This summer marks the 120th anniversary of the first parade of horseless carriages in the United States, which took place on September 7, 1899 in Newport.

With that in mind, as well as the wide array of automobile events and happenings happening in Newport, we turned to Brian Stinson, author of Newport Firsts: A Hundred Claims To Fame, for a look back at this moment in Newport history.

NEWPORT WAS THE SITE OF THE FIRST PARADE OF HORSELESS CARRIAGES (AUTOMOBILES) IN THE UNITED STATES (SEPTEMBER 7, 1899)

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The first parade of horseless carriages in the United States was preceded by a competition judging each vehicle on driving ability and decoration. Sixteen carriages, all decorated with flowers and flags, met at Belcourt Castle on September 7, 1899. An obstacle course was set up in the empty field next to Belcourt. Mr. Stuyvesant LeRoy won the award for best driving and Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs’s carriage was awarded the prize for best decoration. According to the Newport Daily News of September 8, 1899, “Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs’s carriage was a mass of yellow daisies, with two crossed arches of the same flowers over the top. Wide yellow ribbons tied in huge bows adorned a network of delicate flowers above. Upon the top, were a dozen white doves.” Although Mrs. Oelrichs won that competition, her vehicle never made the parade. Her automobile lost a wheel due to an axle being damaged, dead smack in the middle of the course, which became an additional obstacle for the other vehicles. 

Belcourt Castle | Circa 1895

The first automobile parade in the United States began at five o’clock and included nineteen horseless carriages. It proceeded from the field up Wheatland Avenue (Rovensky Park/Avenue) to Bellevue Avenue and onward to Old Beach Road. At that point, some of the drivers balked at the very steep hill and sought different ways to get to Easton’s Beach. When everyone had arrived at the pavilion, they made their way over the hill towards Second Beach. A dinner and dance was held later that evening at Gray Craig Park. This estate is located off Paradise Avenue, adjacent to the reservoir and the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown. 


First Beach | Circa 1904

Source: Stinson, Brian. Newport Firsts: A Hundred Claims to Fame. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2018.161-162.

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