper (lobster) in restaurant on Boardwalk.

The car was run into at Atlantic City. Left Atlantic City July 3rd, at 2 p.m. had tire trouble on the way out. Speedometer registered 1429 miles. Spent the morning on Boardwalk. Mother, Florence Swaine and B. Smith rode in chair. Passed through avenue of trees to Hammonton. Arrived at Camden Ferry just in time to go right on over into Philadelphia. Policeman greeted us with “It’s a Long way to Tipperary” when he saw our Michigan License. Time 5:35 – 1490 miles. Rode around city, passed Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ house, Franklin’s grave. Had tires mended. Hunted up Dudley’s friend. Michigan license caused considerable comment. Also damaged car. Spent the night at Continental Hotel. Had dinner at Automat. Retired at 12:30. Sunday, July 4th, breakfasted Roof Garden Hotel Continental, Philadelphia, left 9:50 a.m. Speedometer registered 1615 miles. Visited Navy Yards, saw battle ships – Massachusetts, Indiana, Alabama, Illinois, Cruiser Brooklyn, Collier Mars, Columbia, Hancock. Went through the South Dakota, the largest of those there. From there went out to Fairmont Park onto Wisenhicken Drive (very beautiful) (hills and valleys). 1:15 along Lincoln Highway through Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Willow Grove, beautiful homes and road. Doylestown 3:30 p.m. 1672 miles. Had orangeade, on through Lehigh Valley, into Easton, Delaware Valley, Blue Mountains, stopped at Kittakinnly Hotel while some got postcards. This is in the Delaware Water Gap, very beautiful.

Through Stroudsburg, Mount Pocono. Spent the night there at Mount Pleasant House, $12.00 for party of seven, wanted $5.00 to $7.00 for one. Had dinner there. Left July 5th, Monday morning at 6:40 – miles 1647. Arrived Wilkesbarre 8:30 through beautiful scenery, raining part of the way. Had breakfast at Wilkesbarre and tire fixed, leaving there at 12:00 noon. Sat on steps of house, helped string beans for lady, Mrs. Eddy. 1689 miles. Passed through Berwick, Bloomsburg, Danville, Milton, Williamsport, Newberg. Took haven into Bellefonte at 9:30 p.m. Polliceman spoke to us for not parking where we should. Grand Home Coming week, big celebration. Lady Bicycle rider on tightrope, husband walking upside down below her, fireworks streaming down. Very wonderful. Had supper there, sandwiches, etc. Arrived at Phillipsburg, Pa. Hotel Sheffer (nice place, good breakfast) at 12:45 over high mountains, fine drive but dangerous. Left at 8:30 a.m. July 6th – 1872 miles. Went through coal mine, owner or the man who leased it took us through. Very agreeable, fat mule Pat (pulled) the coal wagon. Through Clearfield town, policeman spoke to us for turning around in the middle of the block. Oil wells. From there through to Painsville into Cleveland, over unpaved roads and interurban car track. Reached Cleveland 11:45 Hotel Regent, supper at 12:00 -2127 miles. Left Cleveland Wednesday morning July 7th at 10:30 a.m. by boat. Ended trip by dinner at Library Park Hotel, Detroit, given by D. K. Smith. Number of miles by auto from Ypsilanti, 1603; from Detroit 1635. 125 gallons of gasoline. Cost: $17.72.

June 27, number of miles 209
June 28, number of miles 153
June 29, number of miles 192
June 30, number of miles 120
July 1, number of miles 66
July 2, number of miles 199
July 3, number of miles 86
July 4, number of miles 132
July 5, number of miles 228
July 6, number of miles 253
TOTAL MILES 1635

From the statistics above, it can be calculated that the cost of gas would have been about fourteen cents a gallon and that the travelers’ brand-new Paige would have averaged around 13 miles per gallon. Because seven people went along on this adventure, we can assume that they traveled in the seven-passenger Paige “Town Car,” which sold for a hefty $2,250. In advertisements for this six-cylinder car, the public would have been awed by references to its “Richelieu Blue” color, its wheels of a “deep rich red,” and a narrow bead of red that “added a touch of distinctive individuality to the front of the radiator.” Company literature stated: “The strikingly beautiful body design of the Six-46 is now set off with a painting finish so rich and lustrous that it is positively mirror-like. To secure this lasting brilliancy requires 24 days of painting and hand rubbing until it is ready for the final exquisite finish.”

The seven-passenger town car had an open driving compartment in front with room for just one passenger. The back section, which was enclosed, would hold three passengers on the seat and had two auxiliary folding chairs. The May 19, 1915 edition of “The Horseless Age” glorified this automobile by stating that the town car “is a vehicle of pleasure and utility for the folks whose social position in a community demands exclusiveness and the ownership of the finest equipage.” The article goes on to note that the “driving compartment” was upholstered in hand-buffed French glaze long grain leather of select quality.”

In the same article we read that there are two other color combinations available besides the one based on “Richelieu Blue,” which is described as royal blue. Another color for the body and running gear was “Brunswick Green.” This came with a black top and a gray Bedford cloth interior with a little green pattern on it. Still another color for the body of the car was “Battleship Gray.” This had a black top, a running gear painted “Cleveland Gray,” and a gray “Bedford cloth with a brown stripe” for the interior.

The Paige-Detroit Automobile Company announced its brand new six-cylinder Paige automobiles in the January, 1915 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, and the car was well received by a public interested in replacing their horses and buggies. One can only imagine the excitement and interest that our vacationing Swaine sisters and their friends created, when the Michigan license plates were seen on this brand-new touring car as far away as Atlantic City.

(Janice Anschuetz currently lives in the Swaine House that is located at 110 East Forest and is very interested in the history of the neighborhood.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Swaine horse and buggy with Jessie in the front with Florence sitting next to her mother Eliza. The name of the horse was Nellie and she lived to be 30 years old.

Photo 2: Part of the automobile trip party, in the boat on the way to Detroit from Cleveland. Florence is in the front row on the left next to Mrs. F. E. Smith. Jessie is on the far right.

Photo 3: On the first night of the trip the party stayed at the Regent Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo 4: The party toured the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and stayed overnight at the Majestic Hotel.

Photo 5: The ad in the January, 1915, Saturday Evening Post for the Paige Automobile produced by the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company.