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.
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.