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.

Our Museum for a Day came and went

Aggie Kennedy
Aggie Kennedy clothes a dressmaker’s form.
Susan Dechnik
Susan Dechnik took most of the photos here.
Cheryl Smekal, closest;  Aggie Kennedy, at right; Susan Dechnik, back
Cheryl Smekal, closest; Aggie Kennedy, at right; Susan Dechnik, back

The reason for the recent inactivity here on the website is that we have prepared for our display of artifacts that we call our Museum for a Day at the New Leaf Tea Room in cooperation with the Riverton Free Library’s biennial Candlelight House Tour.

The items come out to play for a day, then are packed away until we get another offer for some free exhibit space.
The items come out to play for a day, then are packed away until we get another offer for some free exhibit space.

Once every two years we get to break out of storage some choice HSR treasures to exhibit to the public. Afterwards, the items get packed away, and until the next time, this online virtual museum will have to do until we get a real permanent one.

We brought out some familiar chestnuts such as some Dreer’s Nursery items, our vintage clothing, and the Riverton Gun Club history book.

New additions to our exhibit repertoire include displays about Riverton’s War Memorial and Riverton’s military veterans, Riverton Yacht Club, and Anne Knight Ruff.

museum for a day_37I only just found a box postmarked 2011 in our storage space full of donated items relevant to the Yacht Club, particularly the Duster, that former resident Marty Carhart donated.

More details of the remarkable contents will be forthcoming in a later post, but for now, blueprints for building a Duster and two reels of 16mm movie film taken of the 1949 Duster Championship race were just two of the more notable items.

RYC 100th Anniversary book 1965
RYC 100th Anniversary book 1965

Also in that box, a 1965 book published for the 100th anniversary of the Riverton Yacht Club now serves as a startling reminder that 2015 will be their 150th anniversary. I made a poster outlining some of the milestones in the RYC’s history to go with the table display.

“Tempus fugit,” as my Latin teacher used to say. Tempus fugit, indeed. I think time has even picked up more speed after I passed sixty.

HSR Board Member Bill McDermott also pitched in as a Museum Guide. Turns out he had never heard the story about how Ed Merrill built the Duster in a workshop on the third floor of a house at 301 Main Street. There are probably many things we could all learn from each other if we could pool our resources. We have the bandwidth here if you have something to share.

Readers, please search those boxes tucked away in attics and basements for anything you may have that would help to piece together a history of the RYC’s last half-century. Something spectacular is sure to be planned to commemorate that milestone, and with so many knowledgeable people now living far afield the internet is a great place to collaborate.

I made another poster that explained about Anne Knight Ruff’s book, hoping it would result in some sales, but no luck. This book is a treasury of Riverton history c.1890-late 1900s and should be required reading for anyone living in this zip code.

museum for a day_17An exhibit about Riverton’s veterans included a poster with all the original names plus the names added since 2011. Longtime Riverton resident Daniel Goffredo lent us his World War II service uniform for the day.

Earlier this year the HSR bought a presentation projector that we could use for just this type of situation, so we set it up with a screen to show the much expanded Riverton Veterans Album.

Those old hometown newspapers that we got online in late 2012 have yielded a lot of anecdotal information about the people mentioned on the original War Memorial Honor Roll. Additionally, the newspaper files have been the source of many more news clippings about military personnel whom they described as being from Riverton.

museum for a day_13museum for a day_02That might be the reason if you were to find a person mentioned in the pages of the Veterans Album, but their name is not on the War Memorial Honor Roll.

I showed the presentation to our own HSR Board members Nancy Hall and Elsie Waters, but the best part was listening to them give the color commentary as they watched.  – John McCormick

revised  12/22: added ten photos to gallery below

 

 

Historic Riverton Criterium enters pages of Riverton history

Enjoy these pix from 2013 Historic Riverton Criterium. See much more on Carlos Rogers’ Historic Riverton Criterium Facebook page.

BCT Staff Writer Jeannie O’Sullivan wrote Historic Riverton Criterium cycles through town and Rob Scott of Cinnaminson Patch posted Historic Riverton Criterium Brings Out Crowds.

Find tons of professional quality photographs of the event by local Riverton photographer Christian Hochenberger at http://hochfoto.com/buy-prints/.

If you have some serious time to kill, search Historic AND Riverton AND Criterium on YouTube and you will find over a dozen vids of the 2013 crit and its two predecessors.

The 2013 official Historic Riverton Criterium results from USA Cycling.

A 18MB, 1:min 41sec video of the parts of the first race: 2013 HRC

Remember, folks, these are the good ol’ days. – John McCormick

Bicycle Races – Past, Present, and Hopefully, Future

History may indeed have been made on June 12, 2011, if the recently held Historic Riverton Criterium turns out to become another borough tradition as many hope.

HSR member Mrs. Pat Solin had a ringside seat for the main event from her front door at Fourth and Main .

She writes:

photo by Lee Rogers

“…all cars had to be off the streets.  Police set up barriers and town maintenance folk cleaned the street of debris to ensure a safe ride for the participants.  The weather was beautiful for the race… We could hear a live band, and folks lined the street along the route to cheer for their favorite riders.  Our neighbors had company over and made it an ‘event.’  We watched the riders from time to time either from the curb or from within the house because, as you noted, they sped by directly in front of the house.”

I knew that the race was coming because  HSR President Gerald Weaber had copied me on an email that he had received. Someone helping with organizing the Historic Riverton Criterium had a question about the age of a house.

Riverton Athletic Assn. quarter-mile bicycle track – note roof of old passenger PRR station in distance at right; roof of present-day Zena’s near center

First off, I had to look up “criterium.” in the dictionary.

Then I anticipated that the organizers might want to know that Riverton once held bicycle races and even had a bicycle track, now long gone. I didn’t hear anything further after I sent along a link to Mrs. Pat Solin’s September 2009 Gaslight News article, “The Fine Grounds of the Riverton Athletic Association,” and another link from the New York Times archives showing a map of the old bicycle track near Thomas Avenue and Broad Street.

In her September GN piece, Pat traces the development of the Riverton Athletic Association from its beginning in July 1865, just after the Civil War, as simply some amateurs playing baseball in Biddle’s apple orchard to its involvement in an array of other popular sports, including bicycling. A highlight of the story is the account of a contest which will probably never again be duplicated, a 150-mile race from the steps of the New York Times building in New York City and culminating at Riverton’s packed to capacity bicycle stadium. Click here to read the whole incredible story.

1890 map detail – Riverton Ball Club Grounds at Broad and Thomas later became the bicycle stadium

In any case, I imagine that the information eventually made its way to Jeannie O’Sullivan, staff writer for the Burlington County Times, who wrote a delightful story cleverly contrasting the old and new races.  You can find the complete article, photos, and a YouTube video by clicking on this link.

You can read the chatter between the members of the Historic Riverton Criterium Facebook group as the event progressed from planning and development, to race day, and posting of the results by clicking here. In addition, there are dozens of photographs of the day’s activities, posted by several different photographers. The students of Mr. Christian Hochenberger’s Shawnee High School Photography Club posted over 300 photos here. Do not miss viewing the set taken by Lee Rogers, owner of Bicycle Therapy, a race sponsor, and posted on flickr, the photo sharing site.

If you’d like to see more New York Times articles of yesteryear, use the advanced search option of the New York Times archive to search issues from 1851-1980 for Riverton related articles. Browse at your own risk, however, as it can not only become addictive, but hours can fly by reading about those times past.

graphic for 1890 bicycling column in The Sporting Life

Another place to look for sports news of all sorts related to Riverton is in the pages of The Sporting Life, a weekly sports news publication printed in Philadelphia from 1885-1917, and now found online at the sports research library of the LA84 Foundation. There you can read about the famous Riverton Gun Club, the legendary “Riverton Nines” baseball team, yacht races, football, bicycle races, swimming–even cricket. Here is the link for the LA84 search page.

In addition to enlarging my vocabulary, further investigation into this cycling phenomenon has resulted in finding yet another “Yesterday” column written by Mrs. Betty B. Hahle over thirty years ago for the May 1981 issue of Gaslight News which sheds more light on those bicycle races of the late 19th century. Following is an account of the opening of the Riverton Athletic Association’s new quarter-mile track in 1894. As Betty wished, the re-publication of her work which follows is printed exactly as it originally appeared:

“As bicycling grew in popularity, Wheelmen’s Clubs were formed, and meets became a part of the growing interest in athletic events.

Bicycle Century Run under auspices of Riverton Athletic Assn. Camden to Atlantic City via Gloucester – Gloucester-Woodbury Turnpike, Westville Toll Gate – Sept. 8, 1894

Riverton’s team used a track on Fulton street, below the railroad, and then a larger one above the railroad, whete Lippincott, Thomas, and 7th streets are today. June of 1894 saw the new track completed there, in time for the riders to begin training for the big meet on July 4th. It was the widest 1-4 mile track in the world, designed by O.S. Bunnell of Philadelphia, a much respected cycler who would also be referee on the big day.

Night Bicycle Race Medal – July 1, 1895

And what a day it must have been! Riverton, with a population numbering only a few hundred, had an attendance of nearly 4000, according to the papers. There were 8 class-A events, trick riders, an exhibition ½-mile ride by Harrison Barcus, a 5-year-old, on a 10 lb. wheel, and a 5-mile event that ‘kept spectators at fever heat from start to finish’. Julius Blauberg, a prominant caterer from Philadelphia, had charge of refreshment stands, and prizes–oh, the prizes…5 diamonds, gold and silver medals, jewelry, and many other valuable articles. A.J. Briggs, Riverton’s Athletic Association manager, kept things moving, and was careful that all activities and decisions were fair. Soon color was introduced into the meets by having riders wear brightly colored shirts instead of numbers to identify them–and shortly there followed items of vandals breaking into the athletic building on the grounds and making off with ‘articles of clothing’. Fireworks were held at the bicycle grounds after the races.

In 1894 W.F. Sims was out to break his record of a mile in 2.11. He aimed to do it in 2 minutes–and made it. (Speed on the track was one thing; it was something else along the streets and paths of town, and increasingly there were reports of children being knocked down, teeth being lost in the process, and broken bones of older victims. Tempers grew short with this behavior–even on Sunday–and there were calls for dealing more severely with the culprets.”

Saying, “It makes obvious sense to tie in the racing history and the Historic Riverton Criterium,” Carlos Rogers, a 20 year veteran competitive cyclist whose vision it was to bring the amateur cycling meet to his newly adopted hometown (by marriage to the former Adrienne Gaughn), started planning for the race late last year. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are owners and  operators of the highly regarded Hush Salon in Philadelphia’s Old City District.

The novice promoter acknowledged the first-time challenges of navigating those uncertain waters of borough government and tradition and was, in the end, elated at the result. Taking stock of the event and the public’s reception to it, Carlos remarked, “By all accounts, from borough officials, riders, residents, and spectators, it was a resounding success.”

Let’s hope that history repeats itself in this case, and that the Historic Riverton Criterium returns again next year. In the process we shall add another chapter to the history of cycling in Riverton, NJ.   – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor