Proposed ride recreates an 1895 NYC-Riverton bicycle race

Bicycle News, 1895-04-15 Phila Inquirer

Cedar Street  2-15-2014
Cedar Street 2-15-2014

With snow on the ground in Riverton for going on a month now, the humid heat of a Jersey summer seems a long way off, but plans are afoot now to shape the first weekend of June into a two-day celebration of competitive cycling with a nod to local history.

This past December Carlos Rodgers, already a Riverton history-maker as the originator and promoter of the Historic Riverton Criterium, emailed me and explained that an ex-Riverton resident, Rob Gusky, had reached out to him with a proposal for organizing a bicycle ride in 2014.

1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Race medal
1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Race medal

Since it will commemorate the 1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Race from New York City to Riverton, Carlos drafted me to help with research as part of the team he was getting together to “set the wheels in motion to help make this happen.”

HRC winged wheelDo you see what he did there? An apt metaphor, Carlos!

Research, yes. I’m in.

Just don’t ask me to bike a hundred miles from NYC to Riverton.

Rob has christened Riverton’s newest bicycle race The Historic Riverton Century. A hundred-mile bike race is known as a “century.” Also cool is that he plans for it to fall on Saturday, June 7, the day before the Historic Riverton Criterium on Sunday, June 8.

As you can imagine, the logistics of pulling off a successful bike race over roads and highways from Manhattan to Riverton in today’s traffic are considerable.

To fast-forward to developments up to this point, through conference calls, emails, texts, and phone calls, Rob Gusky soon enlisted a cadre of amateur cyclists (and one amateur historian) to strategize a plan for overcoming the many obstacles to completing such a grueling race. Too, he began to also think of ways the event might benefit Riverton and promote its image to the region.

What started as Rob Gusky’s one-man quest to recreate the 1895 New York Times Tri-State Race in June 2014 has captured the imagination of everyone who visits the Facebook page he established less than a month ago. It serves as a kind of information-central showing the organization and planning for all aspects of the race as well as to promote public support for it.

Riverton historical marker, Broad & Main
Riverton historical marker, Broad & Main

It is absolutely the best place to keep up with all the progress as various team players do their part to ensure the success of this venture. Community approval and backing builds with every day as visitors drawn in by Rob’s infectious enthusiasm affirm their support with every webpage’s coveted “like”

Riverton Athletic Assn. bicycle track, New York Times, June 4, 1895
Riverton Athletic Assn. bicycle track, New York Times, June 4, 1895

A separate piece of this ambitious undertaking is the dedication of a historical marker sign, similar to the one by the gazebo at Broad and Main.

The proposed sign will describe particulars of the Riverton Bicycle Track constructed on the old baseball field between Lippincott and Thomas Avenues and note the original 1895 race.

A foremost racing venue of its day, the Riverton track was dedicated on — what else– the Glorious Fourth of July, 1894.

Riverton's Bicycle track - undated photo from Ed Gilmore
Riverton’s Bicycle track – undated photo from Ed Gilmore

It featured a ticket office, a club-house with separate apartments and all conveniences for both men and women, bleachers, a grandstand with a 3,000 person capacity, and twelve arc-lights to illuminate night races.

(Past the fence in the distance you can see the rooftop of the old passenger train station. And through the trees, do you recognize the building that will later be home to Klipple’s Bakery, Zena’s Patisserie, and now the Orange Blossom Café?)

New York Times Bldg c1895
New York Times Building c1895

In June 1895, the Hudson County Wheelmen of Jersey City organized a spectacular 150-mile race pitting relay teams of the best amateur cyclists from New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey against each other.

The contest began on the steps of the New York Times Building (then at Park Row) and climaxed with racers crossing the finish line at Riverton’s own quarter-mile track.  In addition, five distance cyclists who competed for special prizes by going the entire 150-mile distance left New York two hours before the first relay racers started.

GN Sep 2009
GN Sep 2009

Rob found out about the 1895 race that ended right here in his old hometown by browsing through the pages here at rivertonhistory.com.

In 2009, my colleague Patricia Solin authored an article for the Society newsletter, “The Fine Grounds of the Riverton Athletic Association,” which described the 1895 race and the Riverton bicycle race track, characterized by experts as “the finest quarter-mile track in the country.”

Grand Bicycle Meet, 1894-07-04, Philadelphia Inquirer, pg. 8
Grand Bicycle Meet, 1894-07-04, Philadelphia Inquirer, pg. 8

The debut of the Historic Riverton Criterium in 2011, and its return in June 2012 and 2013 triggered several more visits to the HSR archives to report on Riverton’s cycling legacy.

Rob started an online effort to fund the installation of a historic marker at the site of the Riverton’s Bicycle Track where the Tri-State Relay Race finished on June 8, 1895.

Any tax-deductible amount that anyone contributes on the secure website will move the campaign closer to its goal of preserving this milestone in Riverton’s history.

Have I mentioned that Rob lives in Wisconsin? You have to tune in to this story, if only to see how he pulls it off.

There is so much more to know about this exciting enterprise, but discover for yourself what is going on behind the scenes now so that we might all play a small part in actually making Riverton history.

I urge you to visit The Historic Riverton Century Facebook Page  and JMc05the Preserve Riverton’s History by Installing a Marker at the Bicycle Track Site Website  and throw your support behind the establishment of the race as well as the installation of the sign. – John McCormick

PS: In case you missed it, the Programs & Event Tab directs you to the summary of the recent Feb. 12, 2014 meeting that featured a presentation by actor/historian Bob Gleason as Abraham Lincoln.

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