It finally feels like spring at the Scott County Historical Society. There’s a green tinge in the Stans Garden, and plans are underway for summer programs, festivals and fairs. I am particularly excited for a series of bike tours highlighting the environmental and social histories of Shakopee, Jordan and New Prague. In the process of preparing for these tours, I started digging into the two-wheeled history of Scott County
Biking has always been an essential summer pastime of Scott County. On October 26, 1893 the Scott County Argus front page boasted an editorial entitled “Riding A Wheel”. It begins “As in everything, a young girl has the best time of it in learning to ride a bicycle”. The piece goes on to describe the trials a young woman might endure in mastering a bike, but concludes with “It is better to depend on oneself than lean on the shifty arm of a man. For arms tire and become sorely aweary, but the will of a woman is the truest steel”.
A few years later the July 19th 1897 issue of the Argus published a scathing review of the public highway system written by the Farmers Union. It begins with “Not for many years has need for better country roads been felt so much”. It continues, “Road repairs may seem expensive under the most favorable of circumstances, but when the cost of cartage and the expense of future repairs are taken into account, the cost of road repairs now would probably be less expensive if choices are economically made”. The sentiment would not seem out of place today, except the farmers were not arguing for better roads for motorized vehicles. Instead, they wanted the country to expand highways for bikes.
On June 19th, 1900, William Hinds extoled the virtues of a new bike path from the Twin Cites to Shakopee, explaining that “With a good cycle path from the cities to this point we will see from fifty to two hundred riders from the cities here on every pleasant Sunday or Saturday afternoon, and the business of many firms, hotels, refreshment shops, soda water fountains and cycle shops will be largely increased in consequence”. He also said that the “The short run, fifty miles for the round trip, will serve to make it very popular for those who ride for pure and simple pleasure”. Bikes were so popular that on July 7th, 1897 it was published in the Argus that the State Agricultural Society declared that September 11th would be “Bike Day” in Minnesota.
In fact, in the Local and Personal page of a single issue of the Argus, June 17, 1987, the following messages were posted:
· Miss Mabel Peck entertained Misses Purdy and Loftus of Minneapolis Sunday, the young ladies made the journey on their bicycles.
· Misses Adelaide and Rosa Marks delight in the possession of a new bicycle of the Fleetwing make
· D.W. Pettit made the trip to and from Minneapolis by bicycle Sunday
· Bicycles for rent by the day or hour by EJ Gellenbeck
· Misses Annie and Lizzie Ries now in possession of a Fleetwing bicycle bought of JC Marx. The Fleetwing is the companion wheel of the Envoy line
· Mrs. D W Petit returned Monday by bicycle from a week’s visit to Minneapolis
Along the sides of that page are lines of advertisements, including two for different bicycles. It is clear that the introduction of bikes gave a new sense of freedom to residents of the area, especially women. Bikes were used to visit friends and family, travel into town, and opened up new possibilities for work and entertainment.
Today, bicycles are still important to Scott County. Shakopee alone boasts 80 miles of bike trails. You can still take a Sunday bike ride to the twin cities along the Minnesota LRT, Cedar Lake Trail and the Minnesota Greenway. If you are interested in joining us for summer bike tours, tickets are available now for our May tour of Shakopee. You can find more information at our website or at https://bit.ly/2oMtC6
Written by Rose James, Program Manager, Scott County Historical Society