Program sparks new research, filling in more details to Riverton’s 1894 illuminated bike race

Sometimes a newly discovered piece of a puzzle leads to new insights about a familiar topic. This story illustrates how a recent find on eBay helped connect it to additional bits of Riverton’s history.

Cycling at Riverton, The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 17, 1894, p3

A May 30, 2016, post roused our readers to “Imagine the spectacle of a day given over to the sport of bicycling attended by almost 4,000 fans.” Riverton’s population at the time was around 1,100-1,200.

It included scans of two newspaper clippings that announced that a series of races to be held at Riverton’s quarter-mile bicycle race track on September 25, 1894, would be illuminated by twelve electric arc lights, an innovation at the time.

Bicycle race by electric light, September 26, 1894, Trenton Evening Times, p7

The above publicized the competition, and the one at right summarized the event in the next day’s Trenton Evening Times.

A recent eBay purchase ($25.59) of an “Electric Light Race Programme” further verifies the race and adds more details that characterize the meet that awarded gold and silver medals, diamond rings, mantle clocks, silver urns, and gold watches to the victors of 14 competitions.

News of Interest… The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 19, 1894, Page 3

Taking a fresh look at another news article in our files from that period enabled us to connect the dots between an article about an upcoming parade of decorated carriages and bicycles planned to coincide with the September 25th illuminated bike race.

The Ladies’ Floral Tournament Club of Riverton planned to commence the cavalcade at 4:30 pm with horse-drawn carriages coursing through the principal borough streets while cyclists wheeled about in the opposite direction.

“There will be a prize for the best, and one for the second best decorated carriage and the same for bicycles,” promised the article. Post-parade refreshments and entertainment were to follow at the clubhouse of the Riverton Athletic Association until racing by electric lights started.

Camden Daily Telegram, 18 Sep 1894, p1

Now our search had gained momentum!

Another new find established that the Park Avenue Wheelmen had chartered the steamer Columbia, presumably to carry its clubmen and spectators to and from the match.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 Sep 1894, p3

To ease the fears of competitors concerned that the lights’ failure might cause casualties, organizers ordered eight locomotive headlights, circus lights, and Greek fire to supplement the arc lights.

(How the managers recreated the incendiary weapon that the Byzantines used in ancient naval battles escapes me.)

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 Sep 1894, p3

The next day a summary of the race results appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

W.W. Taxis broke a track record for the half-mile during the chilly evening on a track made “almost as light as day.”

The report deemed the meet “a decided success.”

This now nearly complete portrait of a colorful episode of Riverton’s history resulted from a fresh examination of source material sparked by a newly acquired event program.

There are almost certainly more undiscovered puzzle pieces out there that could further add details to this story as well as the many more chapters in Riverton’s history. -JMc

Riverton, Images of America, available here

Added 10/12/2022: Borough Historian and HSR Board Member Roger Prichard points out that a photo in our recently published new Arcadia Publishing Company’s book on Riverton in their Images of America Series that may further illustrate this story.

About floral carriages, I wonder if there is any chance this might be the same event that occasioned the picture of the carriage driven by Helen (Elsie) Biddle that’s in the book on p.18-19?

Helen Elsie Biddle in front of 309 Bank Ave., c1895

She would have been 19, which looks right. It feels a little more summer-like than September 25th would suggest, but then again there are many fallen leaves on the grass in the foreground. It would also explain the inconveniently-placed flag on the porch next door at 311 Bank – a decoration intended to be there only temporarily.

Published by

John McCormick

Teacher at Riverton School 1974-2019, author, amateur historian, Historical Society of Riverton Board Member 2007-2023, newsletter editor 2007-2023, website editor 2011-2023

One thought on “Program sparks new research, filling in more details to Riverton’s 1894 illuminated bike race”

Leave a Reply