Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nemasket Automobile Company, 1911-42

Nemasket Automobile Company, Middleborough
MA, stock certificate, early 1900s
The Nemasket Automobile Company was one of the earliest Hudson dealerships in southern New England and likely the first in southeastern Massachusetts. In operation between 1911 and 1942, the firm was prominent among Middleborough’s early automobile dealerships, retailing not only Hudsons and Hudson-built Essex, Essex-Terraplane and Terraplane makes, but Dodge and and Willys-Knight automobiles, Denby trucks and Yale motorcycles as well.

The Nemasket Auto Company was established on April 3, 1911, with John W. Howes (1850-1926) as president, Howes’ son John G. Howes (1887-1971) as treasurer and manager, and William L. Whittier. The younger Howes and Whittier both had previously been employed by Carlton W. Maxim’s Middleboro Auto Exchange. The Exchange was a retailer, repairer and lessor of automobiles and was later affiliated with the Maxim Motor Company which at that time had yet entered the field of fire apparatus manufacturing and still engaged strictly in automotive sales and repairs. John W. Howes appears to have been involved in the Nemasket Automobile Company primarily as financier to the operation and probably had little day-to-day involvement with the conduct of the firm which came to include three of his other children. Whittier died shortly after the establishment of the firm and was succeeded by Harry W. Howes (1886-1970), Bernard Howes (1893-1979), and Miss Alice Howes (1890-1952) who also assumed the role of office manager in 1927.

Nemasket Automobile Company building,
15 Wareham Street, Middleborough, MA,
photographed May 4, 2011, by Mike Maddigan
The structure at 15 Wareham Street was
constructed as an addition to the original
Southworth paint shop in 1916 by the Nemasket
Automobile Company.  The Southworth shop
originally stood to the right of the central gabled
portion of the present building.
To house the new dealership and garage, the Nemasket Auto Company acquired the former carriage and sign painting shop of Rodney E. Southworth which stood on Wareham Street near the Four Corners at the head of Clifford Street. Alterations were made to the wood-frame building where carriages and wagons were once painted on the second floor. The dealership would remain in this location throughout its existence.

Hudson "33" advertisement, Hudson Motor
Car Company, 1911
One of the first vehicles sold by the
Nemasket Automobile Company following
its opening in April, 1911, was a Hudson
The Nemasket Auto Company opened its doors in April, 1911, and one of its first sales was of a Hudson “33” touring car to Roswell Shurtleff of Carver. Within weeks, the Middleboro Gazette reported that the new firm was “enjoying a fine business” and described the layout of the operation. “The repair room is light and comfortable, and the equipment of tools for jobs, large or small, is first class. [John G. Howes] has an office and stock room at the front of the ground floor, and a ladies’ retiring room is under construction on the upper floor. A new wash stand [presumably an early car wash] adjoining the building is soon to be erected.” Though the firm was busily engaged in sales and repairs once it opened, work continued on the premises throughout the summer and fall. It was not until July, 1911, that a sign painted by G. Fred Standish was finally put up marking the business and not until late March, 1912, that the second floor was finally fitted as “a waiting room for ladies and gentlemen” approached by a separate flight of stairs.

Nemasket Automobile Company
Premises, plan by Mike Maddigan
Initially, the Nemasket Auto Company’s dealt strictly in Hudsons, and December, 1911, saw the firm advertising the new 1912 self-starting Hudson “33” in four models – Touring, Torpedo, Roadster and Mile-a-Minute Speedster – each for $1,600. In addition to automobile sales, however, the company offered repair services on all makes, and also provided chauffeuring services for individuals in need of automotive transportation. Bernard Howes was engaged in this task during 1912-13, transporting W. R. Farrington of the Massachusetts highway commission about, traveling over 100 miles each day. (No doubt chauffeuring clients about in a brand new Hudson helped advertise the product and increase its visibility). Besides Howes, other early employees of the firm included Ira B. Maddigan, Hazell F. Norton, James Coombs, Herbert Peck, and T. Sherburne Howes.

To keep alert to the latest developments in the automotive field, John G. Howes frequently attended functions sponsored by the Hudson Motor Car Company. In March, 1912, he attended the Hudson booths at the Boston automobile show, and in July, 1912, traveled to Detroit to view Hudson’s 1913 models including the Hudson “37” which Howes termed “the best ever”. Additionally, Nemasket Company mechanics were rigorously trained in the intricacies of Hudson-built machines with Hazell F. Norton attending a three-week training school for Hudson mechanics in Detroit in early 1913.

Hudson Six-40 advertisement, Hudson
Motor Car Company, 1915
In the mid-1910s, the Nemasket
Automobile Company increasingly
featured Hudson six-cylinder models in
its advertising as Hudson began to shift
towards production of the higher power
In August, 1913, Howes received a 1913 demonstrator model which the local newspaper proclaimed as “a classy affair”. Residents of the region apparently agreed. Within seven weeks, Howes had sold six 1913 models. “In four days [in late October] he sold a machine each day for spring delivery. He has delivered one four cylinder machine to Brockton parties and has sold two machines to Plymouth parties and three to Middleboro.” The fact that the newspaper noted the number of cylinders reflected the fact that Hudson had begun to transition to the production of more powerful six-cylinder models at this time. In late November, Howes delivered one of these six-cylinder models to E. P. Washburn of Marion, making a total of seven sold “within a few weeks.” By 1914, Nemasket’s advertising focused nearly exclusively on six cylinder models including the Hudson Six-40 for $1750 and the Hudson Six-54 for $2250. With the business having been set on a successful course, changes were able to be made to the building to help facilitate further sales growth and one-story addition was constructed in late 1913 for use as a combined office and showroom.

Yale Motorcycle advertisement, mid 1910s
 The alterations may also have been prompted by the new line of sales which Nemasket entered in 1914 when it acquired the Plymouth County agency for Yale motorcycles. A year earlier, in February, 1913, a great deal of local interest in motorcycles had been reported locally and Nemasket’s acquisition of the Yale agency sought to tap into this demand. “Come and examine the wonderful transmission of the new Yale motorcycle,” the firm’s advertising invited. “See how simple and free from complication it is, and yet how remarkably effective. Have us show you how easily it climbs the steepest hills, and what tremendous pulling power this machine possesses.” No doubt, nearby Barden Hill provided the means for this test.

Hudson Brougham advertisement,
Hudson Motor Car Company, 1925
Though Hudsons would remain the Nemasket Auto Company’s primary product (including Hudson’s moderately-priced Essex, Essex-Terraplane and Terrplane automobiles which were produced by Hudson between 1922 and 1938), the firm at various times would also hold the local agencies for Dodge and Willys-Knight automobiles, as well as Denby trucks, and it also sold used (or what were then termed “second hand”) cars of all makes. Howes explained that “the good demand for our Hudson Sixes has enabled us to take in some good second hand cars at very interesting prices.” In September, 1914, Howes sold E. G. Stevens of West Wareham a 1911 Jackson touring car, and used cars advertised in January, 1915, included a 1912 Hudson “33” touring car, a 1912 Overland touring car, a 1914 Hudson Six with electric starting and lighting) and a Maxwell roadster.

Then, as now, automobile advertising was a fixture of the local newspaper, and the Nemasket Auto Company’s ads were a frequent fixture in the Middleboro Gazette.

Hudson Coach advertisement, Hudson
Motor Car Company, 1925
Though changes were made to the showroom and garage building in late 1914, with floors being concreted, the walls fire-proofed with a plaster-like material held in place by wire reinforcement netting, and a steam heating plant constructed in the rear, another major change was undertaken in spring, 1916, with the construction of a large fire-proof addition. To construct the addition, the neighboring Sparrow House which stood immediately to the west of the garage building was disassembled in February, 1916, by Bertram L. Thomas (who reportedly used the lumber to construct houses at Fall Brook). The addition built by G. W. Starbuck and Son of Middleborough, was a one-story structure with a basement garage. Once completed, it brought the available floor space to nearly 15,000 square feet with room for offices, a showroom, repair shop and machine shop. (Later, a second story would be added to give the building its present appearance).

The fire proof construction of the building was tested at least twice during Nemasket’s tenure there. On the evening of July 22, 1918, “while supplying gasoline from a sentry to a motorcycle, in which the headlights were burning, the gasoline caught fire and this spread rapidly over the machine and the sentry. It was extinguished by a Pyrene tank almost before the [fire] department arrived.” Another fire on the morning of November 23, 1928, ignited from sparks from the chimney, setting the roof temporarily on fire. It was “quickly subdued by chemicals.”

As elsewhere, automobile sales in Middleborough were competitive and the town had its own 1920s equivalent of the modern day “auto mile” in the form of Wareham Street. In addition to the Nemasket Auto Company, Wareham Street was also home to Charles R. Chase’s Riverside Garage (Ford), the Maxim Motor Company (Overland) and the Howes & Perkins Garage (Chevrolet). A short distance away, Bailey’s Garage at Rice and Sproat Streets held the Buick, Peerless and G. M. C. truck agencies; W. L. Aller’s Studebaker Service Station at Everett Square sold Studebakers; the Triangle Auto Company on Vine Street held the agency for Reo automobiles for Middleborough, Lakeville, Bridgewater and Halifax; and H. H. Dunham’s Garage at the Lakeville Upper Four Corners sold Chandler cars, Cleveland cars and Walker-Johnson trucks.

"Hudson's Great 8" advertisement,
Hudson Motor Car Company, 1930
By 1930, Hudson and Nemasket were
focused on advertising the company's
latest 8-cylinder models.
To remain competitive in this environment, the Nemasket Garage offered repair services, sold gasoline (including Socony at one time which was advertised as “the World’s Best Gasoline”), and retailed automobile parts and both Goodyear and Fisk tires. In 1921, taking advantage of a change in the law relative to automobile headlamps, Howes established a testing room at the garage where “lamps may be properly focused and the owner of the machine on which the new lenses are being adjusted may take note of the difference in the manner in which the rays are diffused.”

Additionally, the garage sought to promote its principal product through highly-advertised events and programs. One of these held on July 24, 1929, featured Irving D. Thompson of the Hudson Motor Car Company who presented a three-reel film at the garage followed by “a comprehensive lecture” on the chassis of the new Hudsons.

Nemasket Automobile
Company building, 15
Wareham Street,
Middleborough, MA,
photographed May 4,
2011 by Mike
Detail of garage ramp
built on the site of the
former Sparrow House.
The Nemasket Automobile Company premises were thoroughly modernized in keeping with the desire to best display its products. In May, 1921, contractor Fred L. Hanson made alterations to the building, including the transformation of the office which stood directly fronting Wareham Street into a showroom addition. It was probably at this time that large plate glass display windows were installed. Certainly they were in place by 1930 when one was broken, ironically by a stone kicked up by a passing automobile. The grounds were concreted in August, 1929.

The Nemasket Auto Company remained in operation through 1942 when John G. Howes retired from the business. At that time, the company’s showroom and shop building on Wareham Street was acquired by Maxim Motors which relocated its sales and repair operations there. The building still stands at what is now 15 Wareham Street near Clifford Street.


Anonymous said...

I can remember my mothers mother (Dorothy Briggs) telling me of the first car in Middleboro.

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