James Lehan was born in Stoughton on November 3, 1868 just three years after the end of the Civil War. His parents were both immigrants born in Ireland.
Lehan would become one of the most well known Stoughton businessmen for over a half century. He was just twenty-three years old in 1892 when he started a shop for selling bicycles in Stoughton. Besides bicycles people could purchase phonographs, records, sewing machines and even fireworks right in downtown Stoughton.
In 1900 he moved his shop from Freeman Street to Washington Street. If you notice above the current in Stoughton center the building still bears his surname.
When Lehan first opened he had one employee named George Bragg who converted an old blacksmith shop into their first repair shop. By the next year they doubled the size of their shop. In 1903 he sold two “Orient Buck-boards,” one cylinder cars with long steering rods made in Waltham, Massachusetts. These automobiles were sold to Charles Jones, the owner of Charles Stratton and Sons (underwear manufacturer), Percy Draper of Canton, and Mr. Lehan also bought one for himself.
In 1904 the first Ford automobile was sold in Stoughton on April 16 to Henry W. Britton (1851-1924). The bill of sale states – One Ford Toneau Model A - $900, Apron $6, Pair of Lamps $10, 1 horn and 1 glasses $8.75, and 1 cap 50 cents.
A large photo of Henry W. Britton and his Ford Model A can be seen at the Town Spa in Stoughton (in the dining room near the bar).
Between 1905-1909 the Ford Model A continued to be a popular model. The engine was under the seat and was reached from the rear of the automobile.
In 1909 Lehan was already regarded as a pioneer automobile dealer. He sold more than just Ford’s in the early days. The other models included old names such as Wayne, Pope Hartford, Hudson, Flint, Oakland, Willys-Overland, EMG. And other names still known today such as Buick, Cadillac, and Lincoln.
By 1912 Stoughton became the first in the area to own motorized equipment supplied by Lehan’s. A committee made up of Charles Welch, James Pye and James Lehan conducted a public subscription to present the town with its first fire truck, a Pope-Hartford. Shortly after that the towns of Hopkinton and North Easton purchased fire engines directly from Lehan’s dealership.
In 1916 Lehan moved his business to a new building on Porter Street (now the site of the Post Office and and adjacent parking lot). This automobile showroom included a four alley bowl-o-drome for patrons.
During World War I, there was a shortage of automobiles due to military production, so to keep his customers happy, James Lehan would travel to Detroit, Michigan and drive Fords back to Stoughton.
By 1936 Lehan’s Stoughton Ford had set the year's record in Ford sales throughout the United States in it’s class.
Lehan died on July 12, 1946 and was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery with his wife Elizabeth (died 1937), and his business was continued by his son Ralph E. Lehan (1900-1986) and his employees for more than two decades.
James Kourafas took possession of the old dealership in the 1960’s and operated it under the name of Dentch Ford.
In May of 1975 the old 1916 building was demolished to make room for the current Stoughton Post Office at 31 Porter Street. As a result, Dentch Ford moved to a new location down on Route 138 at 1776 Washington Street.
A series of other Ford dealerships followed Dentch Ford at this location, including Stoughton Ford, Victory Ford and as of 2006, Bay State Ford. All can be traced back to the “World’s Oldest Ford Dealership,” first opperated by Lehan.
From the early beginnings as a bicycle shop, many generations of Stoughton residents had a chance to by a bike or car from the dynasty started in the Lehan showroom so many years ago. I personally remember my mother purchasing a 1975 Ford Maverick from Mr. Kourafas. Other cars included a 1978 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon and a 1986 Ford Crown Victoria, which was my mother’s last car.