Sullivan’s O’Neills Chevrolet-Buick, a 90-year-old institution in the middle of Avon, has its roots in a white barn just a few hundred feet across Route 44, behind the Congregational Church and East Avon Cemetery.
Nora O. Howard, the town historian, took me to see John Anthony O’Neill, who’s retired and still lives in the house next to that barn. O’Neill’s grandfather, Patrick O’Neil, with one L, was a blacksmith there, starting in 1889. When cars came around, he and his young son, John H. O’Neill, naturally turned to repairing those horseless carriages.
“You were a blacksmith, you were an automobile mechanic,” John A. O’Neill says – it flowed naturally.
His grandfather died in 1909 by the kick of a horse, too soon to see the dealership start in the ‘20s.
Today the blacksmith shop is largely intact, as O’Neill showed it to us, with an anvil and a forge and all sorts of tools. “All you need is a horse,” he said.
John A. O’Neill remained in the car business well after his father died, in 1957, but in the ’70s he sold it – and went on to run the Avon Water Co., which still has an office on West Main Street.
“The year before I retired, we hit the best well in Connecticut,” he said.
And the family still owns the dealership property.
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