|JULY 2002||Volume 4 Number 3|
Mark H. Jones, State Archivist
Motoring in the Roadster
Front seat is William Hickmott Sr., Allerton Hickmott, and William Hickmott, Jr. Lady in the backseat is the boys' mother-Hattie Hickmott.
Since Summer is upon us, let us look at Record Group 69:100, The William J. Hickmott, Jr. Collection of Auto Logs, 1905 - 1917. The Hickmott clan was a well - to - do Hartford family. William Hickmott, Sr., descended from the Elder Brewster of Mayflower fame, came to Hartford from Middletown in 1869 and worked for the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company until 1871. In that year, he graduated from a night school and took a post as secretary to Jacob H. Greene, Secretary of the Connecticut Mutual Insurance Company, remaining with the company for forty - six years. He married Hattie Adella Safford of Willimantic on December 10, 1878. They had two sons, Allerton and William, Jr. The elder Hickmott was a horseman, a wet plate photographer, a collector of furniture and antique Bennington pottery, and an automobile enthusiast.
In 1907, William Hickmott, Jr. (b. 1889) graduated from Hartford Public High School, and in the next year, he joined the Aetna Insurance Company. He founded its Automobile Claim Department and the company's automobile repair shop, the Hartford Salvage Company. From 1909 to 1912, he served as the Hartford representative of the Stanley Steamer Corporation. Later he founded and was president of the Vantage Insurance Corporation of West Hartford. Like his father, he loved motor - cars, and later in life, was an authority on antique autos. In 1950, he wrote memoirs of the family's motoring escapades, Where's Your License; Early 'Hot Rod' Adventure.
RG 69:100 consists of six log books kept by the father and William, Jr., of trips taken by the family throughout Connecticut and New England. The log - books were distributed by Aetna. In them, the Hickmotts recorded towns passed through, odometer readings, miles between towns, amount of time taken between towns, amount of time for meal stops and emergencies, expenses, and in the first four books, attached black and white snapshots taken during the trips. The narrative travelogues summarize their adventures, mishaps, and condition of roads and provide many humorous and candid remarks.
For instance, on July 3, 1910, the family and a friend, Rose Barrows, set out from Hartford for Indian Neck. They were driving a 1910 Columbia "Vestibule Roadster." With room for only three passengers and the driver, the fourth passenger had to ride on a wooden chair mounted on the passenger side running board. They made Indian Neck in two hours and twenty - six minutes at an average speed of 18.1 miles per hour. These are some of the recorded remarks:
"Left Hartford at two twenty two for Indian Neck. Down the Berlin Turnpike and then to Meriden. Down thru the Meriden Marshes and by the old Stone Bridge bearing the old Inscription, "Prepare to Meet Thy God." Very good road down to Wallingford and North Haven. Turned east over good road to Branford. Left at large watering trough after crossing tracks. Take trolley tracks to right from center of Branford. Under bridge, Very Dangerous, and on to Indian Neck."
From June 20 - 25, 1917, the family traveled from Hartford to Lake George, New York, and back to Hartford. On the 21st, the following entry appears showing the author's exasperation and social/ethnic prejudices:
"All New York is divided into seven parts. Six of the parts covering 999 square miles of the earth's surface with cobble stones is called Troy. Troy is and was a Dutch City, everyone for himself and to hell with the tourist. No one but a Dutchman could build such houses or stand the streets. There are also 684 [trolley] car lines with 1, 649, 872 crossings. Outside of Troy is passable. Mechanicsville is a living example of the crying need of education for the poorer class (mostly mechanics)."
That evening, the Hickmotts arrived at Ft. William Henry on Lake George. Much to their consternation, they were told that the "room clerk had sold our reservation and he put us in next to a fisherman snoring himself into the middle of next week but we finally changed to another building and a room where you had to hang your clothes on the floor." Ah, the trials and tribulations of tourists, whether the date is 1917 or 2002.
On August 7, 1910, the family went to Newfield and Berlin. On the way, they encountered an unfortunate woman in a capsized buggy:
"Left at 9-45 and went down back road to Newfield. On the way down we met a woman driving lost her head and tried to turn around in a narrow part of the road. I ran ahead to help her but she got the carriage turned over before I got there. Luckily the old horse wasn't scared. She had a baby in one hand and the reins in the other. Finally got her away from the wheels and then the blooming horse who was trying to sit down in the carriage tried to lay down on me. Help came down the line in the form of father and together we got the horse on his feet and righted the carriage. No damage done. Spent the rest of the A.M. in Newfield and then came home via Berlin."
The Hickmott logs document trips, to Boston and Marblehead Neck, the White Mountains, and Newport, Rhode Island. When most people walked to work or took the trolleys and inter urbans for work and pleasure or still rode in horse - drawn carriages, these small books provide a window onto the era of motoring by the rising middle class. Soon Henry Ford would provide a level playing field or, could we say, a wider road for more people. The collection is available to researchers through the History and Genealogy Reference Unit at the Connecticut State Library.
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