During his presidency, William McKinley was given a ride in a Stanley Steamer in the fall of 1899, which made him the first U.S. president to ride in an automobile.
At that time the automobile industry was truly in its infancy and cars would largely remain a rarity on the streets of most American towns for more than a decade to come.
It wasn’t until Henry Ford perfected the assembly line and began mass production of his famous Model-T in 1913 that North Americans got caught up in the car craze, phenomenon that has continued well into the 21st century.
However, it can be said that as early as 1904 the residents of Petrolia were accustomed to seeing their mild mannered local jeweler, A.C. Darling, chugging around town in his 1902 Murray Motor Car.
The Murray was a one-cylinder, four horse-power car steered by a lever rather than a steering wheel.
It was made by the Church Manufacturing Company in Adrian, Michigan, located a short distance southeast of Detroit.
Between the years 1900 and 1912 the company manufactured the Murray along with another car called the Lenawee.
Both cars were hits at the 1910 Chicago Automobile Show and the company actually sold hundreds of them.
Unfortunately, neither car was long lived and it has been argued that poor management, rather than sluggish sales, proved to be the death knell for the company.
It ran short of operating capital and ceased operations in 1912.
As a consequence, some auto historians have suggested that the history of the automobile industry in Adrian Michigan was largely a story of what may have been.
Some have argued that if not for the failure of the Church Manufacturing Company, Adrian was destined to be one the motor capitals of the world.
Darling was third owner
Nevertheless, it should be noted that A.C. Darling was not the first person in Petrolia to own the Murray automobile.
It was originally purchased for $800 by Petrolia resident William Bradley while on a trip to Detroit in 1902.
A year later, he sold it to a local lawyer named H.J. Dawson, but according to lore, neither man had the nerve to drive it.
Consequently, it was passed on to Mr. Darling and accounts suggest that because of his calm demeaner, he was able to “ fully mastered the beast.”
In later years Darling would comment that he once drove the Murray to Alvinston and back without a single break down, but added that most of his life during that era was spent going from one blacksmith shop to the next in search of repairs.
Ran jewellery store for 51 years
Arthur Corson Darling was born March 23, 1871 in Simcoe, Ont, where he learned the jeweller’s trade in his father’s store.
At a young age he secured his first job in a Toronto jewellery store at a wage of $3.50 a week.
A couple of years later he moved on and plied his trade in Winnipeg, and then for a short time in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
In 1895, he came to Petrolia and successfully operated a jewelry store on the town’s main street for more than 51 years.
When he retired in 1946 the business was taken over by Reg Grandis Sr. Reg Sr. passed away in April 1983 and his wife, Mary, remained in the business with their son Reg Jr. until her death. Reg Jr. and his wife Maureen purchased the business in 1994 and remain in business today.
A man of many talents
It’s by no means a stretch to say that A.C. Darling was a man of many talents and far-reaching, eclectic interests.
He loved music and played clarinet, saxophone and flute and in his younger years had conducted his own band.
He was a figure skater of some note, a naturalist, and was also said to have been a competent ventriloquist.
However, it was during his retirement year that he found his greatest joy in being a conservationist and avid collector.
He amassed large and varied collections of every sort and displayed his treasures in a small museum he established in an abandoned pleasure yacht near his Highland Glen cottage on Lake Huron where he spent his summers.
It was here that he displayed his extensive collections of polished stones, stamps, sea shells, wood whittlings, and a coin collection that was said to have been one of the most complete in Canada.
Mr. Darling was married to the former Lillian Stokes and was an adherent of the Presbyterian Church.
When he died in May, 1965 at age 94, the Advertiser Topic described him as a well-informed and public-spirited man who had a retiring and unassuming disposition.
A.C. Darling is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.