With Connersville, IN, celebrating its bicentennial this year, I believe it is time to share a little about its automotive history.
During the 1905-1941 timeframe, 13 cars were made in Connersville and the community was very much alive as an automotive center in the United States. One journalist nicknamed the town the “Little Detroit of Indiana.”
|Ansted||Lexington Motor Car Co.||1921-26|
|Auburn||Auburn Automobile Co.||1929-36|
|Central||Central Manufacturing Co.||1905|
|Connersville||Connersville Motor Vehicle Co.||1906|
|Connersville||Connersville Buggy Co.||1914|
|Empire||Empire Motor Car Co.||1912-15|
|Lexington||Lexington Motor Co.||1910-27|
|McFarlan||McFarlan Motor Car Co.||1910-28|
|Pak-Age-Car||Auburn Central Co.||1938-41|
|Packard Darrin||Packard Motor Car Co.||1940-41|
|Van Auken Electric||Connersville Buggy Co.||1913|
Connersville made the move to the Twentieth Century when in 1886 John B. McFarlan converted part of the family farm into one of the first industrial parks in the U.S. In his desire to expand his carriage business, he lit the spark for what turned out to be a center for automobile production (36 years) and automotive component manufacturing, which exists today.
An early example is Central Manufacturing Company which was incorporated on April 7, 1898 to manufacture vehicle woodwork at 123 West Seventh. In 1903, it began to manufacture rear entrance automobile bodies for Cadillac. A Central car was built in this plant in 1905, but unfortunately the car was lost when the plant burned in 1905. The company moved to a new building in McFarlan’s park (on 18th Street north of the intersection at Georgia Street) in 1906. Central bodies became standard units on Stutz, National, Premier, Cole, H.C.S., Moon, Gardner, Wescott, Davis, Auburn, Elcar, Haynes, Apperson, Paige, Overland, Lexington, and Empire Automobiles.
The McFarlan was the outgrowth of the McFarlan Carriage Company (on the south end of the industrial park) which turned to manufacturing automobiles in 1910. The company turned out very fine automobiles built to customer specifications for the next 18 years. A 1923 McFarlan Knickerbocker Cabriolet priced at $25,000 with all outside trim being gold plated was shown at the National Automobile Show in Chicago.
In 1910, a group of Connersville businessmen enticed the infant Lexington Motor Car Company to relocate from Lexington, Kentucky, to a new plant at 800 West 18th Street in the industrial park. In 1914, the new Lexington-Howard Company produced the Howard automobile. In 1915, the name changed back to Lexington Motor Company. Two short wheelbase Lexington race cars won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1920 and 1924.
1935 Auburn 852 Speedster
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath
The Connersville Buggy Company built a parcel post van, under contract for Van Auken Electric Company of Chicago in 1914.
In 1927, E. L. Cord purchased Lexington Motor Car Company and the adjacent Ansted Engineering buildings. In 1928, he purchased the Central Manufacturing Company and then bought the McFarlan Motor Car plant five blocks south of his existing plants in 1929.
On January 15, 1929, the first Auburn 6-80 sedan, rolled off the 900-foot final assembly line. Seventy-five percent of Auburn’s cars were built in Connersville until 1933. In the fall of 1933, Cord moved Limousine Body Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan (builder of the Auburn open car bodies) into the Central Manufacturing facilities. By 1934, all Auburn final production was done at the 82 acre Connersville center.
1936 Cord Model 810 sedan
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath
On August 25, 1938, the Auburn Automobile Company purchased the Pak-Age-Car Division from Stutz in Indianapolis. They produced the multi-stop delivery truck until 1941. Howard Darrin built his Packard Darrin in the factory during 1940 and 1941. On March 10, 1941, Willys-Overland awarded Auburn-Central (the new corporate name) a contract to build 1600 Jeep bodies. This was the first of many contracts that lasted through 1948 for Willys and Ford. The total for Jeep bodies reached 445,000 over a 45-month period.
Unfortunately, today there are no existing automotive heritage landmarks in Connersville. The Fayette County Historical Museum at 103 Vine Street has a number of automobiles and other artifacts from this era.