Riders in bike race in 1897


by BRIAN NADIG

The Northwest Chicago Historical Society recently discovered an 1897 picture that shows an annual bike race from Wheeling to Chicago that went through the Jefferson Park commercial district.

Two of the four buildings in the picture still stand near the intersection of Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues, historical society researcher Frank Suerth said. ABI Insurance is located where the picture shows Borman’s Boots and Shoes at 4806 N. Milwaukee Ave., and Taqueria La Estrella now occupies the adjacent building at 4808 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The two buildings depicted on the far right side of the picture no longer exist. The U.S. Postal Service Annex, 4810 N. Milwaukee Ave, is now located on that site, which was once home to Annes Department Store.

Some of the spectators watched the race from a viewing stand in front of the shoe store, Suerth said. The society obtained a copy of the picture from a local business.

The “Great Memorial Day Race,” which was sponsored by the Associated Cycling Clubs, was first held in 1886. Participants began the race at a Wisconsin Central Railway station a mile west of the Wheeling Town Hall and traveled on Milwaukee Avenue through the suburbs.

he 25-mile race ended in Garfield Park.

At the time much of Milwaukee Avenue was still a dirt road, which in some areas was very narrow and filled with holes, Suerth said. “It was before cars, and the roads were not in very good condition,” Suerth said. “A lot of bicyclists fell and got bruised up.”

A newspaper account of the race reported that in Niles police had to order a horse and buggy to move because it was blocking the roadway, Suerth said.

At the time bike clubs were prevalent in the Chicago area, and a second race, which also started in Wheeling, was held on the same day in 1897, Suerth said. The Cook County Cyclist racers traveled along Elston Avenue as riders entered the city.

A photograph discovered by the Northwest Chicago Historical Society shows a bike race from Wheeling to Chicago that went through the Jefferson Park commercial district.
The racers are shown southbound on Milwaukee Avenue approaching Lawrence Avenue. Two of the four buildings in the picture remain.

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