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Port Jefferson Conservancy

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.

Photo by Bob Savage

By Tara Mae

What’s old is new again as Port Jefferson’s Hill Climb returns on Saturday, August 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Continuing in the tradition of the 1910, 1911, and 1925 Port Jefferson hill climbs, this event is an historic tribute that features an antique car parade with about 50 automobiles and a photo exhibit at the Port Jefferson Village Center. 

File photo

“This is a celebration of the history of the hill climbs,” said Bob Laravie, a Port Jefferson Conservancy board member. “The parade starts at the Port Jefferson Village Center, goes up East Broadway hill and hits Belle Terre Road, turns onto North Country Road, and heads back to Main Street, and East Main Street.” 

The parade concludes when they circle back to the Village Center where visitors can view prints of historic photographs by Spooner and Wells. Primarily images of the 1910 Port Jefferson Hill Climb, they are shown courtesy of the Detroit Public Library which now houses them in its collection. 

Hill climbing is one of the oldest forms of motorsports, with the first one taking place in France in 1897. Generally, rather than race each other, cars race the clock as they ascend a peak. Port Jefferson’s version is arguably more a combination of parade and car show rather than a traditional hill climb. 

As each vehicle joins the parade route, the announcer will provide insight and details about the car, its history, and its owner. The cars are driven to a height of about 2,000 feet before beginning their descents.

Participants were recruited from car clubs and car shows, according to Laravie, who is showing the electric car replica he constructed, a Baker Torpedo Kid. The primary requirement for the entries is that they are at least 74 years old, although there are some exceptions. 

“My car is modified for actual hill climbing,” explained Laravie. “I built a replica/tribute to a 1903 electric racecar and they let me in the event …”

In 1910, the Port Jefferson Automobile Club sponsored the first Port Jefferson Hill Climb to promote its cars. “Port Jefferson was a good location for a hill climb; you didn’t need a track or tremendous spectator control. There was a very good turnout the first two years,” Laravie said. A commemorative hill climb was held in 1925. The modern incarnation has been held periodically for the past 50 years and run every 5 years since 2000. Scheduled for 2020, the event was postponed due to the pandemic.

“It is a great piece of Long Island automotive history,” said Howard Kroplick, of East Hills, who is returning for his third Port Jefferson hill climb, having participated in 2010 and 2015. This year, Kroplick will be driving the “Black Beast,” a restored racecar that won the 1909 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup races and was in the first Indy 500.

“The hill climb has a kind of a legacy about the beginnings of automotive history, not only on Long Island but throughout the United States. We respect history by participating in this event. Also, it’s a lot of fun. It gives [drivers and spectators] the opportunity to utilize these cars and see them in action; most car shows are really stationary,” added Kroplick. 

Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Conservancy, East End Shirt Company, Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry, Blacktop Yacht Club and the Village of Port Jefferson, the Port Jefferson Hill Climb is free to the public with a rain date of Aug. 21. For more information, please call 631-965-0797.

Please note: Parking at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101-A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson is reserved for the hill climb’s participants; other public lots are available to spectators.

Port Jefferson Village Center. Photo by Heidi Sutton
UPDATED 03/15/21

Take a bite out of hunger

The Port Jefferson Conservancy is currently hosting a food drive at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101 E. Broadway, Port Jefferson through March 20. Food pantries are in short supply after the holiday season and need support. If you’re coming to the PJVC to skate, view the latest art gallery exhibit or to visit Harborfront Park, please bring a canned food or non-perishable item to benefit local families. The Center is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For more information, please call 631-802-2160.