Monday, November 30, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part One

When Henry David Thoreau set out to explore the North Shore in September 1858 he walked from Salem to Gloucester with his friend John Russell. They rose early the next morning, continued on past Loblolly Cove to Rockport, then to Folly Cove where Halibut Point framed his view to the sea. 

Imagine if Henry had taken this sojourn twenty years later on wheels. He who disdained the extravagance of carriage and horse would have had at his disposal the first gift of technology to individual mobility, appropriately self-powered and self-reliant, the bicycle. Meandering or mad-capping Henry could have extended his geography without distancing himself from the wayside landscape.
By 1885 when John S. Webber, Jr. published In and around Cape Ann: A Handbook for the Wheelman Tourist, bicycling excursions had become a popular recreation.
     "After turning the curve in the road, near the old Babson homestead, a long gradual descent gives the opportunity for a delightful coast, and the tourist then catches a pleasing view of Folly Cove and the adjacent bay....The way now leads through a quaint little fishing settlement, and soon the wheelman enters the thriving village of Lanesville, after passing through a section of the road arched completely over with the thickly entwined branches of mammoth willows. A dismount at this cosy looking place, and you have the opportunity of partaking of ice cream or soda at the little wayside store here, kept by Mrs. Marchant. Beyond the willows the road rises with a gradual sweep, continues along by the deeply cut quarries of the Lanesville Granite Company."

Velocipede rider, downtown Gloucester
 The first two-wheelers in town, velocipedes, appealed to daredevil spirits. They were introduced at indoor rinks with smooth flooring.

Cape Ann Advertiser, February 12, 1869
An 1869 advertisement touts "the graceful science of velocipede riding." Local journalists, representing a more sedentary set of citizens, frolicked with the novelty of riders on wheels:
     "The Californians look with contempt upon the new velocipede. 'They will do very well,' says an editor, 'for Paris, where many people cannot afford to keep horses, and could not ride them very will if they did. But they will never do in California, where boys of ten years of age ride full-grown horses at the top of their speed around the streets."' Cape Ann Advertiser (CAA), Jan 15.
     "Surgeons and tailors are much interested in the velocipede mania. It suits both." Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph (CALGT), Feb 27.

Velocipede club, internet photo
Before long a more generous view recognized that the public would be sharing its roadways with wheeled contraptions that captured the imagination of young men, with broader societal benefits. "One of the results of the velocipede excitement in this town is, that it draws the young men away from the drinking saloons, and gives them a pleasant and beneficial turn to their minds as well as a healthy exercise of body." CAA, Mar 5. Women too could get aboard. "It has been demonstrated out West, that women can ride the bicycle velocipedes by wearing bilegular garments." CALGT  Feb 13

Fourth of July Road Race
Gloucester Daily Times  June 27, 1899
As velocipedes evolved into bicycles they captivated enthusiasts both in the saddle and off. Anywhere young men can pit themselves against one another an arena develops, and young ladies appear. Children adhere to the crowd inexorably and seniors gather to the sporting set. What better centerpiece for the national anniversary than heroics on the open road?

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