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1910 hill climb

Photo by Julianne Mosher

And they’re off!

On Saturday, Aug. 14 cars from the last century geared up to tackle the ascent on East Broadway in Port Jefferson village to commemorate the 1910 hill climb.

Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy, in partnership with the village, the event allows vintage car enthusiasts to retrace the original hill climb course as spectators cheer them throughout this historic tribute. 

According to the event chair, Bob Laravie, this was the seventh recreation of the climb – its original, as the name states, being in 1910.

“We’re celebrating right where the original cars ran,” he said. “We had every decade starting from 1909 up to one car from 1980.”

The conservancy decided to bring back the hill climb in 2010, with the plan to run again every five years. After a successful 2015 run, the pandemic halted the 2020 event. 

So, the 2021 hill climb was highly anticipated for people who love old cars. While many drivers were local to Port Jefferson and its surrounding communities, others came from across Long Island — as far as Queens and Montauk. One couple brought their 1911 Hupmobile Model 20 roadster across the Sound on the ferry to participate. 

Laravie said there were about 60 vehicles at the start of the climb, parked outside the Village Center. 

“We’ve done this every five years since the 100th anniversary and we look forward to doing it again in four years,” said Lisa Perry, president of the conservancy.

Mayor Margot Garant said the event speaks about the village’s role in the automobile industry which many people are not fully aware of. She noted that after the building — which is now the Village Center — was no longer used for making boats, car engines were created inside its walls. 

Some of the early 20th-century cars at the event very well could have had their engines made in Port Jefferson. 

“It’s great to see the turnout today,” Garant said at the event. “And, more importantly, to celebrate the history of the village in another dimension.”

You can watch a recording of the hill climb here.

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The photo shown here of the 1910 hill climb are from the Lazarnick collection, Detroit Public Library, credited to Spooner & Wells, a New York City photography company

By Robert Laravie 

A 1907 two-day endurance tour by the Long Island Auto Club may have planted the seed of a hill climb event in Port Jefferson. The 1907 tour had a stop in Port Jefferson for lunch at Mrs. Smith’s house, then went on to Greenport and back to Brooklyn. 

A June 30, 1910, article in The Automobile indicated that a well-known promoter and local “live wire,” W.J. Fallon, organized a hill climb which was held June 25. Sixty-seven cars were entered.

The hill climb was sponsored by the Port Jefferson Auto Club and run on West Broadway, a course of about 2,000-feet in length, with an average grade of 10% and a peak of about 15%, ending at the Belle Terre Gatehouse. The local club contact was listed as G.E. Darling.

The hill climb was divided into 16 events by cost of auto, cubic inches of engine displacement as well as a “free for all” and a few events for cars owned by local club members and residents of Port Jefferson. 

The fastest time was 20.48 seconds (about 68 mph) in a Fiat owned by E.W.C. Arnold and driven by Ralph DePalma. The slowest car, 1 minute, 36.58 seconds (about 14 mph), in a Knox driven by E.B. Hawkins.

Two other clubs participated in the events, the Crescent Athletic Club and the Long Island Auto Club. Knox cars won the most events totaling five wins and the results were widely used in advertising for the cars. 

Various manufacturers entered their cars in the event including  Oakland, Buick, the Only Motor Car Co. (a Port Jefferson-built car), Houpt-Rockwell, Pope-Hartford, Zust and Berkshire Automobiles.

Two cars entered were owned by women, Mrs. J.N. Cuneo entered her Knox and Mrs. J.A. Ferguson entered her Lancia.

The photoshown here of the 1910 hill climb are from the Lazarnick collection, Detroit Public Library, credited to Spooner & Wells, a New York City photography company

Hawkins, the postmaster of Huntington, protested one event, claiming that the car driven by Fallon was not in fact owned for the required 30 days prior to the event.

A second protest was entered by J. Bell claiming the Knox entered by Fred Belcher in the stock events was in fact not in “stock” condition. 

The hill climb was rerun on Sept. 9, 1911, and a commemorative event was staged in 1925. That event was won by a locally built car, the F.R.P. — Finley Robertson Porter. 

A F.R.P. now resides in the Seal Cove Auto Museum in Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Reenactments of the hill climb took place in 2010 and 2015. There will be another event Saturday, Aug. 14, starting 10 a.m. at the Village Center. A rain date is set for the following day. For more info visit the website: portjeff.com/events/hillclimb.

Robert Laravie grew up in East Greenbush. He is a retired landscape architect, and worked for the New York State Department of Transportation on Long Island, New York City and on the Tappan Zee Bridge project in Tarrytown. He is currently a resident of Port Jefferson and has been a local conservancy member for the past six years.