J. H. Brown and his wife of Battle Creek, Michigan took a short auto camping tour of Michigan in 1915 which grew to an annual tour in which in 1925 1,000 persons traveled 2,000 miles through the eastern United States.
The tourists camped in Elmira on Tuesday August 11 and were scheduled to pass through Waverly Wednesday August 12, on their way to Binghamton, NY.
In 1915 auto camping was almost unknown and the Browns created quite a sensation when they announced their plan for a tour of the state and said to save hotel bills, they would camp along the road. Their venture was such a success that the next year a few friends asked if they might accompany them. Year by year the number grew, and the Michigan automobile tours association was organized.
Each year the itinerary lengthened and Wednesday August 5, 1925 the tourists left the farm home of Michigan State Senator Norman B. Horton at Fort Ridge, ten miles south of Adrian, O., for a trip to Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, New York, Atlantic City, Baltimore and Washington.
The tours association was the first and only such organization which included city and country people, and which combined education and recreation in a personally conducted auto tour of such length.
In the beginning the association included only farmers and special emphasis was placed upon a study of farming methods in various sections visited but increasing interest in the project brought about the inclusion of urbanites as well, the registration included persons in all walks of life. References were required from all new members and every effort was made to keep out undesirable persons.
The tour in 1925 was under the auspices of the Battle Creek Chamber of Commerce, whose secretary, John I. Gibson accompanied Mr. Brown in the official car. The caravan was welcomed all along the line of travel by civic officials and representatives of chambers of commerce in various cities, many of whom provided camping places and arranged programs for the entertainment of the visitors during their stay.
All camping places were decided upon before the caravan started and throughout the entire trip the company traveled on an exact schedule. Each camp was laid out in regular order with 30 feet between tents, with the Brown’s big car at the head of the Main street.
Every evening, regardless of the weather, a huge community camp fire was lighted in an open space provided for the purpose and the tourists gathered with their camp chairs and listened to programs composed partly of talent enlisted from among their own members and partly of special speakers and musicians provided by the communities where they stopped. A half cord of hardwood was used in each of these campfires and the evening “get-together” was looked forward to by both young and old. Illumination was furnished by the campfire and the headlights of autos ranged about the scene.
On the highway, winding along over the hills and through the valleys, the caravan provided an imposing spectacle, the rear car being nearly four miles from the head of the procession.
Police protection along the road and in the night, camps was provided by two or three state troopers from whatever state the caravan was within.
While on the road each party of tourists bared its own expenses and past experience showed that the total cost for each person including gasoline and oil as well as food supplies, was between $45 and $50 for the entire three weeks trip.
After leaving Washington, DC on the return trip the caravan passed through the famous Shenandoah Valley and finally broke up in Columbus, Ohio. In all of the towns visited no one was injured and no car seriously damaged. No cases of sickness and only two or three small fires occurred, having been quickly extinguished by means of small chemical extinguishers carried by some of the cars and listed by Brown for quick reference in case of an emergency.
J. H. Brown, the originator and manager of the tours, had been for many years on the editorial staff of a Battle Creek newspaper and on the staff of the Michigan Farmer. During the state fair he was superintendent in charge of the tourist camp there. He was well known throughout the state for his interest in farm problems and in outdoor recreation.
The tours association was in no sense a money-making scheme, the registration required of each member was only enough to cover the expenses incident to arranging the trips.
On Wednesday August 12, 1925 several hundred people in Waverly spent a large part of the morning on Chemung street watching for the Michigan tourists who were scheduled to pass through the village between nine and ten o’clock.
Whenever a car was spied with any sort of baggage or camping equipment, the children would get very excited and cries of “Here they come. Gee! Look at them loaded to the roof!” etc. etc., were heard all along the street but all the watchers were doomed to disappointment as only one or two cars passed through during the entire day with Michigan licenses.
The itinerary of the party was changed from Elmira and the group traveled to Binghamton by way of Watkins Glen and did not strike Waverly at all.
Henry Farley is a founding member and a current board member of the Sayre Historical Society. He is also president of the Bradford County Historical Society.