Bicycling in Hartford

Ladies Cycle Club of Hartford, Fall 1890

Hartford has a long history of bicycling, both that of its citizens riding and of manufacturing. To celebrate National Bike Month I thought we would take a look at some of the bicycling related manuscripts in the CHS collections.

Colt Bicycle Club

Colt bicycle club records, 1890-1896, Ms 56356. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

At the meeting of the Colt Bicycle Club on February 29, 1892, uniforms were on the agenda. Mr. Burch,  reporting for the Uniform Committee, announced the recommendation of a sample from Hartford’s Brown and Thompson department store. The committee consulted with tailors and the club suit, coat and pants only, would cost approximately $10.00 to $13.50. Not everyone was thrilled with this idea, since some members already had decent suits. Another committee was formed to find out how many would in fact purchase new suits. Whether to have a cap and sweater as part of the uniform was also discussed. Including those would raise the price to at least $21.50. Still, some wanted to have a sweater, and it was decided that question would be asked along with whether members would be purchasing a suit at all.  At a special meeting held on March 21, it was reported that 38 members were interested in new suits, without a sweater, and at a cost of no more than $20.

The club was organized in 1890, though the minutes we have only cover 1892 to 1896. All of the minutes are handwritten, and some are on official club stationary. The Colt club was not the only one in Hartford.  Scanning through the records, the Columbia Club is mentioned several times, including this instance on August 29, 1892:

Colt bicycle club records, 1890-1896, Ms 56356. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Colt bicycle club records, 1890-1896, Ms 56356. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

We still have bicycling clubs in the area. Hopefully a black list isn’t necessary!

Repairs and Service
Another commonality between cycling a century ago and cycling today is the need to repair bicycles.  The account book of a repair shop in the Mystic, Connecticut area listed charges for tires, handlebars, saddles, bells, and other accessories. A sheet found within the account book demonstrates that the shop purchased tires and other items from from Hartford’s Pope Manufacturing Company.

Bicycle repair shop account book, 1899-1900, Ms 95329. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

As found in Bicycle repair shop account book, 1899-1900, Ms 95329. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Lastly, Columbia Sales Department of the American Bicycle Company (owned by Col. Pope) was anxious to please their customers. Clarence Stirling, according to the 1900 United States Census, was an electrician. When it was necessary for American Bicycle to adjust a repair bill, they sent a typed letter to his workplace in the Courant Building.

American Bicycle Company letter, 1901 August 5, Ms 64029. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

In addition to our manuscripts, we also have a number of bicycling related photographs in our collections. Many of these may be viewed on Connecticut History Online. The manuscripts shown above are all open for research. Ride your bike over and visit.

This season several of our CHS employees are participating in the National Bike Challenge. If you are one of our volunteers or interns, feel free to join the History Nuts team!

Civil War Substitutes

During the Civil War, men in certain states, who did not want to fight, were able to pay for a substitute. This is what F. Bill, a Connecticut resident, had in mind when he wrote home to H.C. Holmes.

(Click the above images to enlarge)

Bill was writing from Cleveland, Ohio. He intended to buy a substitute there, and bring the person with him back to Connecticut. The laws of Ohio, however, aimed to prevent this. To avoid trouble, Bill was also contemplating finding his substitute in Buffalo, New York. He had heard it was easier to find an alien (non-citizen) there.

How did Bill fare? We do not know. The collection contains only the one letter. H. C. Holmes seems to be Hiram C. Holmes, of Stonington, Connecticut. A collection of his papers is held by the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport. In the finding aid, F. Bill is listed as one of Holmes’ correspondents.

Below is a transcript of the letter.

                   Cleveland Aug 2, ’64
H.C. Holmes
Dr Bro,
Yours of the 30th ult
Is received, I am glad you
wrote me of the vote at town
meeting as it will make some
diff- with the price I pay for
sub- I shall get one to take
home with me if I can at a
reasonable price. The difficulty
is to get them East. Can get
plenty here at from $500 to
$700_ I can procure colored
subs lowest I think. I shall
if can make arrangements to
bring East several subs if can
avoid breaking state laws +
getting caught
. They are
taking them from this state

to York state, thus violating law
of O. I must see what can
be done here- + may stop
in Buffalo, as I understand
aliens are obtained
there at more reasonable
rates than in this place +
it is nearer Ct_ Do I
understand that they are
paying $700 in addition
to town + state bounties_
Wish you would write
me if so.
Yours truly
F. Bill