The First Automobiles in Cabarrus County

4 Dec 2014

This undated postcard photo identifies the driver as “J. P. Brown and his 1917 horseless carriage, with the old Kannapolis jail in the background.” Photo courtesy of George Patterson/Independent Tribune.

City directories are a valuable resource when researching the businesses your ancestors may have owned or frequented. They also are helpful in creating a timeline for understanding when new innovations in business and industry entered the community. Such is the case for the automobile. As the home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Cabarrus County has a strong tradition of automobile racing and its related industries. However, as the directories show, Cabarrus was not always an “auto driven” county.

The birth of the automobile industry is recognized as beginning about 1885 when the first successful gasoline engines were built in Europe. The first U.S. gasoline powered car appeared in 1893. Utilizing mass production by 1901, the U.S. auto industry quickly became dominant, and it was Henry Ford’s assembly line production, begun in 1913, that had the greatest impact on this rapidly growing industry.

The 1908-1909 Concord City Directory listed two hardware companies in town, Ritchie Hardware and Yorke & Wadsworth, which sold “vehicles,” most likely wagons and buggies. There were eight livery stables, including M. L. Brown & Brother, Corl-Wadsworth, Henry & Cline, and Penninger Brothers. In the 1913-1914 directory, Concord boasted only one automobile dealership, Cabarrus Motor Company. There were still listings for six livery stables and numerous other buggy and wagon related businesses, like blacksmiths E. C. Turner and J. F. Dorton and wagon repairer W. D. Harris.

This advertisement for the Cabarrus Motor Company appeared in the 1913-1914 Concord City Directory.

By December 1, 1924, the 1925 North Carolina Yearbook showed that Cabarrus County had 4,236 registered automobiles. With a 1920 population of 33,730 people, that averaged one car per every 7.9 persons. Yet those 4,236 cars were beginning to have an impact on the county. The 1924-1925 Concord City Directory listed two columns of automobile related businesses, including Auto Supply & Repair Company, Forest Hill Service Station, McDonal Filling Station and Southern Motor Service. Those and other Concord businesses supplied local drivers with battery service, gasoline and tires. There were eight garages, and Howard’s Filling Station on East Depot Street (now Cabarrus Ave.) at Church Street, even advertised “washing and polishing.” None of the 1914 livery stables remained, although some former livery owners appear to have moved with the times and gone into auto-related businesses.

Although Charlotte Motor Speedway and race-related businesses were still yet to come, Cabarrus County was on the automobile track with the rest of the country.

Courtesy of the Cabarrus County Public Library, Lore Local History Room