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Elliott Museum: Cars, Trucks, Boats, Bikes and Robotic Rack System

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By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, New York Bureau
The Auto Channel

Named after Sterling Elliott, the Elliott Museum sits on Hutchinson Island in the town of Stuart, Florida just off A1A not far from US Highway 1. It’s in an area of South Florida known as the Treasure Coast. And the Elliott Museum is indeed a treasure itself. The museum focuses on art, history and technology. There are inventions by Sterling Elliott, an expansive antique car and truck collection, innovative exhibits detailing the history of the area, and a café that replicates the actress Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort.

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Elliott was an inventor, manufacturer, social reformer, and publisher. With eleven patents to his credit he achieved one for the bicycle in 1888 and made bicycles until the late 1890s. He then founded a company that addressed, folded, and wrapped magazines, the Elliott Addressing Machine Company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also invented the king-pin system that enabled steering in four-wheeled vehicles.

After his death in 1922 his son Harmon took over the company management until he sold it in 1956. Harmon Elliott decided to start the museum to honor his father and bought many vehicles from the Salem Auto Museum in Massachusetts. The Chicagoan Elliott Donnelly, great-grandson of the founder of the R. R. Donnelly Company, was passionate about the Ford Model A, the car on which he learned to drive. He began collecting Model A cars and trucks in about 1956. Ultimately Donnelly donated his collection of 55 Model As along with $8 million to the museum.

“The Elliott’s mission is to not only inspire creativity and preserve our history but also inspire a vision for the cultural life of our entire region,” said Museum President Jennifer Esler.

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The Elliott Museum reinvented itself with the construction of a new and expansive 48,000 square foot LEED certified building that opened in March 2013. Within its expansive glass front and exterior finish that replicates the Anastasia rocks that dot the coastline are housed seven permanent exhibits including that of over 65 antique and classic cars and trucks.

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The auto exhibit is unique in the use of an automated method of moving a vehicle from a storage rack to a turntable that rotates it for viewing. The Elliot is the first museum in the U.S. to use this automated vehicle racking system. John Giltinan, the Associate Car Curator at the Elliott, was kind enough to give us a behind the scenes look at the vehicle collection. The turntable design in use in the museum was invented by Elliott to serve the purpose of turning cars around before the advent of a reverse gear.

Individuals have donated more vehicles to the museum. Some that may be duplicates or not part of future exhibition plans have been sold to generate additional funding. For example, Curator John Giltinan is seeking to add a Cord to the collection. The Cord was noted for its innovative technology and streamlined designs and would be an important asset. Today the museum owns about 90 vehicles, with those not on display housed in two remote storage facilities.

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The three-story racking storage system can hold up to 55 vehicles. Presently there are 51, including the large collection of Model As. Among the Model As is a 1931 aluminum bodied funeral coach, a very rare police Paddy Wagon and a woody station wagon. We saw a 1920 Hudson Super 6 owned by Enrico Caruso, a 1930 Lincoln Model L Brunn-bodied Brougham, a ’55 Ford Thunderbird, and a ’54 Corvette.

Two touch-screen displays flank the center turntable for vehicle display and viewing. Museum visitors can scroll through the entire collection to learn about those stored in the robotic rack system. A docent operates the second touch-screen to call a specific vehicle to be brought out of its rack space. During the vehicle’s trip to the turntable a video explains the news headlines, music, movies, fashions, sports, and other aspects of life during the decade of its use.

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One floor display includes a 1902 Stanley Steamer Runabout, a 1914 Detroit Electric and a 1903 Cadillac Roadster one-cylinder gas car depicting the “Struggle for Power”. Hanging high above a number of cars -- ‘64 Corvair Monza, a 1905 Olds Curved Dash, a ’56 Porsche 356-C coupe a number of other vehicles along with a few classic boats, including a 16ft 9in 1929 Dodge Water Car -- is a full size replica of Hugh Willoughby’s Pelican bi-plane.

A one-of-five 1953 Cunningham C-3 Continental Cabriolet and a 1925 Rolls-Royce Springfield formerly owned by Prestley Blake, the founder of Friendly’s Ice Cream, can be seen. Coincidentally the Rolls also has roots in Massachusetts having built in Springfield, Massachusetts during the short two-year period of Rolls-Royce production on the US.

The Elliott merged with the Classic Boat and Maritime Museum and now displays classic wooden runabouts as well as vintage Evinrude outboard engines. Ralph Evinrude was the husband of Frances Langford. His 1914 Packard 2-38, Seven Passenger Touring Car can be seen. Another display details the Whiticar Boats Works and includes Curt Whiticar’s boat-making hand tools.

Not to be overlooked, a few motorcycles are in the mix. Included is a 1951 Indian Warrior with 426 original miles that was given to Vaughan Monroe, who was a spokesman for Indian.

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Each year the Elliott Museum invites those who live in and visit the Treasure Coast to celebrate the art, history and technology on display at its Annual Juried Car Show, Classics at the Beach. Proceeds from the Car Show go to support year-round programs and exhibits at the Elliott.

The Elliott is open 360 days a year and is staffed by a team of professionals as well as about 200 volunteers who use their expertise to guide and inform individuals, adult groups, auto and social clubs and students who visit. More information on the Elliott can be found at

Something for everyone can be found at the Elliott including a Baseball Gallery and a local history gallery. Curator John Giltinan recently hosted a Cocktails and Curator evening sharing is expertise and knowledge with vintage auto enthusiasts.

© Larry Nutson