PEORIA -- In 1898, Charles Duryea built an automobile in a barn behind his house on Barker Street. The barn's long gone, but that vehicle returned to the Barker house Sept. 10, posed for pictures recreating a famous one taken in the early 20th century, then traveled by trailer to its new permanent home, the Peoria Riverfront Museum.
"This," said Jim Richerson, president and CEO of the museum, upon the arrival of the historic auto, "is an exciting day."
Although all of its fluids were drained a long time ago, the Duryea has gotten around in the last couple of decades. It was tracked down and purchased from a private owner for $125,000 in 1992 thanks to a gritty, determined, grass-roots fundraising effort that took four years and was called "Bring Home the Duryea."
It was then displayed in a windowed corner of the Main Peoria Public Library until 2009, when the library was renovated and the car had to be moved. It was taken to the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center, where it remained until Monday.
John Parks, president of the Peoria Regional Museum Society, the group that owned the Duryea, and others helped load the automobile into a trailer at Peoria NEXT. They drove it to Barker Avenue and unloaded it in front of 1512 W. Barker Avenue, a home formerly owned by Charles Duryea. Parks emerged from the truck dressed as Duryea in a long black suit coat, black bowler and fake dark mustache that didn't quite match his silver hair, although he looked more like Charles Duryea than anyone else in the gathering.
He sat in the car with the current homeowner, Kelly Kolton, who helped arrange the reunion car and house.
"This is probably the last time this opportunity will present itself," Parks said. "I'm excited."
The Duryea is an example of an early automobile, but not the first one ever built as some believe. Charles Duryea built it on Barker as a prototype, then built a few more in Peoria Heights. Although Henry Ford once said "the Duryea was a masterpiece, it did more to start the automobile business than any other car ever made," neither Charles nor his brother Frank ever gained fortune or fame for their inventions.
After its visit to its birthplace, the automobile was taken to the Riverfront Museum and unloaded onto a wheeled carrier and pushed up an outdoor ramp and across the parking garage. It squeezed through double doors into the museum and was wheeled 40 feet down a carpeted hallway and then lifted, with some difficulty, onto its permanent platform beneath the stairway that leads to the museum's main floor.
It's a place of prominence. It will be the first item visitors see as they enter the museum from the lower parking garage level. Parks said the regional museum society has donated the car to the Riverfront Museum.
"It's a Peoria icon," Parks said. "It needs to be here and available to everyone."