Genealogy, Local History

90 years of automotive history on Liberty Street…

As always, click the pix for full size…

In 1917, Paul Montague closed his Ford agency in Winston-Salem. You could still buy a Ford in the Twin City, but no one was trying too hard to sell you one. In January, 1918, Fred J. DeTamble, of Charlotte, born in Canada, and his wife Elsie, arrived in town. Those who were paying attention knew that something was about to happen. DeTamble had a long automobile industry history, reaching back for over a decade to his partnership in the Carter International Automotive Manufacturing Company in Detroit. By 1910, he was associated directly with the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. When Ford opened an assembly plant in Charlotte in 1914, DeTamble moved there as the assistant manager of the plant. In their first full year, 1915, the Charlotte Ford plant assembled and shipped 6,850 new Fords (see separate article below).

Twin City Motor Company opening ad, February 6, 1918

But DeTamble was not interested in working for wages. He wanted his own show, and the fastest growing city in the South seemed like the right place. On Saturday, February 2, 1918, the Twin-City Daily Sentinel ran an article about DeTamble, stating that he had acquired the sole right to sell Ford cars, trucks and farm vehicles in Forsyth and most of the surrounding counties except Guilford. Four days later, on Wednesday, February 6, 1918, DeTamble opened a new Ford dealership, the Twin City Motor Company, at 610 North Liberty Street (for a history of that building and its later uses, see “A sweet move”). He immediately doubled the size of the building, extending it through the block to Trade Street, then leased the new space to a company that he had contracted with to do maintenance and repair on Ford vehicles.

Twin City Motor Company, 1926, elevation drawing by Northup & O’Brien

By mid-1919, Detamble’s company had outgrown that building and found itself landlocked, so in 1920 he moved to a new fire-proof quarters at 221 South Liberty Street. The site was shared by the Norfleet-Baggs Company and the budding Jarvis Battery Company. In 1922, Ford bought the Lincoln Motor Company and DeTamble added the local Lincoln dealership to his portfolio. On Saturday, July 18, 1925, the new building was ravaged by fire. Norfleet-Baggs and Jarvis Battery were completely burned out. A couple of dozen cars, including the Winston-Salem Police Department’s “Black Maria” patrol wagon, were incinerated. DeTamble had the building repaired and continued to operate from the site, but also initiated the construction of a grand new building at 631 North Liberty Street.

Opening ad, September 2, 1926

The new three story building ran all the way through the block along Seventh Street between Liberty and Main and was designed by the city’s leading architectural firm, Northup & O’Brien. It contained 44,000 square feet for administrative offices, new car display and sales, auto maintenance and repair facilities and a retail parts department. The Twin City Motor Company moved to that site on September 2, 1926. More than a month later, they held their grand opening with a spectacular “salon” show of the latest in motor car design (see separate article below) and, in conjunction with other area Ford dealers, a wildly popular gas mileage contest.

Grand opening, October 24, 1926


Grand opening, Oct 27 – Nov 6, 1926

The Twin City Motor Company would continue to operate on that site for 27 years, until it was replaced, in 1953, by the Hull-Dobbs Ford dealership, a national chain that originated in Memphis, Tennessee (see separate article below).

Hull-Dobbs pulled out in 1965 and was replaced by Odell Matthews Motors, Plymouth Valiant and Simca dealer, for a little over a year. By 1967, Ed Owens Chrysler-Plymouth had moved in. They would remain until 1972. That same year saw the arrival of Automotive Associates, Wayne D. Falls, president, H. Bruce bates, vice-president and Rene Tano, secretary, which styled itself as the one-stop spot for auto needs and included city wide delivery, a towing service, a parts service, general auto repairs and a body shop. Automotive Associates has now been there for over 40 years and is considered to be one of the best independent auto repair facilities in the Twin City.

Fred and Elsie DeTamble both died in 1961, a few months apart. They were generous people. When the Memorial Industrial School opened north of the Twin City in the mid-1920s, Fred DeTamble supplied the orphanage with Ford farm vehicles at minimal cost. The DeTamble Library at St. Andrews College, designed by A.G. Odell, Jr. & Associates, was named for them. DeTamble Auditorium in Tribble Hall on the Wake Forest campus is named for Elsie.

Hull-Dobbs Ford

Hull-Dobbs Ford, Union Avenue, Memphis, next to the Peabody Hotel

The Hull-Dobbs Ford dealership was founded in Memphis in 1921 by Jimmy Dobbs and Horace Hull. It operated for decades on Union Avenue right next to the landmark Peabody Hotel (think ducks parading in the lobby). Soon they began to open franchised dealerships and became the largest sellers of Ford vehicles in the world. They invented the regimented high-pressure techniques that dominated the automobile sales industry for decades. They later expanded into restaurants…the Hull-Dobbs Houses eventually bought out their biggest rival, the Toddle House…became the largest airline catering firm in the world…and were pioneers in the fleet vehicle business.

The Lincoln Salon

Lincoln Brunn Roadster

Early Lincoln cars were ridiculed for their bland designs, much as were Henry Ford’s early cars. When Ford acquired Lincoln in 1922, they decided to change that image, hiring a variety of the most advanced auto body designers to create new Lincolns. About the same time, the first New York grand auto salon was presented, featuring the newest auto design from around the world. The idea soon spread to Chicago, San Francisco and beyond. Lincoln and Dusenburg became two of the biggest players in that game. By 1923, Lincoln had created its own traveling salon, which reached out to smaller cities around the nation.

Lincoln Judkins Brougham

In October, 1926, Fred DeTamble brought the annual Lincoln salon to Winston-Salem. He billed it as the largest exhibit of advanced auto design in North Carolina history, which it certainly was. If you had been in the Twin City in the fall of 1926, for over a week you could have seen all of these cars and more at DeTamble’s Twin City Motor Company on North Liberty Street at Seventh.

Lincoln Lebaron Sedan


Lincoln Dietrich Cabriolet


Lincoln Brunn Sport Phaeton
Lincoln Town Car, from the French magazine L’Illustration

Charlotte Ford Assembly Plant

Statesville Avenue assembly plant, building #1, 1924

In 1913, the Ford Motor Company began opening more than two dozen assembly plants around the nation. They opened a service facility at 222 North Tryon Street in Charlotte in 1914. Within weeks the site had been expanded to incorporate an assembly plant. The plant assembled Ford bodies, then mated each one to a chassis shipped from Detroit. In its first full year, 1915, the Charlotte plant shipped 6,850 Ford vehicles. In 1916, the plant moved to a larger facility at 210 East Sixth Street. In 1924, Ford built a new 240,000 square foot plant off Statesville Avenue. That plant employed 500 local workers and produced 300 cars and trucks per day in its first year. The plant closed in 1932 during the Great Depression, having assembled a total of 231,068 Ford vehicles. During World War II, the plant became a Quartermaster Corps Depot. In the early 1950s, it was refitted as the Charlotte Ordnance Missile Plant, which manufactured Nike missiles and Honest John rockets.

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