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 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

Recipient of Indiana Historical Society's Awards--"2013 Outstanding Project Award" &
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 THE DEWITT CENTENNIAL

 Bill Eberly, North Manchester Historical Society

 Would you believe that North Manchester was once a great hub of automobile dealerships in northern Indiana?  At one time or another, the automobile buyer could purchase a Buick, Chevrolet, Crosley, Desoto, Dodge, Essex, Ford, Frazer, GMC truck, Hudson, International truck, Kaiser, Lincoln, Nash, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Studebaker, Terraplane, or Willys, all here in North Manchester.  If you were willing to go as far away as Wabash, you might pick up a Cadillac, Cole, Jackson, American, Overland, or Hupmobile. 

And this list does not include the DeWitt.  Unlike all the other brands of cars, the DeWitt was actually made in North Manchester.  Yes, once we had an automobile factory in our little town.  The car was named after the CEO of the corporation, Virgil DeWitt.

 

Citizens worked very hard to get this factory to come to North Manchester.  In July, 1908, the North Manchester Industrial Association signed a contract with Mr. DeWitt giving him a plot of land just west of the Big Four RR tracks, south of Main Street, and $1,500 to build his factory.

 

Actual production was started that winter.  The first automobile was completed in the first week of April, 1909.  It was red.  The local newspaper said, “The machine is easily the prettiest of the buggy machines ever seen hereabouts and …it is a beauty.”  A work force of twenty men could produce about four autos a week.

 

The most noticeable thing about the car was its big wheels.  Actually, the body was much like a buggy but with a motor, fenders, solid rubber tires, a pair of oil burning lamps, and a brass horn.  The company advertised the car as the “Motor Buggy”. 

 

The car is described as a runabout, with one seat (two passengers).  The motor was mounted in the rear and propelled the vehicle by chains connected to the rear wheels. The price was $592.50.  The company also made a few vehicles with a small truck bed extending behind the seat (an early pickup truck). 

 

In May, 1909, the workers staged a sympathy strike to protest the dismissal of one of the employees for disciplinary reasons.  By June, a new work force was in place.

 

On May 5, 1910, a fire that started in the second story of the DeWitt factory completely gutted the building.  Because the big wheel buggy cars were losing popularity, this factory was never rebuilt. 

 

In 1973, Russell Egolf of our town became interested in the DeWitt automobile and its history.  Egolf produced a modern replica of the DeWitt, with everything as close to the original as possible.  It was a feature attraction in the 1973 FunFest Parade.  Pudge” gave the vehicle to the North Manchester Historical Society, where it is now on display at the Center for History museum.  In 1981, Egolf and Steve Farringer formed or recreated a new DeWitt Motor Car Company, which made high-quality reproductions of the DeWitt for sale.  They made both the two seater (two passengers) runabout and the two seater light truck.  They also made a four passenger touring car.  At least a dozen were produced, which are now scattered around the world.   Several models were also made with electric (battery) power.

 

In 1909, just a century ago, North Manchester became an automobile manufacturing town.  Not all cars were made in Detroit, or Auburn.  When you say DeWitt, think of North Manchester.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two-passenger DeWitt Runabout

 


 

 DeWitt Automobile Factory

The DeWitt Automobile Building
801 W. Main St. (901 W. Main St. was an old address)


For the Articles of Incorporation of the DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company, click here.
To read more articles on the DeWitt, select BUSINESSES in the top menu. You can then choose DeWitt options.