Monday, February 4, 2013

The Automobile and It's Impact

The Philly History Blog recently posted an article titled When City and Car First Collided, which is something of a social history of the introduction and rise of the automobile in Philly and concerns about safety from the start. Fascinating read, especially because it reminded me of several issues in my own tree. First, it reminded me the 1943 car accident my great grandfather was in. It also reminded me that the family this same ancestor married into were car enthusiasts and lastly that his own father had owned a carriage shop which went out of business thanks to the automobile. So this branch of my tree was heavily influenced by the automobile in many different ways.

Ambler Gazette clipping
from October 28, 1943
On Tuesday, October 26, 1943, at the age of 60, my great grandfather Chester Harold Godshall Sr. was involved in a serious car accident which nearly killed him while driving from his home in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to work at the Norristown Court House (he was a civil engineer). There were no other cars involved but somehow he lost control of his car while on Wissahickon Ave (now Northwestern Ave) near where it met Germantown Ave and hit several posts by the side of the road before slamming into a stone wall which launched him from the car, through the windshield. Fortunately, the accident had caused the car horn to persistently sound, which attracted the attention of the sisters of a nearby Convent, Mount Saint Joseph's (now Sisters of Saint Joseph in Philadelphia) on Germantown Ave. The sisters called the Whitemarsh Country Club (now Whitemarsh Valley Country Club), which was located on the opposite side of Wissahickon Ave, and they sent over two men, Harold Lawton and Charles Fleisher, who rushed Chester to the Chestnut Hill Hospital. He had punctured a lung, broke several ribs, and was in critical condition at the time the Ambler Gazette reported the accident two days later. Fortunately, he recovered and lived for another ten years.

Though Chester, who was better known as Harold, was a civil engineer, back in the early 20th century, he had also worked as a secretary for his father's struggling carriage business originally called Germantown Carriage Works and eventually renamed to William H Godshall Inc. William had wanted his son to take over the business and after his death in 1922, Harold did so but not for long. It eventually went out of business in light of the rise of the automobile.
Harry Fallows and his daughter Emma Sarah proudly
showing off his automobile, circa 1908, probably rankled his
son-in-law's father, the owner of a failing carriage shop.

While William was probably muttering with bitterness over the growing popularity of the automobile, his son Harold was dating his future bride, Emma Sarah Fallows, whose family were somewhat controversially car enthusiasts. Emma's father Harry was a member of the Quaker City motoring club and won the Salem Cup in the Wildwood Auto Races on July 4, 1912 when he represented the Chase Car company. Harry's brother James owned at least three cars (though not necessarily at the same time) from as early as 1906 and had one repainted at one point. He and his cars had several mentions in the Ambler Gazette and there are also many surviving photographs the Fallows showing off their cars.

These two merging families really highlight the cultural history of the introduction of the automobile into society and what it meant for so many different people. One family struggling to hold onto their livelihood, another embracing the modern marvels that came around the turn of the century. I always imagine the early 20th century must have been an exciting time to be alive but for some, also a little frightening.

 With a little reworking, I took this content from my family histories for the Fallows and Godshall families. I will be posting their full histories within the next few days, as a part of the Family History Writing Challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment