The Northshore Auto Sportsmen: Part 1

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Upon doing some research on Plaza del Lago for our first Evening Coffee & Classics we ran into what was one of the most important factors in the development of Chicago’s North Shore and more importantly…Sheridan Rd. Anyone who grows up on the Northshore (there’s debate on spelling, so we’ll go with tradition) knows Sheridan Rd. To Northshore Fuelfed drivers, it’s the only road that matters for clearing the mind and carbs on a Sunday morning or a late Thursday night.

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But why Sheridan Rd. and not say…41 or Old Greenbay Trial? Well there’s a Fuelfed spirit that goes back 117 years that still calls us to it’s gentle twists and majestic mansions.

Before the SCCA or even AAA there were the Northshore Autosportsmen. Yes real pioneers of then, modern technology. Men romanced by metal, speed and gasoline.

Fred R. Egloff puts things into a fascinating perspective on how the automobile and Sheridan Rd. played a major role in Northshore history.

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Fred writes…

The automobile has undoubtedly been a major factor in shaping the history of the twentieth century. Auto sportsmen played a vital role in developing the auto into the reliable means of transportation we take for granted and enjoy today. Because of this, it is indeed surprising that they have remained for the most part an ignored and unrecorded part of our Northshore heritage.

It was prior to the start of this century that an automobile drove through Evanston for the very first time. On Saturday, November 2, 1895, Oscar Mueller, at the wheel of his imported Benz, traveled south on Sheridan Road. He was participating in a preliminary contest that preceded by three weeks America’s first auto race. Only two cars ran in this Chicago-Waukegan-Chicago Trial; the other car, a Duryea, had been eliminated by an accident before reaching Wilmette. These and other motoring events that followed provided inspiration for the men building experimental horseless carriages as the century began.

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In 1900, the Chicago Automobile Club was founded, followed in 1902 by the American Automobile Club (AAA). They organized motorsport events to improve the breed, as well as to reassure the public that the automobile could perform with increased reliability. The Glidden Tours, Algonquin Hill Climb, and road races at Crown Point and Elgin were not too distant from Wilmette.

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It was in approximately 1902 that Northshore residents began driving the new-fangled machines. One of the Northshore’s first auto sportsmen was Louis K. Gillson, who founded the Wilmette Park system and in whose honor Wilmette’s beautiful lakefront park is named. He was the proud owner of a chain-driven Locomobile. Another Wilmette auto pioneer was H.H. Hitchcock, who owned a Peerless and whose Rambler was issued Wilmette’s first auto license in 1908 when the Village instituted the practice.

Of all Northshore’s unpaved streets, Sheridan Road proved to be the village’s most popular driving road for the pioneer automobilists. A 1905 Chicago to Milwaukee route guide shows that Wilmette had posted a speed limit of 12 MPH at its borders.

From the trials and tribulations of the early sportsmen, the American auto industry evolved. As mid-century approached, the auto was no longer a sporting luxury but an increasingly necessary part of suburban life.

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