Warren County Historical Society Presents …
The Digital Version * * * “REWIND” * * *
December 16, 2014
From 1959 through 1965, Howard Mason dictated his local history column to his daughter, who typed the material and sent it to the local newspapers for publication. Howard had the good fortune to live in the greater Glens Falls area during a time of great change. Warren County and the Town of Queensbury changed from an agrarian to a suburban environment. Through his columns, he was able to tell this story of change and recall the hundreds of people whom he met during his lifetime.
The Warren County Historical Society has reprinted Howard Mason’s books, Backward Glances, Volumes I, II & III into one volume. Fully indexed, the new volume includes some new photographs. It is available from the Historical Society for $30.00, tax included (add $5 for shipping and handling). Call 743-0734 for details or stop in the office on Tuesday or Thursday from 9 am – 5 pm.
The following is an article taken from Volume II, pages 32-34 of the original Backward Glances, by Howard Mason, printed in 1964. New photographs have been added in the new edition.
THE BICYCLE CRAZE OF THE 1890’S
Glens Falls did not escape the bicycle craze of the ’90s. Indeed, it received more than its share of fame due to the fact that bicycles were manufactured here, and that Harry D. Elkes, world champion rider, was a Glens Falls boy. His father, William D. Elkes, acted as his trainer.
Illustration taken from Howard Mason’s original text
The Budd brothers, James G. and Delmar A., owned a factory on Maple Street where they made the D & H bicycle which had a wide sale. They also made the lower priced Laurel. My first wheel was a D & H.
Does anyone remember Jim Budd riding his specially built bicycle with a front sprocket which was nearly as large as the front or back wheel and was geared up to 900-1? Soon after 1900, with the decline of business, the Budds discontinued the manufacture and sale of bicycles and moved to Saratoga Springs to enter the milling and grain business.
The Miller brothers, Ernest and Frank Miller, began their business career in bicycles at the corner of Glen and Park Streets in what was left of the old Central House. The roof had burned off and for a time the Millers were literally doing business under the stars. They sold the Iver Johnson and National bicycle and the pneumatic tire on Glen Street in 1902, bought out the Budd Brothers business and combined it with their own. They entered the automobile business soon afterwards, however.
Newberry and Morris, at the corner of Elm and Park Streets, sold the Niagara bicycle. My last bicycle was a Niagara.
Mort Lapham sold and repaired bicycles for years. I recall he was at our house for Sunday dinner once and my father asked him why he didn’t get into the automobile business, like the others. His reply was “I don’t want any part of it because of the service after a sale”. Cars and tires were not very dependable in those days.
Glen Street Looking North from Bank Square
Glens Falls City Historian’s collection
The first bicycle I ever saw was owned and ridden by Robert Andrews of Pattens Mills. It had a front wheel about five feet in diameter and a rear wheel not more than a foot in diameter; both equipped with hard rubber tires. This was in 1889, before pneumatic tires. If that front wheel came in contact with any obstruction, the rider was pitched forward to the ground with considerable force. To overcome this, the manufacturers soon reversed the wheels, placing the smaller wheel ahead for steering. These crude machines never became very popular.
The invention of the safety bicycle and the pneumatic tire by Charles Dunlop is what brought about the bicycle craze. Hundreds of companies were formed to manufacture bicycles but few survived beyond 1900. As I recall, the Columbia was the Cadillac of bicycles. The Iver Johnson and Mohawk were also popular.
Glen Street Looking South from Monument Square
Glens Falls City Historian’s collection
Century clubs were formed (there was one in this area), members of which had ridden a bicycle 100 miles in one day, quite a feat over the loose dirt roads of those days. Bicycle paths were started all over the country in the ’90s, most of them never completed. In fact, together with some other boys, I started one on Sanfords Ridge, now the Chestnut Ridge Road.
Dr. J. H. Bowen of Pattens Mills, with others, built about a half mile of path south from Pattens Mills. There are still traces of it left today.
A sidepath of some importance was constructed from Glens Falls to The Oneida under the supervision of a sidepath commission headed by C. Herbert Everest, I believe. This was a cinder path patrolled by Michael Nolan of Glens Falls who, for years, kept the grass mowed along the sides and carried with him a rake and shovel to keep all holes filled. With the building of the State Road all traces of the old sidepath were obliterated.
The first safety bicycle with pneumatic tires I ever saw was owned by Ernest Worster, brother of Sherman J. Worster, then living in Pattens Mills. This was in 1891.
Few now living can realize what a craze this was for about ten years. It touched everybody; old and young, rich and poor. It was during this era that Lillian Russell appeared on the streets of Saratoga on her gold-plated bicycle, the gift of “Diamond Jim” Brady. You may ask why the use of bicycles fell into disfavor so quickly. During this same era inter-urban trolley systems were rapidly being built to furnish cheap, reliable, year-round transportation. A nickel carried you a long distance on some runs. At one time it was possible to travel from Bank Square to Buffalo and never leave trolley rails.
The Rockwell House with Community Fountain in Front
Glens Falls City Historian’s Collection
On account of snow and mud, the bicycle was not a practical means of transportation except during the summer months, even in the towns. In the ’90s there wasn’t a paved street in Glens Falls. In those days during the month of April mud would be almost hub deep in Glen Street when the frost was coming out.
Such were the so-called good old days of the ’90s. You may have them.
© December 16 2014, Warren County Historical Society.