Started by two brothers, Horn’s was a Florida attraction that celebrated some of the technological accomplishments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today it’s the Sarasota Classic Car Museum.
Robert and Herbert Horn (better known as Bob and Herb) were brothers and early car enthusiasts from Fort Dodge, Iowa, where they worked as salemen for a farm equipment supply company. The first car they restored was a Knox Automobile Company runabout-style car originally built in 1904. More cars followed until they had an estimated 150 vehicles, all manufactured before the 1930s.
Their interest in the early history of automobiles led eventually to the thought of opening an car museum. It’s hard to call it a collection of antiques, however. By 1951, when they began looking to create the museum, the oldest car built in the US – the 1893 Duryea Motor Wagon – was less than 50 years old.
After a visit to Sarasota, the Horn brothers thought it’d be the ideal place for their museum, so in 1953, Horn’s Cars of Yesterday opened to the public. One of the earlier attractions in the Sarasota area, it showcased their collection of automobiles as well as other memorabilia from the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Their collection also included dozens of bicycles, Victorian clothing and driving gear and, in later years, music boxes and other mechanical music machines. There was also a blacksmith’s shop and a livery stable.
The Horns said that each of their cars was in running condition. They felt that was an important aspect of the collection. It’s the same opinion held by Kermit Weeks, owner of Fantasy of Flight, who feels that it’s important that every one of his aircraft is in flying condition, being restored or slated to be restored. While the museum reportedly contained around 150 cars, about half of them were on display at any one time and the collection would be rotated regularly, making it possible for tourists to see different things on repeat visits.
The collection included cars from America’s earliest automobile makers: Duryea Motor Wagon Co., Cadillac Automobile Co., Olds Motor Vehicle Co. (Oldsmobiles), Stanley Motor Carriage Co. (Stanley Steamers), Staver Carriage Co., Pope Manufacturing Co., Duesenberg Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Maxwell-Briscoe Co., Lincoln Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. One of the few non-American cars was John Ringling’s 1914 Rolls Royce Town Car by Rolls-Royce Limited. One of the most popular parts of the museum were the rides offered in several of the cars in the collection.
The addition of the Music Box Arcade came in the late 1950s and contained some 100 music boxes, calliopes, hurdy gurdys and early jukeboxes. There were shows offered every half hour in the Arcade that featured the songs on the music boxes.
The Horn’s ran the museum until 1967 when they sold it to Walter Bellm (1920-2010) from St. Louis, Missouri. Bellm was another avid car and music box collector, so owning the museum was a perfect fit. The museum was renamed Bellem Cars and Music of Yesterday.
Thirty years later, in 1997, Bellm would sell the museum as well – this time to Martin Godbey, originally from England. Godbey renamed it the Sarasota Classic Car Museum – the name it continues to have. It’s considered to be the oldest continuously-operating automobile museum in the US.