Elaine Deniro, Certified Archivist for the Roswell Historical Society, joins us to give an overview of the history of Roswell’s automotive industry, which was established one hundred years ago. The Roswell Historical Society, established in 1971, is Roswell’s oldest historic preservation organization. Over the last fifty years the Society has amassed considerable holdings of historically significant materials and artifacts which are recorded and preserved at the Research Library and Archives, and often displayed around Roswell. RHS’s Research Library and Archives houses thousands of collections of manuscripts, maps, books, audio/visual material, visual arts, photographs, newspapers, pamphlets, residence and family files, textiles, and artifacts related to Roswell, Georgia and its environs.
Driving Roswell’s Economy for One Hundred Years
By: Elaine Deniro, Certified Archivist for the Roswell Historical Society
The auto industry at the turn of the 20th century had a great social and economic influence in United States. For Roswell, its effects were felt early on and continue to have a major impact on our present-day economy one hundred years later.
The Roaring 20s would issue in a new era of businesses in the city with dealerships, service garages, and gas stations all quickly popping up around town. The Roswell Motor Company was founded in 1921 on Canton Street with Cliff P. Vaughan and his brother-in-law Claud Groover as company owners. The company sold Fords, Lincolns, and Fordson tractors in those early years. After World War II, construction of an addition to the original building began in 1948 to meet the growing demand for automobiles. In 1975, the dealership was sold and the building was vacated in 1978. Crown Ford became the Ford dealer in town and moved to 1230 Alpharetta Street.
James I. Wright opened a Whippet dealership in 1929. Sales of Whippet cars were only eclipsed by those of Chevrolet and Ford, making it North America’s third best-selling automobile. Unfortunately, the fledgling business was one of the first to fall victim to the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Jesse Coleman was the first Roswell Chevrolet dealer. Coleman Chevrolet was located in the former Methodist Church building (the present Masonic Lodge) in the early 1930s.
By 1933, James I. Wright took over the Chevrolet dealership. Wright Chevrolet was located at 1002 Alpharetta Highway (currently the Roswell Fire Station #1). In 1949, a new building was completed next to its original location at the cost of $50,000. It was open for 26 years, selling both new and used cars. The dealership changed to Benson Chevrolet in 1959, first located in the Wright building and then moving up the street in the 1960s to 1240 Alpharetta Street.
Next came Roswell Chrysler-Plymouth (later Caudle Chrysler-Plymouth), established at 42 Oak Street in the 1960s.
The 1966 Polk City Directory listed Roswell Motor Company, Benson Chevrolet, and Roswell Chrysler-Plymouth as the exclusive automobile dealers in Roswell.
With the dedication of the 2nd bridge over the Chattahoochee River and opening of Georgia 400 in 1971, the city of Roswell experienced unprecedented growth. Honda Carland opened its doors in 1974, bringing Japanese fuel-efficient small cars to the market with the introduction of the Civic with its CVCC engine.
By the 1980s, car dealerships began to appear along Holcomb Bridge Road. Troncalli Chrysler/Plymouth and Regal Nissan were present in the 1980s.
Small boutique car dealers emerged. A Citroën dealership, EURO-CAR, was located at 701 Atlanta Street in 1985. Fraser Dante Classic Cars opened in 1987.
By 1990, Alpharetta Highway was firmly established as “auto row”. Honda Carland, Hyde Oldsmobile, Roswell Toyota, John McDonald Pontiac and GMC Trucks, Roswell Isusu, Saab Atlanta, Crown Ford, Roswell Jeep Eagle, Roswell Mazda, Roswell Mitsubishi were all listed in the Automobile Directory in the local newspaper, The Roswell Neighbor. Today, Ferrari Maserati of Atlanta caps this stretch of road in Roswell.
With the construction of the Georgia 400 interchange at Mansell Road providing easy access into North Fulton County, dealerships expanded to provide additional options for luxury car shoppers from the Atlanta area.
Over the past one hundred years, the automobile industry in the area has evolved and thrived, making Roswell “the destination” for vehicle purchases. From classic to exotic, Roswell has it all!