EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB
Motorists traveling up current day Eagle Rock Avenue are mostly oblivious to the historic nature of their otherwise uneventful and brief journey. However, more then a century ago West Orange helped play a small but vital role in the development of the automobile.
In 1900 the first ever New York Auto Show was held at Madison Square Garden and introduced the world to the future potential of the horseless carriage. Although still in it's infancy a wide variety of ideas were all being experimented with as motive power for the emerging technology. Gasoline and steam driven engines as well as electric powered vehicles were all being developed. The steep grade and sharp turns of Eagle Rock Avenue offered the perfect venue by which the mechanical capabilities of these machines could be challenged.
On November 5, 1901 The Automobile Club of New Jersey sponsored the first Eagle Rock Hill Climb in West Orange. Such events quickly became popular as essential proving grounds for automobile research and development. But the Eagle Rock Hill Climb of 1901 is reported to have been the first of it's kind in the United States. It would become an annual event in West Orange for years when most traffic on Eagle Rock Avenue was still horse and buggy.
The first Eagle Rock Hill Climb of 1901 attracted hundreds of curious spectators but only thirteen participants. Most of them lacked enough power and couldn't complete the climb. However, two of the drivers who reached the top set world records in the process. The course began at the bottom of present day Eagle Rock Avenue and Main Street (pictured above). The participants were allowed a flying start down Harrison Avenue prior to the starting point. The course continued up Eagle Rock Avenue for a total distance of 4,962 feet and the finish line was inside the Eagle Rock Reservation. At that time Eagle Rock Avenue ran directly into the Reservation with a sharp left turn. It wasn't until 1957 when the current road alignment and entrance to Eagle Rock were changed. The Eagle Rock Hill Climb became an annual event and was held each following November from 1902 to 1905. Momentum quickly grew for the event as it became more popular and bigger then the year before. By 1903 the classes for automobiles were expanded from gasoline and steam power to include electric power. However, by 1906 public opposition had grown and town officials determined it to be to dangerous and it was discontinued. An attempt was made in 1910 to resume the event but it failed to gain support and permits were denied.
On Saturday November 3, 1951, the fiftieth anniversary of the first Eagle Rock Hill Climb made a nostalgic comeback once again sponsored by The Automobile Club of New Jersey. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and the Eagle Rock Hill Climb Golden Jubilee was held in a driving snowstorm. About thirty antique cars participated in the competition followed by a parade through West Orange to the parking lot of the Edison Museum. A luncheon with ceremonies marking the event was held afterwards at Mayfair Farms hosted by Mayor Degnan of West Orange. The many distinguished guests included M. J. Duryea whose father Charles E. Duryea was the inventor of the gasoline powered buggy and participated in 1901. Also in attendance were former New Jersey Governor Charles A. Edison (son of Thomas Edison) and Theodore T. Maxfield who were both present at the first Eagle Rock Hill Climb fifty years earlier. Anniversary Eagle Rock Hill Climbs were subsequently held in 1956 and 1976. They were only ceremonial and nothing more then the equivalent of a parade for antique cars up Eagle Rock Avenue.
Several years ago I came into possession of the surviving original negatives of the photo seen above for thr Eagle Rock Hill Climb of November 24, 1904. The photograph shows the corner of Eagle Rock Avenue and Main Street and the crowds it attracted. A rare postcard depicting the event was also made from this same photo.
The steep grade of Eagle Rock Avenue proved to be a worthy challenge and proving ground for the early automobiles. West Orange hosted the first such hill climb motoring competition in the United States and thus aided in the development of an entire industry but it's contribution has long been obscured and forgotten by the march of time.
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EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB - NOVEMBER 5, 1901
EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB - NOVEMBER 27,1902
EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB - NOVEMBER 26,1903
EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB - NOVEMBER 24, 1904
EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB - NOVEMBER 30,1905
EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB - NOVEMBER 3, 1951
EAGLE ROCK HILL CLIMB - NOVEMBER 3, 1956
Rock Hill Climb - West Orange, NJ - November 4, 1904
Corner of Main Street and Eagle Rock Avenue at Harrison Avenue