Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hops Fund Catlin and Linn, Build Salem's First Dedicated Car Garage in 1910

You never know what you'll see walking around Salem. Earlier this summer we saw this 1929 Ford Model A for sale on a front lawn just off the sidewalk.

We tend to flatten out the history of "old cars." Maybe you do too. But 1929 is two decades after the Model T was introduced. Think about cel phones and computers circa 1991. A lot changes in 20 years.

Between Netflix, Borders, and the US Postal Service, Schumpeterian destruction, industrial transformation, and technological change are all on our mind.

We were thinking about the Fashion Stables. On March 31st, 1910, the paper ran a note about the sale of the Stables and their conversion to a car garage.

Also that spring, at the very same time, just two blocks down State street, the building we think was the first erected specifically to house and service autos was being built.

(Catlin and Linn building circa 1914, Oregon State Library.)

1910 was a real transitional year in Salem.

Russell Catlin and James R. Linn were significant hop growers and dealers around 1900. Catlin came to Salem in 1896 after growing hops near Seattle. Linn also came that year. Catlin and Linn formed a partnership and had two hops ranches, one near Independence, the other near Dallas. Catlin also had a dairy farm near the prison. Linn was the president of the Marion Hotel Company for many years.

They purchased the Gray Block in 1900 and were already prosperous. Here in January 1903 the paper announced a large purchase after the market had been down for a while.

They continued to do well and by 1909 they were buying and driving automobiles, which were not cheap. In this ad from 1909 Catlin endorsed the Maxwell, but it was just a prelude to bigger things.

By the spring of 1910 Catlin and Linn had gone into business with J.F. Priehs and were constructing the Catlin and Linn building, on the south side of State Street across from Cascade Baking Company, for the expanding Salem Auto Garage, which Priehs operated. It was not the first auto garage in Salem, but we believe it is the first building in Salem erected specifically to house a car garage. It was designed by Louis Hazeltine.

This ad (below) from July 30th, 1910, run just after the building was completed and moved into, may be the first ad for it in the new building.

They also sold Columbia electric cars. What's old is new again!

There weren't actually very many cars in Salem. They were very much a luxury item, and people were using horses and wagons well into the 1920s. A reader shared a traffic count from 1916 on the bridge across the Willamette River: Less than half of the bridge traffic that year was automobiles, and a quarter of it was still horse-drawn wagons or carriages. Streetcars and bicycles also remained important conveyances. Habitually we overstate the speed with which automobiles prevailed. Their adoption took a full generation. (See this detailed view of Court Street circa 1912.)

But it seems that 1910 was a tipping point. Here in Salem the Fashion Stables closed, and converted to an auto garage, at the same time as the Catlin and Linn building was constructed. Entrepreneurial merchants saw the future. The quantity of cars was small, but the money and margins were big! Plus, they were shiny and new. The landscape shifted.

Catlin went on to chair the committee for the Carnegie Library (designed by George Post), was a member of the Salem Hospital Board, and was a charter Cherrian. He died in 1924.

(Catlin biographical info from Robert Carlton Clark's History of the Willamette Valley Oregon. Linn biographical info from Charles Henry Carey's History of Oregon. For more on Salem in 1910 see Virginia Green's note. Dates of the building have been uncertain: the downtown historic district National Register nomination lists circa 1909, the downtown walking tour lists 1908, but we believe newspaper articles and ads securely date it to 1910. )

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