Focus on Fostoria - Nov0605

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Published on 11/06/05 in the Fostoria Focus
When Fostoria was a two-wheeling wonder

By LEONARD SKONECKI Focus Correspondent

You’re wondering why I was examining the Toledo Daily Blade of 1894. It’s like this. Phone rings. Two o’clock in the morning. Focus manager Siobhan Gatrell is on the other end. “Leonard, did I wake you up?”
“No, Siobhan, I had to answer the phone anyhow.”
“Good. Listen, we need more local history stories.”
“Sorry, Siobhan, I’ve written everything there is on Fostoria history. There ain’t no more.” “Leonard, our readers are desperate for local history. You sure you’ve looked everywhere?” “Well,” I confessed, “I haven’t tried the 1894 Toledo Blade yet.” “Terrific,” says Siobhan, her voice full of relief. “Let me know what you find.”
That’s how I came to eyeballing the 1894 Blade and here’s what popped up in the Aug. 27 edition.
“FOSTORIA’S BICYCLE CLUB Will Hold Grand Meet on the Grounds.”
Fostoria hosted a 10-race program on Sept. 12, 1894. Prizes ranged from $6 to $600. Bicyclists from all over northern Ohio converged on the Northwest Ohio Fairgrounds in Fostoria’s south end. Toledo, Findlay, Longley, Wauseon, Cygnet, Ashland, Bloomdale, Freeport, Prairie Depot and Tiffin were all represented. Heck, fella’ name of Calahan came all the way from Cleveland.
The fairgrounds were bounded by Lytle Street on the north, Hissong Avenue on the south, Poplar Street on the west and the C&O on the east.
Needless to say, I inspected the Fostoria papers to check this out.
The Northwest Ohio Fair had just concluded. The fair was held in Fostoria each September from 1886 to 1896. On Sept. 6, 1894, 15,000 people attended the fair.
The 40-acre fairgrounds had a race track that was used for horse racing and now would be prepared for bicycle racing.
By Sept. 10, the Fostoria Daily Times said over 200 racers were on the entry list. Some of the races had over 50 participants.
The races were run under the sanction of the League of American Wheelmen, which still exists, and hosted by the Fostoria Bicycle Club.
The Fostoria Bicycle Club elected new officers just three weeks earlier. The club organized rides in the countryside and had been around since at least 1887.
D.F. Berrenger was club president. Vice President C.A. Van Blarcum was a timer. Secretary-Treasurer David Ballmer worked at Alcott Hardware. First Lieutenant Robert Ruse was a tobacconist.
Three Mergenthalers — Andrew, Charles and W.H. — were active members. Andrew was the assistant cashier at First National Bank. Charles was a jeweler. W.H. ran the Fostoria Buggy Co.
The club spawned a sister organization, the Harrison and Morton Bicycle Club. This was a group of cyclists who supported the 1888 Republican presidential ticket of Benjamin Harrison and Levi Morton.
They attended political rallies in the area. They rode in parades wearing their white duck suits and helmets and carrying flaming torches. On the evening of Sept. 10, the Fostoria Bicycle Club put on a parade featuring some 100 bicyclists. They pedaled from East Tiffin Street to Main, and north to Perry where they turned around and rode back.
Some riders carried roman candles and torches. A group of women marched at the head of the parade. The Daily Times said a “large crowd thronged the sidewalks” to watch.
Race day dawned nice and bright with a cool breeze blowing from the southeast. Admission to the races was 25 cents. The 9th Regimental Band entertained the gathering crowd.
And a robust crowd it was — 2,000 people turned out to witness the action. The first race was a one-mile “novice race,” open to inexperienced riders. It was the high water mark for Fostoria’s riders. B.A. Hartshorn, a pressman at Gray Printing, finished third behind two Toledo racers.
The races ranged from a quarter-mile to two miles. One feature was a one-mile speed exhibition by Toledo’s F.B. Rigby.
Bicycle racing must have been held at the fairground track previously because interest centered on whether Rigby could break the track’s one-mile record of 2 minutes, 14 ¼ seconds. Rigby gave it a good shot, but fell just shy, finishing in 2 minutes, 16 seconds.
C.E. Hollopeter of Fostoria finished fourth in the two-mile race.
One race was limited to members of the Fostoria Bicycle Club to crown a club champion. Lewis Sprout won that one. There was a boys race. Conrad Funfrock Jr., whose dad owned a saloon on East Tiffin Street, finished last in a field of four.
After digesting all this, I went back to the Blade to see if it carried the results of the races. Sure enough on Sept. 13, it did.
According to the Blade, the final number of racers topped 300. It also praised the fairgrounds — “The track was in splendid condition.”
A good day in Fostoria history and I just wonder if all that bicycling didn’t help Charles Foster become US Treasury Secretary. After all, Benjamin Harrison won the 1888 election.
Harrison doubtless realized that the Harrison and Morton Bicycle Club was the decisive factor in his victory. I’d bet Harrison was so grateful, he offered Foster the job of Treasury secretary, which Calico held in 1891-92.
Foster probably figured, “I better take the job and get out of town or those guys will have me wearing a helmet and carrying a torch on a bicycle.”
Hey, you never know. It might have happened like that.