Note: I’m kicking off a 6-day bike tour in France today! Enjoy this transcribed historical report of a ride from the 1890′s from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.
Everyone Tries The Ride
From Baltimore to the Capital On a Wheel
Some Very Noted Country
Roads in Places Are Not the Best in the Country – Something About Howard County and the Man it is Named After – The Duels That Took Place at Bladensburg
There is no ride in this vicinity that is taken so often as the run to Baltimore and return. It is the first long journey that the beginner takes on his wheel and he always feels like a rider after his first successful trip.
The ride from the Monumental City to the Capital has been made lately by a gentleman who is not so accustomed to its beauties as are the Washington boys and girls. This is the way he describes it:
Two roads lead from Baltimore to Ellicott City, the first objective point on the route to Washington. Frederick road, out Baltimore Street, and old Frederick road, practically the continuation of Edmondson avenue.
Under ordinary conditions the latter is the better of the two; in very bad weather the former is preferable; and as a general thing a combination of both is used as followeth:
Get some friendly cyclist, their name is [illegible] to show you the smoothest way to the intersection of Fulton and Edmondson avenues from whatever part of the city you happen to be in. The corner we shall make our starting point, please, and will reckon our mileage from it.
To the unaccustomed to Maryland roads the prospect is not very cheering, but never mind, its bound to improve by and by.
Crossing the Falls
We reach Gwynn’s Falls, the streams hereabouts have been called “Falls” ever since Gov. Smith of Virginia first explored Chesapeake Bay and thus designated them, doubtless on account of their numerous cascades, almost 300 years ago.
The hills we don’t mind, but Edmondson avenue might easily be somewhat less rugged and things are not much better when it merges into old Frederick Road two and three-quarter miles from start.
This old time thoroughfare was the great highway from Baltimore to Frederick and with the exception of the road from Frederick to Annapolis, it was the only one in this section available for wheeled vehicles up to the time of the revolution. Frederick is only sixteen years younger than Baltimore and when it was laid out in 1715 the great city at the mouth of the Patapsco occupied a tract of exactly sixty acres on the west side of Jones’ falls.
[illegible] of a mile further a neat little road tempts us away from the old pike; it has been usual to leave the pike a mile farther and turn towards Catonsville via Ingleside Road. Let us see what this new turn is like. It proves very good and leads us to a trolley track which we follow for another three-quarters of a mile; there we cross it, turn onto Nunnery Lane and a quarter of a mile brings us to Frederick Road at Paradise.
You must not be too fastidious, see how easy, after all, we climb up to Catonsville (6 mi) and down and up again until a long down grade takes us to the Patapsco (or Bolus River as Capt. Smith named it on account of the red clay resembling bole armoniac which he found on its banks) and we enter Howard County.
Into Howard County
“Howard” recalls one of Marylands noblest sons, John Eager Howard, one of the first to offer his services to the committee of safety on approach of our Revolutionary struggle, and subsequently named by Washington as one of his brigadiers-general.
The grand old man had lost none of his vigor and patriotism when the second war with England broke out and when, after the British had captured and destroyed the city of Washington in 1814, it was suggested that Baltimore might do well and capitulate, he went on record as saying that he had as much property at stake as most people and four sons of his were in the field, but he would rather see his sons weltering in their blood and his property reduced to ashes than so far disgrace his country as to capitulate to the enemy. Whereupon he raised a corps of aged men and led them to the field himself.
It was of him that Gen. Nathaniel Greene said “He deserves a statue of gold no less than Roman and Grecian heroes.”
And the picturesque town we climb into on the other side of the river is the county seat of Howard county, Ellicott City.
The father of Joseph, Andrew and John Ellicott, whose mill was the first nucleus of this place in 1772, had settled in Bucks County, Pa., in 1730. The sons proved not only the founders, but the munificent benefactors of this section.
At the fork opposite Howard House (10 m.) you may as well dismount and take a leisurely look about you; straight on for Frederick: we bear for Columbia. That solitary stone house, conspicuous on that bluff, is a Quaker school house; farther back, that substantial group of modern buildings is Rockhill College. When we reach the brow of the hill, turn back and take in the panorama of this striking locality.
Three miles ahead, the name “Columbia postoffice” greets us, landed on an antiquated structure.
The turn is the old Annapolis road; straight on is the Columbia road to the District of Columbia. The necessities of the case compel us to take the circuitous route by the way of Clarksville. Hilly and decidedly rough is our clayey, stoney road at this time.
It continues the same to Clarksville (20 m.). Before James Clark started a hotel here seventy-six years ago and gave his name to the locality, the crossroad was known far and near as the home of Jack Howard, the colored blacksmith , then whom there were fewer greater celebrities in the country.
No change for the better must be looked for toward Highland, formerly Wells’ Crossroads, and here we strike the worst four miles between Baltimore and Washington.
Ride cautiously down the long hill to Snell’s Bridge, on the Patuxent River, and let the thought that you have only two and one-half miles more of this lose sand to help you on to Ashton.
This Ashton (26 m.) is a tiny place that could not support a regular hotel. If, however, you found it desirable to make a pause take the left road at the fork and go and knock at the last house in the hamlet on your right hand. Mrs. Abell is a great favorite with the Washington wheelmen, and the inside of her little home is not to be judged by its external appearance.
We take that road at the fork anyway, for the branch, which goes round to Colesville by Sandy Spring, is neither so direct nor so good.
Indeed, south of Ashton riding seems so easy after our recent experience, that we almost pass by the log house that does duty as Endor postoffice (less than two miles from Ashton) without noticing it, and we reach Colesville thirty-two and one-half miles in no time.
And we seem to be going down grade all the time, too, and things in general appear so much brighter.
At White Oak (thirty-four miles) out road takes a pronounced bend to the southwest; the other side of Burnt Mills a long hill awaits us, but the roadbed is good, and we never stop till we climb up to Four corners, where we find that Rockville is on our right and Bladensburg on our left.
You have read of the unfortunate engagement we had with the British at Bladensburg in 1814; did you ever hear what a famous place is used to be for duels?
Right there, on the Maryland side of the boundary line, between it and the District of Columbia, close to the Washington road, was a secluded grove where it was the correct thing to settle “affairs of honor”
In The District
At Sligo, thirty-nine miles, we are joined by the Rockville road. We pass Silver Springs station and cross the line into the District of Columbia.
When we reach Brightwood postoffice, fourty-one and one-half miles, we may keep straight on and enter Washington by Seventh Street.
Rather take the right fork and see what a beautiful road will bring you past the Brightwood Driving Club and though lovely woods into Fourteenth Street.
At the intersection of the latter with Park Avenue, fourty-four miles, you are initiated to the smooth asphalt pavement and the wide thoroughfares that make Washington a veritable cyclers’ paradise.
Keep straight on along the said Fourteenth street for a couple of miles, and fourty-six miles from our start in Baltimore you strike Pennsylvania Avenue, within a stone’s throw of the White House, the Treasury and the War, State and Navy building.