Twenty-one riders entered a four-block bicycle race a century ago in downtown Henderson. Only four finished the course. The winner’s time was 28 minutes flat.
I’ve been writing my history column since the first of 1998 and have pretty thoroughly covered the local appearance of automobiles and airplanes. But I’ve never really given the early beginnings of the bicycle its due. I’m trying to remedy that with this column.
The first bicycles to appear locally were almost certainly what were then known as “penny-farthings,” the kind with the huge front wheel and no chain. They were ridden mostly by daring young men because they were somewhat dangerous. If you hit a pothole or other obstruction, you were likely to be thrown over the top of the front wheel. There was even a name for that type of accident — a header.
The first one made its local appearance the summer of 1881. “Fred Mayer has the only and first bicycle ever brought to this city,” according to an August 2, 1881, item in the Henderson Reporter. “He and his brother Walter have learned to manage it well.”
Other young men quickly joined in. “The bicyclists now number eight,” according to an item in the Reporter of Oct. 21, 1881. “They take a ride nearly every evening.”
Apparently bicycles stopped being news for a few years because the next mention I’ve seen in the Reporter appeared Oct. 10, 1884: “A bicycle club has been formed but, as yet, there are only five or six machines, although a number will join in the spring.”
The Reporter tried to get women interested in the Nov. 14, 1884, issue: “Let the ladies form a tricycle club.” Tricycles, by the way, were the first to begin using a chain drive.
The Henderson Bicycle Club conducted an election in January 1885, according to the Reporter, and named David Banks Jr. president. Other officers were H.S. Rudy, V.F. Mayer, W.H. Stites and W.F. Redman. “There are about 15 members now, and others expect to join in the spring. It is very probable that a number of them will attend the grand tournament at Memphis.”
The issues of the Reporter on microfilm go only through 1885, and it was in the late 1880s that what was then called the “safety bicycle” – what we would recognize as a modern bicycle — came onto the scene. That prompted a boom in cycling, partially because women could easily ride the new bicycles.
Henderson newspapers from the 1890s are very spotty, except for 1898 and 1899, so I can’t say too much how the bicycle fared locally during that decade although I know there was a national boom in usage. In the first decade of the 20th Century, however, Henderson began a program of laying concrete sidewalks. Bicyclists found their smoothness too tempting. That caused problems.
The Gleaner of July 8, 1908, reported that the Henderson City Council had unanimously passed an ordinance to fine bicyclists if they were caught riding on sidewalks. “For some time there have been many complaints of persons riding bicycles on the sidewalks and the adoption of the ordinance was to meet a popular demand.” That prohibition is still on the books, although it applies only in business districts; bicycles must yield to pedestrians on all other sidewalks.
A couple of years later, according to the minutes of April 20, 1910, the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting the practice of grabbing onto a streetcar while riding a bicycle and allowing it to pull you along. A similar ordinance prohibiting grabbing onto motor vehicles is currently in place.
I had thought the Henderson Police Department’s adoption of bicycles in 1995 was the first instance of that, but upon further investigation I found it dated back to 1910. On Sept. 6 of that year, according to the minutes, the city council approved buying two bicycles for the police department and one for the bailiff who served the city police court.
The Gleaner of Feb. 29, 1916, reported that Henry F. Pardon had opened a store near the corner of Elm and Second streets selling Indian motorcycles and bicycles. He also did repairs and sold all kinds of accessories.
“Mr. Pardon has conducted a store of this kind for several years in Owensboro and has been very successful.”
A more significant event was reported in The Gleaner of July 25, 1916. “Henderson’s first bicycle races were pulled off in great shape Sunday morning at 11 o’clock. There were 14 entries and the time made to the Union Station and return was just six minutes.”
Ulyse Martin was stationed at the railroad depot to take the cards of each rider to ensure they had completed the entire course. Salem Starling took first place and a prize of $5. Fred Freeman won $2.50, while Paul Clark of Owensboro won$1.50. Carl Basham of Owensboro won $1.
By 1920 the Pardon bicycle shop was under the management of Oliver Z. Pardon. The photo that accompanies this column was provided to The Gleaner by T.R. Holliday and the information that accompanied it says it depicts a six-mile bicycle race Pardon sponsored in June 1920. I’ve not seen The Gleaner take notice of that event.
However, it wrote several stories about races Pardon sponsored Sept. 12 that year. “The feature of the event will be the slow race, the last man being the winner,” said the story of Sept. 8. Another article that appeared Sept. 10 said the races would begin at 2 p.m.
The final article, on Sept. 14, gave the race results and noted a “large crowd” gathered to watch. The description of the “slow race” is as follows: “Four blocks were covered in the contest and although 21 entered only four succeeded in finishing the race. The time was 28 minutes flat.”
Herbert Manion took first place and a gold watch, followed by Mike Coffey, Eldridge Miller and John Steele.
The second race, covering 35 blocks, was the fast one. The winners, in order, were Charles Kockritz, John Patterson, Charles Cuttsinger, Mike Coffey and Lawrence Schmidt.
The final race was restricted to Black riders; 10 of them entered. (Yes, the races were segregated, which was par for community activities at the time.) The winners, in order, were John W. White, Lawrence Bibbs and William Henry Rankin.
Other stores were also selling bicycles in 1920, such as Lambert & Grisham Hardware and the Nunn & Kloke bicycle store on First Street, which opened in November 1920 and lasted for decades. I’m not sure exactly how long Pardon stayed in business; I know it was until at least 1925 but the shop had closed by 1929.
W.G. Schoepflin, in his Gleaner column of Aug. 13, 1933, had this to say about a resurgence in bicycles during the Depression: “Young and old are beginning to straddle the bicycles as of old. The young girls especially are taking to the fad and shocking (Oh Yeah) but in shorts, too. Reminds me of the time when my good friend Oliver Pardon was pushing the game here. He had some fine races and gave some kids some fine training in this particular sport.”
A similar resurgence took place during World War II, when bicycles were rationed, and also during the oil crisis of 1973-74.
75 YEARS AGO
The insecticide DDT, which came into widespread military use during the latter half of World War II but was banned in 1972, went on sale in Henderson, according to advertisements in The Gleaner of Sept. 9 and Sept. 23, 1945.
“It’s here at last, that wonder insect killer,” said the Sept. 23 advertisement for Grasty’s Drug Store at First and Elm streets. “DDT kills flies, mosquitoes, fleas, roaches, water bugs, bed bugs, in fact all kinds of insects.” The store was selling it in quart and gallon lots.
50 YEARS AGO
Floyd A. Imboden, 23, of Providence hit a cow on U.S. 41-Alternate four miles south of Henderson and found himself staring it in the face, according to The Gleaner of Sept. 13, 1970.
“Not able to see the black (Angus) in time to stop, the driver struck the animal with his car. The cow’s head went through the windshield. The animal was cut, but it was last seen going off into a field.”
25 YEARS AGO
Federal deregulation of the natural gas industry prompted the city of Henderson to pass an ordinance cutting in half its mark-up price for customers who bought at least 1 million cubic feet of gas per month, according to The Gleaner of Sept. 17, 1995.
The ordinance had no effect on residential or small industrial rates, which represented 65 percent of the city’s natural gas revenues.
City officials pointed out, however, that smaller customers would eventually pay more if the cuts did not encourage larger customers to stay with the city as a supplier.
Readers of The Gleaner can reach Frank Boyett at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BoyettFrank.
This article originally appeared on Henderson Gleaner: Boyett: Bicycle’s history in Henderson dates back to 1881