Bicycles on Sidewalks: Rufus M. Cole and the laws of Glens Falls, NY.
We have a wide variety of collections, here at The Folklife Center. They vary by content, as well as size. Some of our collections contain 5,000 items, while others fill only a small archival box or two. We also have individual items that don't truly belong in a collection. Two such pieces of ephemera prompted today's post.
The bicycle craze of the late 1800's hit the villages of the North Country hard. Local business owners eager to capitalize on the trend began manufacturing bicycles, or selling accessories, everything from tires and parts, to shoes and fabric for women's bicycle skirts.
L.P. Juvet in Glens Falls even advertised special bicycling glasses to ease the strain on eye muscles "caused by riders looking ahead when their heads are down, forcing the eye balls up in a painful, unnatural position"!
By far, the biggest controversy was riding a bicycle on the sidewalks in Glens Falls and Sandy Hill (Hudson Falls). Laws were passed. Roads were fixed. Rain came & mud made those roads impassable. Articles were published.
The Morning Star (Glens Falls, New York), 31 Aug 1895, P 4
A WHEELMAN’S PLEA.
He Suggests That the Ordinance Respecting Bicycles Be Modified.
Editors of The Star: Would it not be well for the people of this village to understand some facts relative to bicycle riding on the sidewalks? I see that the trustees intend to enforce the bylaw, and the officers have made some arrests. Therefore a discussion of the question seems very proper at this time. Let me state at the outset that, although a bicycle rider, I do not think they should be allowed on the sidewalks generally, or without some restriction. I have formed this conclusion because there are a few riders who abuse the privilege, and actually endanger pedestrians by riding too fast, and at places where the side walk is crowded. It may be difficult to regulate the riding of bicycles on sidewalks, but I believe it can be done, and… should be done...roadways of the village are put in condition so that bicycles can be used on them. It is a fact that riders generally prefer to ride on the roadway if it is in a condition to do so.
I understand that one of the persons arrested on Thursday was riding on a sidewalk on Maple street. This street has just been put in good condition at an expenditure of a large sum of money, but the fact is that after the comparatively slight rain of Tuesday night, the roadway on Wednesday was almost impassable for a bicycle. There was an inch or two of soft slippery mud, which is not only disagreeable to ride in, but is actually unsafe, and unless the rider is expert and very careful he will soon find himself in the mud.
If a road is blockaded or obstructed, it is not considered a crime for which the driver should be arrested if he proceeds on the sidewalk with his horse and carriage. Neither do the trustees give instructions to prevent the passage of delivery carts, baby carriages, etc. upon the sidewalks. Surely these come under the definition of a “vehicle” as much as bicycles do, and certainly they take more room than the bicycle.
The limits of the corporation are far removed from the business portion of the village. Near the borders of the village on most of the thoroughfares it is sparsely settled, and the liability of accidents would be very small. Under proper regulations as to speed and turning out for foot passengers, there certainly could be no harm done to permit bicycles on sidewalks in the outlying districts of the village. It is there that the roads are generally in the worst condition. But the wheelman and wheelwomen must keep in the sand and mud until they get to the railroad on Warren street, the Terra Cotta works on Ridge, above Halfway broo on Bay, the toll gate on Glen, and nearly to Goodspeedville and the Feeder Dam on streets leading in the westerly direction. In other words, with the present ordinance enforced, as it is claimed it will be, even with the streets improved, as is being done at present, bicycle riding about the village will be confined to a comparatively few days of pleasant weather.
The bicycle riders of the village should have some rights. They pay taxes. If they choose to own a bicycle instead of a horse, they are entitled to some consideration. Employees in the factories, mills, etc., are enabled by the use of the wheel to obtain a warm dinner at home, and its uses and benefits are multiplying so that it is a necessity. The owners have a right to ask and expect to have something done to the streets that will be of some benefit to them. But in the meantime the ordinance as to sidewalks should be modified. The strict reading of the ordinance forbids the “leading” of the wheel along the sidewalk. It reads as follows: “The riding, driving or leading of any cow, horse, team, carriage or other vehicle upon any of the sidewalks,” etc.
Let the trustees make an ordinance permitting a reasonable use of bicycles and most of the riders will befound [sic] trying to uphold the law instead of violating it. But as the ordinance now reads, the use of the bicycle is impracticable in many parts of the village.
The above article could very well have bee written by druggist & wheelman, Rufus M. Cole. Born in Kingsbury, Washington County, NY on December 7, 1863 to Hiram & Esther (nee Holley) Cole, Rufus was the eldest of three. Sister Ann was born in 1868, and brother Daniel in 1873. In the 1880 census he was living with his family on Hudson Place in Sandy Hill, & working as a jeweler's apprentice. In a May 5, 1886 article he attends a dance with "a lady". On September 2, 1886 he married Harriet, daughter of Gardner S. and M. Jane (nee Bosworth) Cutting of Fort Edward.
Rufus and Harriet perform in local theatricals, and play in whist tournaments. They were active in the Fort Edward Whist Club and the Order of the Eastern Star. Rufus was a member of the Glens Falls Council, Royal Arcanum, and secretary of the Athletics Association of Sandy Hill. In November of 1890, Rufus leaves his position at Flood's in Sandy Hill, & become prescription clerk at City Drug in Glens Falls. By 1894, he is advertising under his own name, R.M. Cole at 116 Glen St. Glens Falls (now 164 Glen St. where Raul's Mexican Grill is currently located).
In the summer of 1895, Rufus, Harriet, and their children, Esther (7) & Frank (5) were living at 8 Birch Avenue (now 14 Birch Ave) in Glens Falls. Cycling to & from the drug store was a fairly straight 3/4 of a mile down Glen St. In fair weather, with no muddy (or frozen) ruts to maneuver around, it was probably quite pleasant. But, as the Wheelman article states, if "an inch or two of soft slippery mud, which is not only disagreeable to ride in, but is actually unsafe,... the rider... will soon find himself in the mud."
It appears the trustees of the (then) village of Glens Falls took the Wheelman article & other complaints under advisement and began issuing permits for carful wheelman & wheelwomen to ride on the sidewalks, provided they follow the guidelines. Rufus M. Cole was issued one such permit on October 21, 1895, the day before the death of his son Frank.
Unfortunately, Rufus did not fully recover from the grief of loosing young Frank on October 22, & Esther on November 10, 1895. He & Harriet went to health resorts in North Carolina for Rufus' health, & it was there that he died on November 22, 1900. Harriet travelled north with the body & Rufus was laid to rest in the family plot in Union Cemetery, Fort Edward near his children & parents. Local druggists closed their stores to attend Rufus' funeral.
Harriet E. Cole eventually remarried in 1915 at 53 years old. She died July 1, 1948, & was buried in Glens Falls Cemetery near her second husband, F. Beecher Mead.
N. R. Gourley, Clerk on the Committee on Bicycling in 1895 was Norman R. Gourley (1864-1954). He was listed in the 1895 Glens Falls City Directory as a special agent for the Glens Falls Insurance Company, & lived at 85 Bay St (the brick house next to O'Brien Insurance now) with his widowed mother Margaret, and sister Martha. He married Lilla (1876-1945) around 1888, and they had one daughter, also called Lilla. The Gourley's were buried in Pine View Cemetery in Queensbury, NY.
I also consulted the Crandall Public Library Photograph Collection, 1863-2000, Glens Falls City Directories, Warren County cemetery indexes, the "Cole" bibliographic file, & the Sports- Miscellaneous file all held in the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.
Tisha Dolton is Librarian/Historian at The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY. Her areas of interest are suffrage music, suffragists of Warren and Washington Counties, local women and minority populations, and embroidery.