By Derek M. Otto
There has been a lot of construction in Springville the last few years. One of the major projects has been the Heritage Building addition to the Concord Historical Society Campus. The project, which will highlight the architecture and important citizens of Springville in the early 20th Century, opens Saturday, Sept. 30 at noon.
To anticipate the opening, this month I will highlight some of the features and people of the Heritage Building. A couple weeks ago, I featured Dr. Ralph Waite, a pioneer in painless dentistry; Waite will be honored with a dentist office in the Heritage Building.
This week, I want to focus on George Schuster. Schuster was one the United States’ great heroes in the early 1900s. He was the driver of the winning car in the Great Race, the 1908 New York to Paris automobile race. In short, the race had six entries, the national flags of Germany, France, Italy and the United States flew, with the Protos representing Germany, the Zust representing Italy, three cars (De Dion-Bouton, Motobloc and Sizaire-Naudin) representing France, and Thomas Flyer competing for the United States. The Thomas Flyer was manufactured in Buffalo and Mr. Schuster was chosen to go along on the race due to his mechanical abilities. In those days, car manufacturers delivered the cars and taught owners and chauffeurs how to drive and maintain the vehicles. Schuster had the job of being the delivery man for the Thomas Flyer Company and was a good choice to go on the race.
In the end, only three of the cars made it to Paris. The Thomas Flyer was declared the winner with Schuster driving. More than a hundred years later, he still holds the record for the 169-day race. Schuster was the only American on the Flyer team to complete the entire race. You can learn a lot about the race in the Heritage Building. So why is that important to Springville?
After the race, Schuster continued to work for Flyer for a few years, but the Thomas Flyer Company in Buffalo closed in 1919. Mr. Schuster had already left the company for other ventures, but chose Springville as his home.
In 1920, he opened a Dodge Brothers Dealership in Springville. With all his fame in the automobile industry, Schuster chose Springville. It was the first automobile dealership in Springville. By 1920, advancements and the mass production of automobiles, the car dealership developed. No longer did the manufacturer come to your home for delivery and maintenance, you went to your local dealership to purchase and maintain your vehicle.
In 1920, Springville had a great big shell of a building from the recent merger of the First Baptist Church and the Free Baptist Church in Springville. The church edifice on the corner of Church and Buffalo Streets was perfect for Schuster and he operated his garage there for 15 years. The building would go through some evolution in the years that Shuster had it. Gas pumps, showroom windows and a gas station office were added to the church building. He sold his dealership to the Luss Brothers and it was in 1938 that the old dealership would meet its fate.
A fire started in Mr. Farner’s gas station office (Farner operated the gas business in the dealership) on a Friday night and the whole building was consumed by fire. The dealership then moved to Mechanic Street when the Luss Brothers sold it to Bob Johnson. Johnson would sell the building on Mechanic Street to NUWAY grocery stores when he built his new dealership on the old Chesbro mill site on West Main Street. Eventually, the Bob Johnson Dodge dealership was bought by the Emerling family and this year, they are building a new dealership on Cascade Drive.
So from the first dealership opened by the winner of the Great Race to the new construction in town, the Dodge dealership has always had a distinct presence. Not to spoil the grand opening of the Heritage Building, where I know one is going to learn more about the Great Race. The Schuster Garage has been developed by his own great grandson, Jeff Mahl. Actually, the Heritage Building grew out of the idea at the end of the centennial celebration of the Great Race in 2008, that a permanent museum of the race should be built. So after many years of planning, fundraising and construction, the Heritage building will be opening this month.