estate potential recognized
The shuttered Marathon Factory was languishing in weeds
and neglect when urban visionary Barry Lyle Walker recognized
its potential and bought it in 1986.
The project started with one building then other buildings
were purchased that had been built at different periods
of time throughout the car company's existence.
The oldest, as well as the only two-story building was
built circa 1881. Most of the other buildings were built
between 1881 and 1912. Because of the different types of
architecture involved, the 1988 renovation of the buildings
created spaces that are truly unique.
In the ruins of a building in Jackson, TN he discovered
left-behind evidence of the Marathon story and launched
a quest for one of the actual cars, ending with success
Since then, Walker has overseen development of his Marathon
Village into a 4 block complex of artists' and photographers'
studios, offices, radio station and a fitness center --
Some buildings in the complex still are undergoing renovation,
but the effort already has ensured that the Marathon name
of Nashville's early automotive fame will live on in the
The redevelopment of the 32,000 square ft. administration
office building/130,000 square ft. factory into commercial
studio space is in its twenty-fifth year of continual renovation.
During this time there have been three distinct phases of
- The First Phase: included redevelopment of 32,000
square ft. office/administration building, complete with
- The Second Phase: included redevelopment of the
- The Third Phase: includes auto factory site work,
sidewalls, parking lots and lights, main and secondary
entrances, mail house, landscaping, and installation of
the interior courtyard at 1210 Clinton Street.
- The Fourth: will be ongoing renovation until
completion of the entire project.
A Brief History of the Marathon Automobile
1884, the Southern Engine and Boiler Works opened to business
in Jackson, Tennessee. The company manufactured gasoline
engines and boilers for industrial use. In the first twenty
years, by 1904, it had grown into the largest plants of
its kind in the nation.
By now, the automobile was the new darling of industry,
as literally hundreds of companies jumped into their manufacture
and production. Most new car brand names belonged to companies
that bought and assembled components into complete cars.
Fewer, more ambitious companies manufactured the entire
vehicle to their own designs for engine, chasses, running
gear and suspension.
At Southern Engine and Boiler Works, a young apprentice
engineer, William Henry Collier, accepted the challenge
of complete design. His enthusiasm -- and yes, genius --
persuaded the directors of the company to let him to build
The company newsletter reported Collier put the first gasoline
engine into an automobile in 1906. In recounting the occasion,
the newsletter bluntly reported, "
but don't." It was another year, 1907, before Collier
had a car that "actually could be depended on to go,
and come back." With this success, eager investors
poured $50,000 into the company by 1908.
1909, two models were offered -- the A9, a five seat touring
car, and B9, a rumble seat roadster. Both had 35 hp 4-cylinder
engines, with the cylinder blocks cast in pairs. Cylinders
had a 4.25 inch bore and a 4.5 inch stroke, sitting atop
a two-piece aluminum crankcase. A unique feature was a vertical
shaft at the rear of the block that drove a pump in the
crankcase that splashed lubricant for the cylinders above.
The usual spark and throttle levers were on the steering
wheel. The price of either car was $1,500, but tops were
an optional extra expense.
Newspaper reports at the time put the production figures
of 1907 at 20 cars, 1908 at 200, and a whopping 400 units
actually on the road during 1909. The car was called Southern.
During this time, another manufacturer was found using the
Southern name. A competition was held and a Jackson, TN
high school girl supposedly came up with the winning name
late 1910, the company relocated to larger facilities in
Nashville, where new models were added and production soared,
but still could not keep up with demand. Collier remained
in charge of manufacture, and H.H. Brooks handled sales.
Each subsequent model found enthusiastic buyers and dealers
from all over the world. European countries plus Brazil,
Chile, Australia, and China flocked to Nashville begging
for more cars. Production capacity, reported at 10,000 a
year by 1912, could not begin to fill demand, but number
of cars actually built is not known. Collier was controlled
by constantly changing board of directors who apparently
forced the company into some unwise business decisions.
There were hints of impropriety, such as company officers
selling cars "out the back door," and suppliers
were suing for nonpayment.
In late 1913, Brooks left to join a large dealership in
Indianapolis, the Herff brothers, who eventually bought
all the machinery in Nashville and by 1915, continued manufacturing
the car in Indianapolis under the new name, Herff-Brooks,
which lasted two years. Thus, 1914 marked the end of the
Marathon, and the city of Nashville as the manufacturer
of a car that, at the time, seemed destined to dominate