By Rich Place

The village of Springville will once again play a part in the history of The Great Automobile Race, this time as a stop for dozens of participants in a re-creation of the legendary 1908 event.

It was 110 years ago that George Schuster, a Springville resident, drove the Thomas Flyer to victory in The Great Automobile Race that spanned from New York to Paris. This month, a group will recreate the American leg of the race across the country.

On Friday, June 22, they’ll be stopping in Springville to see the recently opened Heritage Building that features, among other aspects of local history, a room dedicated to Schuster and The Great Automobile Race.

The public is invited to the Heritage Building on Franklin Street at approximately 10 a.m. to catch a glimpse of the vintage cars.

Jeff Mahl, the great-grandson of Schuster, will be one of the participants in the drive to San Francisco, Calif., beginning late next week. He said he expects more than 20 Model As, as well as other vintage cars, to stop in Springville. Some will be joining him across the country, following the original 1908 route.

The stop in Springville will allow Concord Historical Society members to showcase the new Heritage Building, which opened in September.

Arguably the highlight for the vintage car aficionados will be the room dedicated to Schuster, made to look like an old car garage nestled amongst other Springville landmarks like the Joylan Theater, the Leland House and Dr. Ralph Waite’s office.

The room features dozens of photographs of Schuster and The Great Automobile Race, the original jack and compass used during the race and plenty of multimedia including videos and sound clips with Schuster’s voice.

Since opening last autumn, the Heritage Building has provided a new outlet for the historical society to showcase Springville history. Joel Maul, who helped lead the effort to erect the Heritage Building, said during the month of May nearly 400 people signed the museum’s guestbook.

“If you don’t promote history, it’s going to be lost,” Maul said during a tour of the Heritage Building last week. “We have to pass it on to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

This week, the SGI school district did just that as fourth graders toured the Heritage Building and Mercantile as part of its decades-long tradition of touring the local museum to learn more about the area. This group was the first able to tour the recently completed Heritage Building.

“They get that connection to local history that might be lost if we didn’t have something like this,” Mahl said.

That history includes the story of Schuster and The Great Automobile Race, sometimes accompanied by Mahl presenting the information as a first-person account in honor of his great-grandfather.

“I tell the story as I heard it from great-grandpa,” Mahl said. “By the time he passed in ‘72, I was in my early 20s. I don’t even have to use notes, I just repeat what I had heard over and over as a kid. People love it — they can’t believe this is something that could actually be accomplished.”

The recreation of The Great Automobile Race later this month will feature Mahl driving a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup in the U.S. event, which has a relaxed pace and is expected to cover about 300 miles per day with three days of rest mixed in. Highlights of the tour will include a start at the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo; a classic lunch at the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne, Wyo., featuring menu items from the March 8, 1908 banquet in honor of the Thomas crew; a visit to the National Automobile Museum in Nevada, home of the restored Thomas Flyer; and various other stops.

“One of the best things about doing this is that it’s honoring the past,” Mahl said. “But along the way, people will come up along the route because we are following the original route.”

He said that will allow the potential for those who have some piece of history tied to the race to approach participants and tell stories or share artifacts. Events like these designed to celebrate The Great Automobile Race is how some of the artifacts in the Heritage Building were acquired.

“Some of these pieces of history that normally would have been lost have a good home now,” Mahl said. “That’s a secondary benefit of doing all of this.”

The public is invited to the Heritage Building at approximately 10 a.m. June 22 as the fleet of vintage cars roll into the village. There will be a ceremony held at Maplewood Cemetery at 2 p.m. that day before many of the cars head back up to Buffalo.

The following Saturday morning at the corner of Michigan and Seneca streets in Buffalo, much of group will take off at 10 a.m. headed west for San Francisco. About a half hour later another part of the group will head east for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“There should be plenty of ‘Kodak moments’ as we tour the Concord Historical Mercantile and Heritage Building,” Mahl said about the June 22 event. “The 1908 New York to Paris Race is a great story and important part of Springville’s history.”

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