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The Early Days

by Joe Ward -- Semi-Official Club Historian

At the end of the last column I promised to tell about the 1897 ride that attracted 10,000 riders to Southern Parkway. I read about it in a 1950 clipping from the Courier-Journal, which unfortunately was short on detail. Said it happened in the summer of 1897. That was a long summer. I’ve been looking through it in microfilm, starting with May. I’m past the middle of July and haven’t come across the big procession yet, though I am confident I will. I’ll have to write about it later.

There is a lot of other interesting stuff in there, though. More on A.D. Ruff, for example. You will recall (from the last column) that “Pap” Ruff is the man to whom our Wheelmen’s Bench was dedicated, an Owingsville inventor of cycling accessories who died in 1896 leaving between $25,000 and $40,000, and no heirs. He left some to the Kentucky Division of the League of American Wheelmen, and I had concluded that the division used it to build the bench and his tombstone -- which is in Owingsville Cemetery and bears the old LAW logo.

The paper suggests more to the story. The Division -- which had 1,200 members in those days -- met in late June in Cynthiana, and adopted a plan for Ruff’s bequest, which was $1,000. Two hundred dollars would go for his tombstone, with another $100 from the division treasury. They’d use $800 for a “fountain” where wheelmen could slake their thirst and sit a spell “under the shade of forest trees.” It was to be built on a popular and scenic cycling road, and the pike between Maysville and Lexington was suggested. A drawing of the likely design showed a stone fountain about the size of a bathtub, on the open side of a semi-circular bench with large, finial-topped columns at each end.

League cyclists from Louisville went to Cynthiana that year (1897) expecting to elect one of their number state consul, which was the division’s top office. Some fast campaigning by a man from Covington won the job for that city, though, and some Louisvillians had their noses a little out of joint over that. But two riders from Louisville did get on the five-member committee for the fountain, and they were named to the location sub-committee. That’s all I’ve found so far, but I’m beginning to think they may steal this thing. More later.

I’ve seen mention so far of seven different clubs that were active in Louisville that summer, and found velodromes at Fontaine Ferry and “The Auditorium.” Stories in those old papers often are maddeningly lacking in such details as where things are. Everybody knew, I guess. But Andy Anderson, a noted cyclist who runs the photo archives at the University of Louisville, tells me The Auditorium was on the south side of Hill Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Across the street from the back side of Belgravia Court.

The Division itself held its annual Louisville Century ride on June 13 that year. It started downtown at 5 a.m., went out Broadway to Baxter and Bardstown Road, and on to Mt. Washington. The riders stopped there for breakfast. They went through Bloomfield to Bardstown where they had “dinner,” which I guessed meant lunch. From there it says they returned to Louisville, so I guess they went without supper. The 98 riders -- some of whom came from Paducah and Madisonville -- were divided into five divisions by ability. The paper noted that “A rider who starts in one of the first divisions and finds the pace too hot can drop back into one of the other divisions.” Tell me about it. Thirty-six finished within 14 hours and they all got their names in the paper.

It was very hot that summer, and in early July most of the bike shops on “Bicycle Row” -- which was not located for me, but which seems to have been in the general vicinity of 4th and Chestnut -- agreed to close down at 7 every night instead of the customary 9 or 10. Fifteen shops were named, and I gathered that wasn’t all of them. That same month, a Courier-Journal reporter stood on the corner of Fourth and Walnut -- now Muhammad Ali -- one work day morning and counted 2,836 commuting cyclists passing through the intersection in three hours. He described them in some detail. But, as I say, more about that later.

This article is part of a series about the history of the Louisville Bicycle Club (formerly the Louisville Wheelmen) by Joe Ward, a long-time club member. The series originally appeared in the club’s newsletters in 1988-1989.

Louisville Bicycle Club
P.O. Box 35541
Louisville, KY 40232-5541

Louisville Bicycle Cub
P.O. Box 35541
Louisville, KY 40232-5541

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