Foot Trails to Automobiles
Lowell has experienced many changes in transportation since its founding. The Odawa people walked on narrow foot trails and made canoes for the waterways. American settlers traveled by waterways and brought ox carts and wagons. With the coming of horses, wagon and sleigh activity increased. People were able to zoom about wherever they wanted. Lowell’s Cutter Factory turned out thousands of sleighs. At one time it was the largest business in town. They shipped cutters world-wide and during the First World War they were commissioned to build cutters for the military service.
Because wagons and cutters both needed a horse, a livery was a common sight in any town. One successful livery in Lowell was the Perrin & Perrin livery which became the McQueen livery. Not only could you buy or rent a horse here or catch a ride to the Grand Trunk Depot a mile away, the livery could also see to the health needs of your horse, as E. D. McQueen was a veterinary surgeon. When you came to town for the day, you could drive into McQueen’s ‘stand-in barn’ and pay 10 cents for the privilege of parking your horse there all day. The livery’s first location was at the corner of Chatham and Broadway and the Stand In barn was across from it on the east side of Broadway. Later the livery was moved to 222 West Main Street. The first location was donated by the McQueen family to the federal government for the new Lowell Post Office.
After cutters and wagons came the automobile. The earliest cars used the cutter body. The story is told that around the turn of the century Henry Ford looked at the Cutter Factory with the idea of buying it to make automobiles. The owner would not sell because cutters were selling very well and they didn’t want to sell out to a “fly-by-night horseless carriage maker.” This attitude may have existed in part, because the first automobile in Lowell, built and owned by Carl English in 1900, did not survive long. It was said to have caused many casualties. Horses ran away and buggies were wrecked. Mr. English stopped driving it after paying for repair bills for the damages.
The Peckham family, owners of the Lowell Cutter Factory, built the building occupied today by MI Hometown Furnishings for their new venture into the auto body business in 1909. Called the Lowell Auto Body Company, they had contracts for the Austin, Dort-Durant and Buick automobile companies. At the beginning of their venture the Lowell Auto Body Company had orders for one thousand auto bodies.
As the times changed so did the business. McQueen Livery became McQueen Motors. There was an overlap where cars were sold from the front of the business and the livery operated out of the back. E. D. McQueen was joined in business by his son Bruce. The business would later move out of the downtown to the west side of town.
Today the old McQueen Building at 222 West Main is seeing complete renovation and restoration. It is owned by King Milling and after the restoration it will be home to offices for the company.
From walking and ox carts to automobiles, Lowell has seen many changes in how individuals zoom from one place to another.
Images: Perrin & Perrin Livery at Chatham and Broadway where post office is today, People's Garage, McQueen Livery, Stand In barn and Autobody factory.