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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. 

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A car trudges up East Broadway in the 1924 hill climb on Thanksgiving. Photo above from village archive

Thanksgiving is a time for family, food, football — and a car race?

An antique car makes its way during the Hill Climb at Port Jefferson's Heritage Weekend. Photo by Bob Savage
An antique car makes its way during the Hill Climb at Port Jefferson’s Heritage Weekend. Photo by Bob Savage

Turkey Day has its traditions, and for Port Jefferson one year in the Roaring ‘20s those included a hill-climbing contest. On the holiday in 1924, according to the Port Jefferson Village historical archive, automobiles raced up the steep hill of East Broadway, from the Newcomb Brothers Garage to the entrance of Belle Terre at Cliff Road.

Hill climbs up East Broadway had become a regular affair in the village, after the Automobile Club of Port Jefferson held its first one in June 1910. And contemporary Port Jefferson residents have experienced the fun, too — the village recreated the hill climb during its Heritage Weekend in August, sending antique and otherwise unique cars revving up the road. Some people got decked out in Victorian-era garb for the occasion.

The year of the Thanksgiving hill climb was a special one for New Yorkers in another way: The event was held on the same day one famous department store held its first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the city.

Port Jefferson Village had a completely different look in that era: The fire department headquarters was sandwiched between shops on Main Street, Port Jefferson High School was at its old location on Spring Street under the direction of supervising principal Earl L. Vandermeulen, and the harbor was being mined for sand.

Port Jefferson jumped into a time machine over the weekend, hosting a new event that celebrated the local culture, traditions, history and achievements.

Heritage Weekend saw historical fun at several locations throughout Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, including at the library on Thompson Street, at the Cedar Hill Cemetery and at the Port Jefferson Village Center, where vintage cars lined up for the Hill Climb on Sunday before making the 2,000-foot ascent of East Broadway to Belle Terre Road.


Historic Hill Climb to be highlight of the weekend

Car 8, a 1909 Alco-6 racing car driven by Howard Kroplick of East Hills, followed by 1907 Fiat driven by Manny Dragone from Connecticut leads the pack at the last hill climb up West Broadway in 2010. Photo by Richard Solo

By Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village will host its first Heritage Weekend Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23. The event will give residents the opportunity to visit over 15 locations in the village, as well as Belle Terre, to learn about the stories behind the participating venues as well as the history of the village.

Jill Russell, public relations and marketing consultant for the village, said each location involved in the weekend has planned a variety of activities that celebrate the local culture, traditions, history and achievements.

“You’ll be invited to come in and learn a little bit of history about Port Jefferson. It’s really a phenomenal thing for families to come and do,” Russell said. The consultant said one of the featured events will be the Port Jefferson Fire Department, 115 Maple Place, opening its museum to the public. She said most people don’t even realize the museum exists unless their children have visited the firehouse on a school field trip.

Charlie Russo, assistant chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department said, “The fire department has great history with the village.” The assistant chief explained that many of the members have followed in the footsteps of relatives and can trace their family’s involvement in the department for decades.

Russo said the museum will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday 3 to 5 p.m. Among the items on display, visitors will find uniforms, helmets, tools and more equipment used by firefighters since Hook and Ladder Co. 1 was established in 1887. One of the featured items is a hand fire pump that once needed two firefighters to operate it.

Those heading over to the Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson Street, on Saturday will feel as if they are actually going back in time. Nikki Greenhalgh, who’s in charge of the library’s marketing and communications, said visitors will be able to enter the building through the original front doors, which are normally closed off. The former entrance leads into the front room, now known as the quiet room, which was the first library at the current location when it was built in 1925. Here library patrons will find no electronic devices and a historical reference desk.

The Port Jefferson Fire Deparment Museum will be open to the public this weekend. Photo by Richard Solo
The Port Jefferson Fire Deparment Museum will be open to the public this weekend. Photo by Richard Solo

“We just want to take everyone back in time and reiterate the history and how we still use that building as a quiet area,” Greenhalgh said.

The library is offering period-themed activities for kids such as paper dolls and hopscotch. While the children play, longtime employees, including Earlene O’Hare, who recently retired after 30 years, will be on hand to answer visitors’ questions about the history of the building.   

The library will also be exhibiting the work of Leon Foster Jones, a local artist of the early 1900s, in the front room. Greenhalgh said the library had acquired the artist’s sketchbook, and in addition to his original paintings scanned drawings of his will also be on display.

Nan Guzzetta, owner of Antique Costume & Prop Rental by Nan, 709 Main Street, encourages history buffs to stop by her store, which normally is open to potential customers by appointment only, and learn about the structure’s unique history. The store owner, who has been in business on Main Street for 20 years and 40 years in total, said the patio, garden and porch will be open and visitors can view the parlor. She said customers will get a peek at the historical Civil War era structure constructed by Captain Henry Hallock, who built many ships in Port Jefferson.   

The house known by many as the Chambers Mansion has not only sheltered those of local historical significance but also of musical importance. In the ‘70s the band Foghat took up residence there, and Guzzetta said the rock group transformed a stage that once existed in the home into an echo chamber. Not only did the band produce 12 gold records here, but they also would rent out rooms to other artists who would stay at the house and record. Musical greats such as Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen have been known to create albums at the mansion, and during Foghat’s heyday, the home was one of the foremost recording studios in the Northeast and became known as the Boogie Hotel in the area, according to Guzzetta.

The Drowned Meadow House, on the corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, will also provide a look at interesting aspects of the village’s history. Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said a letter will be on display of historical importance at the Revolutionary War era “post and beam” constructed home, which once housed spy ring members.

“The significance of discovering the revolutionary letter directly ties other Roe family members, and Drowned Meadow then and present day Port Jefferson, to George Washington’s Spy Ring. In particular the letter was sent to Loyalist Oliver Delancey and states Nathaniel Roe and Phillips Roe supplied intelligence to Caleb Brewster, and the Roe family harbored supplies in our very own Drowned Meadow,” Garant said. 

Russell said the culmination of the weekend will be the Port Jefferson Hill Climb, which will begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. Spectators lined up on East Broadway can view 60 antique cars as they ascend a 2,000-foot climb to Belle Terre Road. After the climb, the automobiles will be part of a parade from Myrtle and Belle Terre Road down to Main Street, then to East Main and back to the Village Center.

This will be the sixth re-creation of the historic Hill Climb, which originally took place in 1910 and in the recent past has been recreated every five years on E. Broadway, according to the consultant. Russell said during the weekend, car and history buffs can stop by the Village Center, 101A East Broadway, where reproductions, as well as actual photographs of the original Hill Climb, on loan from the Detroit Public Library, are on display.

During Port Jefferson Heritage Weekend, residents will be able to utilize the Port Jefferson Jitney to travel from venue to venue if they wish. Most locations will be participating from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For a complete list of participating venues and more information, visit www.portjeff.com.