Washington Cycling in 1891

Recently I acquired a photo album that documents a Washington bicycle club’s outing in September 1891. The album contains 34 photos that were taken by a No. 2 Kodak camera. The No. 2 Kodak was produced from October 1889 until 1897.

The invention of the safety bicycle with its chain-drive transmission, whose gear ratios allowed smaller wheels without a concurrent loss of speed, and the subsequent invention of the pneumatic (inflatable air-filled) bicycle tire, led to perhaps the biggest bicycle craze of all, during the 1890s. Bicycling became a popular recreational and social activity, with bicycle clubs forming in many American cities. Washington supported several clubs during this period.

The photo album included a title page, and a limerick to a girl named Kate, that helped identify the events shown in the images.

The photo album included a title page, and a limerick to a girl named Kate, that helped identify the events shown in the images.

The photo album documents an event organized by the Washington Nomad Bicycle Club in which they hosted the Pennsylvania Bicycle Club of Philadelphia.  From Saturday, September 5th through Monday the 7th, the Nomads took the “Pensys” around the area, which included a boat trip to Marshall Hall, a day trip to Great Falls, and a morning ride that included a trip to the Soldiers’ Home, watermelons in Brightwood, and a return to the city by way of Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Road.

Due to the clues provided on the title page of the photo album, I was able to locate three articles describing the events shown in the photos in The Evening Star. In reading them I found them to be a nice window into the Bicycling culture of Washington in 1891 … and so have decided to provide them below, in full, for anyone interested in reading them in their entirety.

From The Evening Star, September 5, 1891, p. 6:


They Arrive and Are Received by the Nomad Club – Program of Entertainments.

“Rah! Rah! Rah! Run! Run! Run! N-o-m-a-d-s, Washington, Penn-syl-va-ni-a,” was the cry which greeted the Pennsylvania Bicycle Club last night upon their arrival at the Baltimore and Ohio depot. The Nomad Club turned out nearly forty members in spite of the bad weather to welcome the “Pensys,” and the greeting was gives with a will and could be heard through the railroad station. Capt. Lang of the “Pensys” was on hand and he had charge of the “ladies’ tour” of the club. There were about twenty-five visitors, including ten ladies.

This view is from the Great Falls run. Its exact location is not yet known, but it may be along the C & O towpath.

This view is from the Great Falls run. Its exact location is not yet known, but it may be along the C & O towpath.

After the wheels were unloaded a line was formed on New Jersey avenue with about fifty lamps trimmed and burning and the procession moved slowly along the streets to the Strathmore Arms, where the visitors will be quartered during their four days’ stay. All along the line of the procession Greek fire illuminated the streets and at the corner of 9th and H streets Mr. Robertson, the expert bicycle rider and dealer in wheels, had constructed an arch of Chinese lanterns across the street in honor of the visitors. At the Strathmore Arms a reception was held, which lasted only a short time, as there was an early run on the program for today, which had to be omitted on account of the rain.

This evening both clubs will go to Marshall Hall on the steamer Charles Macalester, rain or shine. The clubs will go in uniform and wheel to the wharf should the weather permit.

This evening another party of the “Pensys” will arrive, and the entire party will ride to the

Great Falls tomorrow morning, making the start from the Strathmore Arms at 6:30 o’clock. Dinner will be served at Dickey’s, on the Virginia shore, and tomorrow night the visitors will be given an oyster supper at Yoeman’s on 11th street.

They will return home Monday after country runs to Soldier’s Home and Arlington.

From The Evening Star, September 7, 1891, p. 8


How the Pennsylvania Visitors Were Entertained Yesterday

Resting at Great Falls, September 6, 1891.

Resting at Great Falls, September 6, 1891.

The heavy rains Saturday night and early Sunday morning did not interfere with the plans of the visiting bicyclists and none of the runs had to be omitted. The trip to Marshall Hall on the Macalester Saturday night was a delightful one. There were sixty in the party and the trip to the wharf was made on wheels. Through the kindness of Harbormaster Sufton the wheels were cared for at the wharf until the return of the “Pensys” and Nomads, when sixty brilliantly lighted lamps made a good appearance going from the wharf to the Strathmore Arms. The Nomads were on hand early yesterday morning to escort the visitors to the Grent Falls, and the start was made about 8 o’clock. The road was in perfect condition and the weather was excellent for wheeling.

With the exception of one stop for water at Uncle Tom’s log cabin Glen Echo was the first place visited, and there the party was given the freedom of the place. The chimes were played in honor of the guests, and Mrs. Hyde, who resides there, sent several baskets of fruit to the wheelmen.  After spending an hour about the grounds and buildings the journey to the falls was resumed with a stop at the club house. Owing to a break in the canal there was no boat to take the party through wide water, and they continued over the hills and through the hollows on their wheels to the lock house. A short walk through the woods and the river was reached. There boats were provided and the river was crossed.

Lunch at Dickey's on the Great Falls run, September 6, 1891.

Lunch at Dickey’s on the Great Falls run, September 6, 1891.

It was about noon when Dickey’s was reached and the party was divided. One-half sat down to dinner, while the others strolled through the orchard and along the beautiful path leading to the ruins of the old mill on the hill right near the falls. The party remained at Dickey’s until about 5 o’clock, and when they left the crowing of the rooster and the cackling of the hen were no longer to be heard on Dickey’s farm. On the return trip the only stop made was at Cabin John bridge, where an hour was spent in sightseeing. The city was reached shortly after 8 o’clock and at 10 o’clock an oyster supper was enjoyed. Covers were spread for sixty. President Bracker of the “Pensys” made a speech, thanking the home club for their hospitality, and President Smith of the Nomads responded.

From The Evening Star,  September 8, 1891, p. 8:


The Pennsylvania Bicycle Club Leave for Home After a Pleasant Run.

After an early morning run to Arlington yesterday the Nomads and their Philadelphia guests, the “Pensys,” visited Mount Vernon and last evening a watermelon run and open air “smoker” was on the program. The party left the Strathmore Arms at 6:30 o’clock and rode on their wheels to Soldiers’ Home. The main building looked its best in the bright moonlight. In addition to this natural illumination the building was brilliantly lighted from top to bottom.

From Soldiers’ Home a run was made to Brightwood, where watermelons from the cold storage rooms were awaiting the party. After the melons had been enjoyed the dining room was cleared for a dance. Brightwood was kept awake for a couple of a hours and each time a club cry was given the dogs through the county answered as though they were responding to the calls of the visitors.

A bicycle run to Arlington occurred on September 7, 1891, the final day of the 'Pensys' visit.

A bicycle run to Arlington occurred on September 7, 1891, the final day of the ‘Pensys’ visit.

The first smoker of the Nomads, as well as the entire entertainment of their guests, was a perfect success and the “Pensys” expressed regrets that their visit was about to he brought to a close.

On the return trip the run was made through the Piney Branch road to Mount Pleasant and then the Columbia road was ridden over, the procession of wheelmen entering the city at Connecticut avenue.

The visitors were escorted to the Baltimore and Ohio depot, where the train pulled out amid the Rah! Rah! Rah! cry of the Nomads, concluding with “Penn-syl-va-ni-a.”

Another group along the trail to Great Falls.

Another group along the trail to Great Falls.

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One Comment on “Washington Cycling in 1891”

  1. lamont Says:

    Love this post!

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