A hundred years ago, two percent of Ridgefielders had cars
What appears to be a supplement to the town’s 1919 tax list, found among the Ridgefield Historical Society’s archives, lists 43 privately owned cars, three commercial cars, and four “cycles,” including one with a sidecar — presumably, these are motorcycles, though it is conceivable that listing includes bicycles.
Ridgefield had a population of about 2,700 in 1919. (The next year’s 1920 census counted 2,707 Ridgefielders, down from a count of 3,118 in 1910).
So, close to 2 percent of the population owned motor vehicles if the 1919 list from the historical society’s archives is complete.
Ridgefield’s population today is something over 25,000, with the last census in 2010 counting 24,638 and the census bureau giving an estimate of 25,205 for 2014.
Assessor Al Garzi Ridgefield’s most recent grand list has 25,284 motor vehicles. So, there’s virtually a motor vehicle for every man, woman and child in town.
Private cars, other than Fords, from the 1919 list, and their owners:
1915 Hudson runabout,
John E. Davis;
1915 Chevrolet, Joseph A. Roach;
Sophie L. Meserole;
1915 Packard, Eustace Conway;
1914 Hollister, Henry Langbehn;
1918 Cadillac, Mrs. L.S. Overton;
Miss C.E. Bloomer;
Jennie W. Humphrys;
1919 Studebaker, B. O. Chisolm;
1916 Packard, Jerome Alexander;
Dr. William H. Allee, M.D;
1920 Cadillac, Mrs. J. A. Mitchell;
1919 Brewster, John S. Crawford;
1918 Stearns, Udolpho Snead
1919 Dodge, Mrs. C. W. Blodgett;
Joseph B. Barnes;
1919 Dodge, Louis D. Conley;
1919 Buick, Joseph Conrow;
Mrs. W. A Jenner;
1919 Cadillac, Mary H. Greimes;
1915 Packard, E.V.C.Hawkes.
The value of those cars is listed at $464,000,000, according to Garzi, giving the vehicles an average worth of about $18,350.
The list from 1919 did not have values listed for the cars.
Cars are listed separately from the town’s real estate grand list by the assessor’s office — both today and back in 1919. But today, motor vehicles are on a separate list, and what is listed as “personal property” is basically business equipment.
Back in 1919 was more a jumble.
“A hundred years ago, we didn’t have the personal property system we have now,” Garzi said. “...Not only cars were taxable, we used to tax jewelry, money in the bank...”
He added that it was left to citizens to tell the town what luxury goods they owned that might be taxed.
“It was an honor system,” Garzi said.
It appears that the practice of selling next year’s models this year is a time-honored one, since one car from the 1919 list is dated as a 1920 model.
The car owners from 1919, generally, look to be of old Yankee stock, or wealthy New Yorkers who summered here, perhaps. The list includes names like B. O. Chisholm, Louis D. Conley, and William H. Allee, M.D.
The listed owners include 10 women — Mrs. C. W. Blodgett, Mrs. L.S. Overton, and Jeannie W. Humphries among them.
And, judging by their names, several motor vehicles were owned by members of Ridgefield’s Italian community — many with surnames still familiar in town: Vincenzo Giambartolomei, Ernesto Conti, John Pierpaoli, Achille Bacchochi, and, Marino Mancini, who appears to have owned both a cycle and Ford Model T.
The 1919 cycles were listed without dates for the machines. They were: an Excelsior owned by Frank I. Barrett; an Indian motorcycle owned by Enrico Bozzi; Marino Mancini’s Harley-Davidson; Louis Serfilippi’s Indian with a sidecar.
The three “commercial cars” on the 1919 list were: a 1915 Republic owned Charles H. Rich; a 1917 Ford owned by J. Bulkley; and 1917 Republic owned by F. Livingston Miller.
The 21 Fords listed included a “station wagon,” owned by Mrs. James Stokes, and five Ford runabouts: a 1914 owned by Mrs. J. S. Rowland; Ernest Stash’s 1916 Ford runabout; Charles Elliott’s 1915 runabout; a 1914 runabout owned by Jacob Walters Jr.; John Pierpaoli’s 1916 Ford runabout.
There also appear to be 15 Ford Model T’s dating from 1913 to 1919. The owners are and the years their cars date from are: A. B. Waller (1918); E.E. Russell (1915); Ernesto Conti (1919); David Watt (1917); George H. Underhill (1917); Theodore S. Mead (1917); Samuel Nichols (1913); Robert Wilson Abbott, (1917); Herbert Benedict (1919); John Walters (1917); Belden Fields (1917); Marino Mancini (1915); Vincenzo Giambartolomei (1915); Frederick W. Davis (1916); Louis G. Smith (1916).