Cycling Through History

The following is a guest post by North Portlander, Dan Haneckow. Dan writes a blog about Portland history called Cafe Unknown. He lives in the Overlook Neighborhood and is a supporter of npGREENWAY.

Barbara Bartlett Hartwell liked to look back. From 1959 to 1967 she delivered a series of lectures on the vanished Portland of her childhood at the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a time she described as an “… Indian summer of leisure, freedom from global worry, elegance, manners, that died with Edward VII.” In 1975 her reminiscences were collected in a limited edition booklet, Sprigs of Rosemary, published by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Oregon.

In it she describes an upper-class life of mahogany paneled parlors, calling cards and society balls held in the grand Victorian mansions clustered around Nineteenth Street in northwest Portland. But not all of her recollections took place indoors:

“In addition to culture, we achieved transportation. First there was the horse car, then the cable car, and at last the electric trolley; then when we knew we’d gone as far as it was possible to go, until the bicycle took the world by storm, and ladies in bicycle skirts, which were regarded as daring as later miniskirts, whirled along special bicycle paths over to Piedmont and up the Willamette.”

It is a rare look at Portland’s cycling boom of the 1890s when most of the city took to two wheels. Demand was so great that one merchant, Fred T. Merrill, sold 8,850 bicycles in Portland in 1898 alone, with the largest bike dealership west of the Mississippi.

Of interest to supporters of npGREENWAY, Hartwell looks back to when a network of bicycle trails crossed what was then called the Peninsula. The “special bike paths” she refers to were common in Portland during the boom years, many are said to have become automobile roads at a later date. The path to the new Piedmont neighborhood was one of the most popular in the city. “Up the Willamette” likely refers to a trail along the bluff, analogous to today’s Willamette Blvd, as the Mock’s Bottom lowlands were swampy or submerged entirely.

Barbara Bartlett Hartwell’s description is all too short, but she provides a fleeting glimpse of North Portland before automobiles dominated what few roads existed, and reminds us that projects such as npGREENWAY and Sunday Parkways have deep roots in Portland’s past.

We welcome guest articles for the npGREENWAY blog. If you have something you would like to share, send an e-mail to

, , , , , , ,

One Response to Cycling Through History

  1. dyana August 17, 2009 at 9:54 am #

    Good post…..

    Every one should read this ….
    thanks for sharin with us……


    Online Marketing of your brand

Website by Waterlink Web // connecting your customers with you