Dr. David Shaffer's Car

This vintage photo shows, from left, Bernard, Lona, and Dr. David Shaffer, posing in Shaffer's car, the first automobile to parade the streets of Danville. 

DANVILLE -- One of my favorite photographs from the Knox Time collection on Facebook is this one, featuring Dr. David A. Shaffer and his car.

Shaffer was said to be the first owner of an automobile in Danville, and a classy machine it was, replete with side lantern. David Shaffer was born in 1853 in Fredericksburg, in Holmes County, to John and Priscilla Shaffer.

In his early adulthood, he worked in the lumber trade, but according to a 1914 article in the Democratic Banner, he left Fredericksburg in 1884 and moved to Danville, where he set up as a dentist. He was evidently a success at it, remaining in practice for 24 years.

Shaffer's first wife, Letitia, bore him four children — Beulah, Kent, Homer, and Roy — but died young in 1894. In 1896, Shaffer married his second wife, Lona Belle Workman, who gave birth to their son Bernard in 1901.

The donor of the photograph to Knox Time, Brian Durbin, identified the boy in the back seat as Bernard. That would suggest that this photo dates from 1905-1910.

It is evident that the picture is posed, for there is no trace of movement on the wheels of the car, nor on the stylish fabric of Lona's dress, presumably from the dressmaking shop she was identified as running on census reports. For a camera of this era to get such a crisp image of the scene, the car must have been stock still.

Additionally, the dentist has coyly elected to pose in front of a barn advertising horses. He figured out quickly that the newfangled automobile was going to quickly leave the horse behind in the dust. Alas for the good doctor, he only got to enjoy his motorcar a few more years before his own demise at the age of 61.

Happily for him, he enjoyed taking out his auto the Saturday evening before heart and kidney ailments brought him down early on the morning of Sunday, July 12, 1914.

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