Duckwall Ford Dealership Documented with Historic Photos
Writer / Janet V. Gilray
Most car and truck enthusiasts can immediately state their preference. But this never stops a Ford or Chevy dealer from working to win a change of heart.
Therefore, even at a time when Indiana boasted nearly a 100 independent manufacturers of the newfangled, ‘horseless carriage’, a dealer of each persuasion had already set up shop in the heart of Noblesville.
Who dealt in these two classics back in the day? Hare Chevrolet and Duckwall Ford.
Hare Chevrolet’s story is well documented in Hamilton County by local historians. According to a 2009 Car and Driver Magazine article, Hare is the oldest ‘purveyor of vehicles’ in the entire United States. The article details how in 1847, 22-year-old Wesley Hare began manufacturing wagons and buggies from his log cabin near downtown Noblesville. And, when, at the turn of the century, Wesley Hare’s son Elbert Hare, began managing the firm, it grew to occupy one of the town’s largest buildings, as the company produced some 700 carriages per year.
But now, the question still remains. Who sold all the Fords?
Leading the automotive industry since 1906, even baring the fact that there were more than 200 makers in the nation, the Ford Company was the maker of America’s top selling automobile. Customers flocked in droves to purchase the top selling Model T, at an approximate cost of $400 (or $9,440 when adjusted for inflation). Producing 8,720 units in the first year, with over half a million cars pouring off the moving assembly line. A decade later, somebody was selling Fords — and a lot of them!
According to Kent Duckwall, manager of the Geist and Morse Marinas, the owner of the Ford dealership was his grandfather, Walter Duckwall. As evidence, Duckwall toggles through an archive of nearly 200 black and white photos he has had scanned into his computer. With haunting quality of the black and white time period, street scenes from the early 1900s, emerge from a century gone by. Shiny new tractors parade along Conner Street. A large array of Model Ts hug the 8th Street curb. Sleek mules and stylish pedestrians promenade close by the square. Ever present is a backdrop of familiar buildings as they may exist today — mixed with many long gone.
One notable set of structures are partnered, side-by-side, on the west side of 8th Street, south of Conner, catty-corner to Central Square. The similarly-styled, brick structures feature stair-stepped facades. And, each are embedded with a name and date in the upper reaches.
High atop the building to the south, a square of limestone is inscribed ‘C.O. Hare, 1924’.
To the north, next door, the building features not one, but two limestone squares. The one on the left is inscribed “W. Duckwall, 1917.” A stone on the right is carved, “Ford Sales and Service.”
Many other structures in the photo collection are now but ghosts, lost to the years. But, anchoring the dealerships, diagonally across Conner Street, proudly stands the sheriff’s residence as it does so today.
Who was Walter Duckwall? Where did he start his business and where did he go? Beyond the black and white photo archives so recently come to light, very little is known.
“I know very little about my Grandfather Duckwall,” says Duckwall. “I was only 7-years-old when he passed away. He had two brothers and two sisters but all the family are gone or moved away. I wish I’d paid more attention to their stories and asked questions while they were still alive.”
But luckily Duckwall was close to one family member that would leave him a piece of history.
“I knew my grandfather’s daughter, my Aunt Dorothy, (Dorothy Duckwall Stewart) a little better. She lived almost 100 years,” Duckwall said. “Before she died, she gave me a box of photos. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I started going through them last year, I was pretty dumbfounded by the explosion of history in that carton. If an individual or organization wanted to view my collection, I’d be happy to show them.”
In an attempt to find another piece of the W. Duckwall and Ford Sales & Service puzzle, a search in the Indiana Room of the Hamilton East Public Library was made, but turned up nothing. County Historian David Heighway, who works at the Hamilton East Public Library, believes the Duckwall discovery is significant.
“This is a part of the city that was not photographed very often,” Heighway said. “There is a possibility that this collection may have images of the Dorman store (which had been the Wainwright Hotel) and the Judge Stone House. Having this as a resource will be a big benefit to people who want to study and preserve historic buildings in the area.”
Given that Duckwall’s photographic archives could provide researchers with an important look at turn-of-the-century buildings surrounding the dealership, the Hamilton East Public Library is considering a future display of these photos in the library’s Indiana Room, when and if the details can be arranged.