by Shannon Butler

If you are anything like the majority of Americans, you probably tried a few new things to occupy your time during the past year and a half (thanks to the pandemic). One of the biggest trends was cycling. In fact, research shows that over $4.1 billion in bike sales occurred between January and October of 2020, a 62% increase from the previous year! There was a time in the late 19th century when a similar bike craze took hold, and a club was formed right here in Poughkeepsie that grew quickly, but ultimately faded away just as fast.

The year was 1887, and bicycles were quickly taking over the streets. A group of 20 passionate wheelmen (the name given to cyclists at the time) founded the Poughkeepsie Bicycle Club on February 3rd, 1887, and began holding meetings in the Pardee building on Main Street. At the time, the roads were mostly filled with horses and carriages, and just a tad on the messy side, as they were mostly unpaved dirt roads (or worse, bumpy cobblestone!). Just a few years later, the club moved into new headquarters on Catherine Street, and the Poughkeepsie Eagle News was always sure to mention when the club was having an open house in order to show off their “elegant rooms.”

By 1892 the club’s membership had tripled to 62 and they clearly had money to spend. They purchased a grand house near Mansion Square that had once belonged to General T.L. Davies and B. Platt Carpenter, supposedly spending around $15,000. In June of 1892 there was talk in the papers about the club’s plans for the house, stating “we do not know the exact distance around Mansion Square park, but no doubt when the Poughkeepsie Bicycle Club get into its new headquarters there will be many improvised races around the square.” When the club finally opened their new clubhouse in August of 1892, they had furnished the beautiful old mansion “from cellar to attic in the most sumptuous manner.” The basement of the mansion would serve as the “wheel room,” where the cyclists could store and work on their bikes. The house also had several private quarters for visiting cyclists, as well as a billiards room and music room (where they hired musicians to come and perform!)

The bicycle craze continued to grow. The city of Poughkeepsie had only 15 bicycles in 1882, but by 1897, there were over 4,000 (in a time when the population of the city was about 25,000). There were 7 different bicycle dealers that sold 27 different makes of bikes, and some of them even customized fancy nickel-plated bikes for those who could afford it. The club was known for their races at the old Hudson River Driving park on Hooker Ave. (seen in map on the right). They also held “Moonlight excursions” where they would hop onto the steamboat “The Mary Powell” and sail to Kingston and back on a lovely evening cruise. Their century rides (where you ride for 100 miles straight) were legendary, and some of the well known businessmen of the city would rack up as many as 3,000 miles in a year.

However, there would be a gradual decline of enthusiasm by the late 1890s. In 1897, it appears that the club left their mansion and rented rooms back in the Pardee building where they had all started. They made one final move to Market street in 1903 before slowly becoming extinct. The old house on Mansion Street was sold several times and became apartments by the 1920s. In 1940 the house was sold to developers who wanted to build a six story apartment complex. The house was torn down sometime in the 1940’s, but the apartments were never built. Today it is only a parking lot and a distant memory.

Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, 03 Feb 1887, 01 Jan 1890, 31 Mar 1892, 30 Apr 1892, 05 Aug 1892, 12 Mar 1898, 18 May 1940
Poughkeepsie Journal, 22 May 1949, 22 May 1960

01 – Image of the Clubhouse on Mansion Square; formerly the home of Thomas L. Davies. 176-178 Mansion Street. – LH Collections
02 – A man identified as “Lou Bailey,” who rode a Pierce-Arrow bike to Albany, just outside the house on Mansion Street. – LH Collections
03 – Members of the Poughkeepsie Bicycle Club as relay riders for the World’s Fair, May 1st, 1893. – LH Collections
04 – Map showing the Hudson River Driving club grounds and off to the upper left, the area where the house on Mansion Street was located.