- Written by webmin
Anyone who has traveled along Route 85 through the Amston section of Hebron, Connecticut, will surely recognize the site above. On the surface, it’s just another old mill building that has been for sale – seemingly for decades – and is in dire need of a complete face-lift or a date with the wrecking ball, depending upon your point of view. Some of the more senior members of the town will be able to confirm Hebron Town Hall’s records: that the building was the location of the Amston Silver Company, once famous for its silver plating capabilities from the Twenties through the Sixties (dates vary from source to source, but that’s the average). And that’s as far back as records go at Town Hall (so they tell me). According to my research, however, this site – “officially” located at 459 Church Street – was briefly the home of the Sterling Automobile Manufacturing Company from 1917 through early 1919.
Sterling and it’s product – the Sterling-New York – actually came into being in 1913. Four men were behind the effort, who set up headquarters at 1790 Broadway. The assembly of their automobile was to take place at a rented factory in Patterson, New Jersey (exact location unknown), however it would not be until 1916 when the first vehicles (touring and roadster only) were offered to the public. As the above ad from a 1916 issue of the Horseless Age indicates, the salesroom was located at 8 Central Park West (another period ad lists the aforementioned original address). With the British monetary symbol for the pound used in advertising, the cars were reportedly a plethora of parts from other suppliers, namely a 28hp Le Roi four-cylinder engine bolted to a 102-inch wheelbase chassis. By September 1916, all four investors sold their interests in the company to Charles W. Ams.
According to information found on the Hebron Historical Society’s website, Ams purchased a large quantity of land owned by silk mill baron – for lack of a better word – P.W. Turner; the land was located in the southern end of Hebron and called Turnerville. With the transaction came a name change to Amston. Ams, a Bridgeport native, relocated the Sterling-New York assembly plant from New Jersey to Amston, and the name of the vehicle was changed to Ams-Sterling. Strangely, perhaps, he kept his office in Bridgeport.
Period reports differ with regards as to how much capital Ams had at his disposal – $3,000,000 or $1,000,000 – however they all agree that he was selling stock to investors and that his plant would turn out a roadster, five-passenger touring and a half-ton light delivery wagon; cost was estimated between $900 and $1,000 each. By September of 1917, the name of the firm was officially changed to the Amston Motor Car Company.
Details about the car’s assembly exist: The wheelbase was lengthened to 110-inches; the Le Roi four-cylinder bore and stroke was altered from 2.88 x 4 inches to 3.12 x 4.50 inches (however output was still 28hp); a Borg and Beck dry-plate clutch replaced a cone clutch, which was used in conjunction with a three-speed manual. Additional specs included a rear differential with semi-floating axles, semi-elliptic leaf sprung suspension, left-hand drive, fuel tank in the cowl, 30 x 3.50-inch tires, hickory 12-spoke wheels, two-piece windshield, Warner speedometer, double-bulb headlamps and a one-man “Jiffy” top. Upholstery was black; paint was – what else – Sterling blue.
Published reports indicated that the Ams effort did not go according to plan, starting with the prolific problems that plagued the vehicles from day one. Although it has been suggested that automobile production was supposed to peak at or near 150 units per month, it’s also been assumed that total production was closer to 30, many of which were recalled to correct assembly issues. By February of 1919, bankruptcy proceedings were well under way, with Ams looking for a tenant for his building and an amassed pile of parts with an appraised value of just $1,717.50; the Hebron Historical Society’s website has several pieces of scanned documents, including 24 pages of stockholders – it’s a good read, and you just might find a relative on the stockholder list. Before the year was out, Ams sold his property to the aforementioned silversmith.
Clues to the factory location come from a Hebron document: east of Church Street (a.k.a. route 85) and north of North Pond Road. In addition, the old rail line – now a hiking trail called the Airline Trail – ran adjacent to the Ams property, which would have been a key ingredient with regard to pickup and delivery of automobile parts; it didn’t hurt that the depot was literally just down the road. Clearly, there are at least two different architectural designs on the facade, suggesting that the right wing was a recent add-on (recent being relative to the original building’s construction), as well as the rear extension.
Having passed by this site for well over 30 years (I am a native of southeastern Connecticut), I wonder what automotive ghosts lay hidden inside – during my summer visit, an infestation of bees prevented me from entering without attack – or if there are any automobile production remains inside and undisturbed from the silver plating days of yore. I’ve been keeping an eye on the 12,316-sq.ft. building on the 1.8-acre parcel of land, which is currently – or should I say, still – for sale at $449,000 (during the summer, the list price was $495,000). As for the Ams-Sterling, it’s assumed that no example has survived into the 21st century; the Hebron Historical Society reports that a horn is the only part that still exists from Amston’s motoring past.