It’s National Bike Month again, and it so happens that Albert B. Barkman’s Road-Book of Long Island (1886) recently crossed our path. It’s an unassuming book at best, but like a great deal of our collections, when given a dose of context it turns out to be an interesting little piece of bicycling and mapmaking history.
The Road-Book contains a multitude of information for cycling around New York City, or as its extended title suggests, the “best riding of New York and New Jersey, within fifty miles of New York City.” It comes with helpful advice, routes, advertisements, and maps, all for the benefit of a burgeoning population of riders at the dawn of bicycle’s golden age. An added perk is a foldout with three larger maps showing routes in Brooklyn, Long Island and the Oranges. Yes, that’s right — Oranges — as in Essex County, New Jersey. Geographically, they might seem a stretch as a match for Brooklyn and Long Island, but as it turns out the Oranges served as a starting point for many of the book’s westward routes.
Despite a river and some 15 or so miles to cover, the ferry and an existing rail line shrank the length of the trip. As a result, not only had the railroad played a pivotal role in attracting wealthy New Yorkers to build homes in the Oranges, and nearby Montclair, but it would lure New York riders to the area as well. While some cycled the whole way, many simply hopped aboard a train in New York and, via Newark, arrived in Montclair and the Oranges ready to ride. The railroad’s popularity in conveying riders also provided justification for depicting rail lines on bicycle maps.
As a whole, Barkman’s guide itself offers a dizzying number of rides, with extensive information about each step of the way. They record towns (some of which no longer in existence) and landmarks passed through as well as distances, terrains, road conditions, and accommodations for those out for longer than a day excursion. The maps themselves were also significant in a very particular way. Since the condition or type or road is an important detail for any cyclist choosing a route, according to David Yehling Allen, bicycles became a motivating factor in the mapmaking convention of noting what kind of road surfaces riders would encounter — e.g., gravel or loam, block pavement, cobbles or macadam. (The Road Book shows that some Long Island roads were even paved with crushed shells.)
Complementing the Road Book very nicely are the bicycling diaries (1892-1896) of Arthur P. S. Hyde, an army captain and avid cyclist from New York. His entries detail the route of each ride, including the towns through which he passed, noteworthy scenery or landmarks, and on longer trips, the hotels and inns at which he lodged.
As proof of the important relationship between trains and cyclists, many of Hyde’s longer rides begin with a train trip. His notes reveal the impressive extent of his travels as well, taking him as far west as Port Jervis and as far north as Amenia, NY with extensive riding all over the metropolitan area. His tabulated riding distances offer numerical confirmation of his passion for the sport: in May of 1896 he logged a staggering 708 miles!