Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Pelham Was on the "Ideal Route" for Bicyclists in the Late Nineteenth Century

During the 1890s, as the sport of bicycling boomed in the New York region, a favored route for bicyclists evolved across the Bronx and into lower Westchester County.  The beautiful sights of Pelham along the shoreline in the region of Eastchester Bay and Pelham Bay were part of the "Ideal Route" followed by cyclists.

In the last few years I have run across literally dozens of articles describing the pasttime of cycling through Pelham during the 1890s.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of one particularly-detailed article and includes some of the images included with the article at the time of its publication in 1898.  The article appears below, followed by a citation to its source.

"Part of Westchester County, Showing Best Wheeling Route."
and Other Popular PointsThe New York Press, Jul. 31, 1898,
p. 18, cols. 3-7.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Cycling on the Upper Shore of the Sound.
Ideal Route to City Island, Travers Island, Larchmont, and Other Popular Points.

Travers Island, which is the summer home of the New York Athletic Club, the Larchmont Club; the Larchmont Country Club, are frequent objective points for the Round Table Cyclists.  Most of them know all of the several routes to these attractive places by heart and could find their way blindfolded.  As the course leads through one of the best sections of Westchester County and leads to other places of interest to the average rider, this article is designed to describe the favorite route of the Round Table Cyclists, who have gained an enviable reputation as finders of good wheeling roads with attractive surroundings.

All local wheelmen know of the beauties of the region in question.  Those who have not gained that knowledge by actual experience are missing great things by postponing their visit.  The most famous riding regions in the Kentish and other garden sections of England do not excel the ride from New York to Portchester in point of picturesqueness and variety of scene.  

The route about to be described is not necessarily the shortest that can be taken between the two points mentioned.  In fact four miles may be saved by making several short cuts.  But the short cuts add nothing to the pleasure of the ride.  The straightest course from Macomb's Dam, or Central Bridge to Fordham, for instance, is through Jerome avenue.  We prefer to take Sedgewick avenue for two good reasons.  In the first place it runs along the Harlem River, affording a delightful panorama, and furthermore, Jerome avenue, while having excellent pavement, is handicapped by the existence there of a trolley line.

"ALBERT MOTT, Chairman National Racing Board, L. A. W."
and Other Popular PointsThe New York Press, Jul. 31, 1898,
p. 18, cols. 3-7.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.


As stated above there are many different ways of riding to the points mentioned, but we, after trying them all, give the preference to this one without reservation.  The total distance from the Grand Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park to Portchester is 31 miles.  The subjoined table gives the intermediate distances, going in either direction.  The table:

Dis. Going.  Total Dis.                                 Dis. Ret'ng.    Total Dis.
0.0                0.0.........GRAND CIRCLE......5.6                  31.0
5.6                5.6............Viaduct.................3.9                  25.4
3.9                9.5.........Jerome Avenue.........1.0                  21.5
1.0                10.5.......Fordham Station.......1.0                  20.5
1.0                11.5..........Bronx Park.............1.0                  19.5
1.0                12.5..........Morris Park.............0.7                  18.5
0.7                13.2........Woodmansten..........4.0                  17.8
4.0                17.2.......City Island Road........1.8                  13.8
1.8                19.0.......Travers Island............2.0                  12.0
2.0                21.0........New Rochelle............2.4                  10.0
2.4                23.1........Larchmont.................1.8                  7.6
1.8                25.2........Mamaroneck.............5.8                  5.8
5.8                31.0......PORT CHESTER.........0.0                  0.0

It will be noted that a straightaway course is followed.  Side runs to City Island and Larchmont are easy enough to find.  Both places offer attractive inducements for cyclists in various ways and are naturally popular with them.

To begin at the beginning, the start is made from the Columbus Statue in the Grand Circle, leading up the Boulevard to 110th street, to Seventh avenue to 116th street crossing, where St. Nicholas avenue branches off.  We follow St. Nicholas avenue to 149th street and there turn into St. Nicholas place.  St. Nicholas avenue, by the way, is of peculiar interest to old-time New Yorkers.  Up to a score of years ago it was practically the only good means of communication between the aristrocratic settlement at Fort Washington and Washington Heights and the city, which was a long way off in those days.  The high cliffs, relics of which still remain in the neighborhood of 155th street, were then open country, with the swell estates of wealthy merchants and bankers over to the westward.


St. Nicholas place ends at 155th street, at the point where the new Speedway begins, running north, and the big viaduct starts its drop toward the Central Bridge.  A fountain for man and beast stands in the square and makes a good landmark, if any were needed.  A policeman stands guard at the entrance to the Speedway.  He politely informs all cyclists who may turn into that driving road that they are not permitted to ride there.  Once in a while a stubborn man makes a kick, but as a rule most wheelmen take the hint kindly and spin away in other directions.  

The view from that point is particularly pleasing.  Its great height giving the eye command of a wide range.  Not the least pleasing feature is the little old white cottage standing out prominently on a projecting point of rock, which served as one of General Washington's headquarters during the American Revolution.  There are almost as many headquarters of Washington in this State as there are birthplaces of Columbus in Italy; but this one is the real thing, and is vouched for by the Art Critic of the club, who has studied history.  He had an uncle living up that way once, too.

Over the viaduct and bridge we go and turn left from the viaduct on the other side into Sedgwick avenue.  The road is not very wide, but the pavement is usually good and the hills encountered are not worth discussing.  The road runs along the high bank of the Harlem River above the tracks of the New York Central.  Continuous glimpses of the river and the steep, rocky bank on its west side, dotted with handsome buildings and vandalized by vulgar advertising signs in some places, keep the riders busy taking in the treat.  The road runs under High Bridge, the tall, spindle-like structure which conducts the old aqueduct across the Harlem, and a little further on passes under the gigantic land arch of Washington Bridge over which the new aqueduct carries its millions of gallons of relief for thirsty and dirty New Yorkers.


At Fordham Heights we turn right into the old Fordham Landing road at the corner where Webb's shipbuilding Academy and the old Sailors' Home stand.  The Fordham Landing road runs into the Kingsbridge road at the Jerome avenue crossing, and though the old signboards are still standing, many people call the entire thoroughfare from the Harlem River eastward the Kingsbridge road.  But that makes little difference.  'What's in a name?'

The north end of Berkeley Oval touches that road and many handsome residences face it further on.  The region fairly teems with historical mementos and legends, and were I writing a guide book a la Baedecker I could find material enough right there to fill a volume.  Our course takes us across Jerome avenue and through Kingsbridge road to and beyond the Fordham station of the Harlem Railroad.  Crossing the bridge over the tracks we are at the beginning of Pelham avenue, which some day will be put in good condition.  At this season of the year it is by no means bad for wheelmen, but in wet weather and in the winter it is advisable to avoid it.

In the village at Fordham we make a slight detour to get a glimpse and an occasional photograph of the wee cottage that sheltered Edgar Allen Poe half a century age.  The building is in a state of excellent preservation and is tenanted.  The adjoining modern dwellings are called the Poe Cottages and the natives call their residents poets.  A tin sign on the side of the old Poe house states that the weird author lived there from 1844 to 1849, and that now a dentist rules the roost.  All that, however, is a digression.


From the Fordham station to Bronxdale bridge we find a serviceable path rolled by cyclists on the loose dirt surface of Pelham avenue.  A short distance beyond the bridge we strike the Pelham parkway, which is destined to become one of the finest roads in this or any other country.  Its new macadamized pavement is completed except for a stretch of about a quarter of a mile.  That will be finished within the month.  It leads almost in a straight line to Pelham Bay and is a broad, smooth highway.  We pass Bronx Park on the way, and sometimes ride through the lower part of it.  It's well worth while to do so, as Bronx Park is singularly beautiful.  

Pelham Parkway passes the upper end of the Morris Park race track, which is quiet enough these days.  A few weeks ago some of our soldiers were encamped for a time on the meadows across the road from Morris Park, before moving to the front.  The road that crosses Pelham Parkway at the end of the Morris Park property is Williamsbridge road, and we turn right into that.  A half mile spin lands us at Woodmansten, where we stop to rest and lubricate.  Woodmansten was formerly the residence of Denton A. Pearsall, president of the Butchers and Drovers' Bank.

The coach 'Good Times,' which runs a daily trip from the Waldord-Astoria, except during the extreme hot weather, makes Woodmansten its terminus and adds a new color to the locality.  From there the Williamsbridge road continues on to Westchester, where we cross the creek and, taking the first road to the left, turn into Eastern Boulevard.  That takes us across the long iron bridge at East Chester Bay and leads into what is sometimes called the Pelham Bridge road.  That is the newly macadamized highway which follows the shore line as far as New Rochelle.


At Bartow the City Island road turns off to the right, crossing Rodman's Neck and the wood floored bridge to City Island.  We keep right on, passing Hunter's Island, and pause momentarily at Travers Island to drink the health of the Mercury Foot boys.  Two miles further on is New Rochelle, with its cable ferry to Glen Island, where the ancient windmill which was towed up from Orient, L. I., this spring flaps its spooky arms disdainfully at the battlements of Klein Deutschland.  That's just beyond the corporate limits of Greater New York, the line cutting through between Hunter's and Travers islands.

"View of the Sound from Travers Island, Summer Home
of the New York Athletic Club."
and Other Popular PointsThe New York Press, Jul. 31, 1898,
p. 18, cols. 3-7.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

To get to New Rochelle we turn left at the fountain in the road, and riding through Neptune Park turn right into the road that brings us into the Boston Post road.  From there on the Boston Post road, which is macadamized, takes us over the remainder of our journey to Portchester.  At Larchmont a turn to the right leads to the bay, on which the Larchmont Yacht Club's house stands, opposite to where the Hoboken Turtle Club held forth in its palmy days.  Those turtle breakfasts and turtle dinners were worth riding twice the distance for, and it was with high wheels over rough roads in those days, at that.

Mamaroneck, with its charming harbor, comes next, then Rye and finally Portchester.  The nature of the scenery along the route beggars description.  Wealthy land owners have added their strokes to the work of nature everywhere, making the country along the Sound beautiful.  There are a few hills to negotiate, none of which is irksome except on a particularly hot day.  In fair weather the ride is a round of joy from one end to the other.

W. O. E."

Source:  ALONG GOOD ROADS TO PORTCHESTER -- Cycling on the Upper Shore of the Sound -- CHARMS OF GREATER CITY -- Ideal Route to City Island, Travers Island, Larchmont, and Other Popular Points, The New York Press, Jul. 31, 1898, p. 18, cols. 3-7.

1898 Advertisement from Harper's Weekly
for 1899 Model of Keating Wheel Co. Bicycle
Popular at the Time. 

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