1895: The Debut of a Facility for Bicyclists in Virginia

November 4, 1895

At a time when bicycling had reached unprecedented levels of popularity throughout the United States, a facility for devotees of that transportation mode was opened in the vicinity of Richmond, Virginia. The official dedication of the Lakeside Wheel Club, a one-story structure located approximately five miles (8.1 kilometers) north of Virginia’s state capital, took place on a Monday evening two days after those festivities – including a lavish banquet — were postponed due to inclement weather. Many of the new facility’s charter members pedaled from Richmond to attend the event.

“Quite a large proportion of the membership went out to the club-house in the afternoon on their wheels about 5 o’clock, and other rode out later in the evening,” reported the next day’s edition of the Richmond Dispatch. “Over a hundred members in all attended, and the evening was spent in a delightful manner.”

The Lakeside Wheel Club was built by Richmond businessman Lewis Ginter on 10-acre (4.1-hectare) property that he owned and had once belonged to 18th century statesman and orator Patrick Henry. With such amenities as a bowling alley and a drawing-room buffet, the facility became a popular gathering spot for area bicyclists. They also used the Lakeside Wheel Club extensively for dances and awards ceremonies that were held after local bicycle races. About a year after the Lakeside Wheel Club opened, its members were able to get there from Richmond a lot faster thanks to a new bicycle trail that was paved with smoothly packed cinders.

The Lakeside Wheel Club served as a cultural touchstone for many bicyclists in that region of Virginia and reflected the red-hot nationwide enthusiasm for bicycles at that time. By the early years of the 20th century, however, the facility ceased functioning as a meeting place for bicyclists. It was instead remodeled sometime around 1911 by Grace Arents, a niece of Ginter (who had passed away in 1897), as a convalescent home for children. As part of that remodeling, a second story was added to the structure.

This convalescent home remained in operation for only a couple of years before the support service it provided were taken over by the newly established Instructional Visiting Nurses Association. Arents then converted the one-time Lakeside Wheel Club into a home for herself and her companion Mary Garland Smith. Arents renamed the place Bloemendaal as a tribute to the Ginter family’s Dutch ancestors. (Bloemendaal is the Dutch phrase for “valley of flowers.”) Arents, who passed away in 1926, left the property to the city of Richmond with the condition that – after Smith’s death – it would be developed into a botanical garden in memory of Lewis Ginter.

After Smith died in 1968, the city of Richmond took possession of the property. The Bloemendaal House remains intact there as part of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. (The above picture of the house was taken in 2013.)

Photo Credit: Barbara Hobbs (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

For more information on the Lakeside Wheel Club (the present-day Bloemendaal House), please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakeside_Wheel_Club

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