Crown Point Community Library

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Indiana Room History Blog – Celebrating the Indy 500? Thank the Cobe Cup

Posted by jletcher on

The Crown Point Community Library Indiana Room celebrates and collects the history of Crown Point, Lake County, and Indiana.  It is a place to learn about the community and to conduct genealogy research.  “If Solon Could See Us Now?” is the history blog for the Indiana Room- a place to explore new people, places, and other entries featuring a variety of topics.  Please enjoy this online display about the Cobe Cup.

Celebrating the Indy 500? Thank the Cobe Cup

2016 is the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 (also known as: The 500, The 500-Mile Race, Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, Indy 500, or International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race {sweepstakes dropped in 1981}).  Although the Indy 500 first ran in 1911, it paused for several years during World War II.  The Greatest Spectacle in Racing may currently run in Indianapolis, but it has its beginnings 134 miles to the north in Crown Point.

Conceived by Ira Cobe, president of the Chicago Automobile Club, the race was intended to bring car racing to the west and create a new race to rival the Vanderbilt Cup in the east.  Cobe chose Northwest Indiana for its vicinity to Chicago and its hospitable landscape.  He planned the event for June 1909, even underwriting the road preparation and telegraph stations that needed to be installed along the route.

The course was 23.27 miles per lap which included Crown Point, Cedar Lake, and Lowell.  Affectionately known as “The Nine Mile,” Indiana Avenue was nicknamed so after the Cobe race since it was the Nine Mile Stretch of track from Lowell to Crown Point.  The roads were smoothed, some new sections built, and parts were coated in macadam at the cost of $21,000.00, starting at the beginning of May 1909.  Time was of the essence since there would be a $500/day delay fee if the road was not completed for the first day of the race.

newpaper with route cropped1993 newspaper with route cropped

Source: A Special Souvenir Edition of you Post-Tribune: Share in the Celebration: A Salute to One Hundred-Fifty Years of Progress in Crown Point (June 21, 1984, Page 5) and The Lake County Star newspaper microfilm collection

May is the first mention of the impending race in The Lake County Star newspaper.  There were sporadic articles each week about the progress of the road and other necessary construction, the potential visitors to the area, and the racers themselves.

The main grandstand was built along IN 55 about 1.25 miles south of the turn onto what is now Joliet Ave.  It served as the start and end point of the race.  Crown Point lumberman, D.A. Root was awarded the contract to supply the lumber and build the stands as well as the walking bridge over the course.  The Grandstands were located on the east side of the street and the parking was provided on the west.

newpaper with grandstand cropped

Source: The Lake County Star newspaper microfilm collection

IMG_ORIG_20160311_0004_NEW

Photograph Courtesy of The Lake County Historical Museum

Although financial backers and elite racing fans from around the country sat in the stands, most people lined the streets along the course rather than pay $10 for parking and then $5/person for a seat in the grandstand.  Illinois National Guardsmen also lined the course- to protect both spectators and racers.  There was a secondary stand on Main Street at the Square that only had 1 customer and a brass band.

street scene 1 street scene 2

Photographs Courtesy of The Lake County Historical Museum

The Western Stock Chassis Championship was planned as a 2 day open road race.  The Indiana Trophy race was only a 10 lap race on the same course for smaller engines, held the first day.  Joe Matson was victorious on June 18th, beating 17 other drivers.  He finished the race in 4 hours 31 minutes and 21 seconds in a Chalmers-Detroit with an average speed of 51 mph.  The Cobe Cup was awarded on June 19, 1909, following the 395 mile race (17 laps) for “bigger engines.”  Driving a Buick, Louis Chevrolet won the staggered start race that included 12 cars.  Chevrolet was victorious not by order of finish, but by his time.  With the average speed of 49 mph, he won in 8 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds, beating the first to cross the finish line by 65 seconds.

lchevrolet

Photo source: The Times newspaper

Hoping to be a commercial success and annual event, investors actually lost money.  Expectations were high for filling the newly built grandstand with spectators.  There were estimates for up to 100,000 fans before the race, with actual numbers around 35,000.  Since those fans chose to picnic roadside along the course, it cost backers an estimated $25,000.  The Cobe Cup is considered a success only from a racing point of view.  Assessment included, “Not a racer was spilled and not a car turned turtle.  The pilots went around the curves discreetly instead of precipitately.”  Perhaps this due to the fact that the drivers were permitted to practice the course that included a dangerous, and infamous, S-Curve halfway between Crown Point and Cedar Lake starting June 10th, from 2-4pm, per the public notice on the front page of the June 4, 1909, edition of The Lake County Star.  The S-Curve has since been straightened slightly, no longer the danger it once was.

The Cobe Cup Trophy was presented to Chevrolet on the steps of the Courthouse.  The 5’4” trophy no longer exists, rumored to have been melted down for scrap metal after Chevrolet’s death.

At the time, there was little love lost about the event.  The Lake County Star front page headline on the edition following the race read “THE GREAT RACES ARE OVER. The Crowds Have Dispersed.  Thank the Lord.” along with, “the best part is no one was killed or severely injured and plenty of vendors frosted.”  The full column article mostly recalled the hassle of the race rather than the crowds and notoriety it brought to the area.  Later in the edition, an article headlined “Threaten to Come Again” quoted Cobe as saying “Well, from the way I size up the situation now, I believe that we can repeat our races next year: in fact, I think I can safely say that the second running of the Cobe Cup will be in 1910.  As to our plans it would be hard to say right now, but we are going ahead with our preparations just the same and are going to begin early next time.”

Subsequent races were cancelled and moved to the Indianapolis Speedway, where it was later decided to only hold one annual race starting in 1911- The Indianapolis International Sweepstakes.

song cover

Photo source: IU Collections: INHarmony

Nostalgia has taken over, as it often does.  Lyricist Victor H. Smalley and composer Bernard Adler retold the story of the Cobe Cup race with their song, “I Love My Horse and Wagon, But Oh! You Buick Car.”  Since 1984, there have been annual reenactments of the Cobe Cup- a general cruise along the course with a police escort of cars pre-dating 1975.  More recently, newer cars have been allowed to participate if qualified within the rules.  It was cancelled in 2013 due to lack of local support, but returned in 2014.  In 2015, 90 participated in the cruise, which commenced at the Lake County Fairgrounds and ended there with a celebration and car show.  Want to participate this year?  The 2016 Cobe Cup Cruise will be held at the Lake County Fairgrounds on June 18th.

As you watch the Indy 500 this Memorial Day, say a little thank you to Crown Point- it created the path to The Brickyard.

Sources and Additional Reading

Special thanks to the Lake County Historical Museum for several photographs

The Lake County Star newspaper microfilm, Crown Point Community Library

Early Years of Chicago Area Racing- The Turn of the Century and Beyond by Stan Kalwasinski

The Cobe Trophy Race of 1909: Louis Chevrolet’s big day The Times May 23, 2013

Cobe Cup Race from Cruise IN

The Hub Pages: Travel: Crown Point

Song Image and Lyrics from IU Collections: INHarmony

Regional Streeters, Indiana

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

NY Tribune 06201909

Cobe Cup Information from Lowell Public Library

See the Crown Point Community Library Indiana Room for titles available in the library also.

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Summer Reading Kick Off at Winfield Library Monday, June 6th

Posted by rwray on

Come to the Winfield Library on Monday, June 6th from 11:00 -12:00 and meet Rusty the Railcat for our Summer Reading Program kick off!!! While you’re signing up for this years’ Summer Reading there will be face-painting and baseball card cut out photo opps! Come into the library wearing your sports uniform and receive an extra ticket for the next week’s prize drawing! This year’s Summer Reading Program goes from June 6th – July 29th. Hope to see you there!!!

Rusty1

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  • Crown Point

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