Since today is National Bike-to-Work day (this week has also been Bike-to-Work week), and since this upcoming week will be spent discussing the Indianapolis 500, whose founders got started in the bicycle industry, here we look at biking around Indianapolis at the turn of the 20th Century.

Here are some interesting excerpts from an 1899 map from the IUPUI Historic Map Collection titled “Bicycle and Driving Map of Indianapolis” (see the whole map here).

Canal trail

This shows the area from 30th Street to 38th and includes the “Bicycle Toll Path to Broad Ripple”. Yes, in 1899 there was a toll for taking what is now the Central Canal Towpath trail, showing how popular bicycling was at the time. Cyclists would pay to ride on a good well-maintained graveled trail, especially considering that the roads to Broad Ripple were not paved at the time.

The following photos from various editions of Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis show the canal bicycling trail. It really doesn’t look much different than today’s trail, other than the boat in the canal!





As well as the canal trail, there were other cycling trails around the city, including this one, as seen in the 1907 Handbook. The path is not shown on the 1899 map, so it may have been built after that. It likely followed Fall Creek near Millersville Road (labeled “Millersville Free Gravel Road on the map).


Additionally, as seen on the map key, locations of drinking fountains and paved (probably with brick, though gravel may have also counted as “paved”) streets were shown on the map. It is now interesting to see number of streets not shown as paved even close to the downtown area.



Finally, here is an excerpt of the map showing the location of “Newby Oval”, a wooden cycling track built in 1898 by a group lead by Arthur Newby (and designed by local architect of note Herbert Foltz). The track was located just north of 31st Street, between Central Ave and Fall Creek. We will discuss Newby in more detail later this week, but, in short, after his experience building the Newby Oval, he moved on to faster racing–as part of the financial team constructing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a decade later…


4 responses to “Biking Indianapolis, 1899”

  1. Molly Head says:

    Wonderful article; we are linking to this page on the Hoosier History Live! website; upcoming show about Major Taylor.

  2. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Thanks, Molly! Great topic!

  3. Brenda Havens says:

    Do you have any information on the “Businessmen Driving” oval below the cycling oval? Someone said it was to learn to drive a car…

  4. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    The Businessmen’s Driving oval was for horse racing.

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