whimsy (lord_whimsy) wrote in nj_pine_barrens,


Central and Southern New Jersey is rich in unusual history. Not 15 minutes from my tulip-laden bungalow was once the setting of a series of delightful enterprises and the home of some unusual personalities: Smithville.

(Photo from Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey, by Henry Charlton Beck, 1936.)

The Bicycle Railroad and Its Inventor, Arthur Hotchkiss.

A remnant of the railroad still remains in Smithville.

Above: The Suspended Monorail Bicycle. These gentlemen are riding on what is now identified as the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railway, which ran from Mount Holly to Smithville in New Jersey. It was invented by Arthur E Hotchkiss, and built in 1892. According to one source, the idea was that you hired a bicycle and cycled along the girder track to your destination; there were a number of bicycle depots along the route. An interesting point is that the monorail bicycles were bidirectional, so they did not have to be laboriously lifted off the girder and turned around. There were handlebars at each end, for support rather than steering, and the saddle presumably swivelled.

The Railway was built to allow employees to commute quickly from Mount Holly to a bicycle factory at Smithville. The railway was not a success, the impossibility of overtaking being one reason; another was that a second track was never completed, so if riders travelling in opposite directions met, one had to pull off onto a siding. One might imagine this leading to disagreements about who had the right of way. The railway was in a severe state of disrepair by 1898 when the Mount Holly and Smithville Bicycle Railway Company (as it appears to have been known) declared bankruptcy. Presumably the system was repaired at some point, and opened for recreational use. The Bicycle Railroad gave Smithville its nickname for many years, "The Bicycle Town." This helped to distinguish it from the Smithville near my childhood home in Atlantic County, which was known mainly for its 'pig iron' ore deposits. Both are now popular historical sites.

The Star Bicycle was developed and built in Smithville by the H.B Smith Machine Company in 1881, and its proprietor, Hezekiah Bradley Smith, busied himself with its production and marketing. The Star differed from conventional bicycles of the time by having the larger wheel at the rear, where rider sat, and the smaller wheel up front. This allowed for greater control especially when traveling downhill. To illustrate this, Hezekiah hired a professional rider to successfully ride a Star bicycle down the steps of the United States Capital in front of dozens of photographers and reporters. Hezekiah also arranged for races all over the country that the Star would often win. Both the marketing and the design proved successful, and the Star was another moneymaker for the H.B Smith Machine Company.

In the 1880's, as Hezekiah was approaching 70, his behavior was becoming more eccentric. Although he still oversaw the village and dabbled in politics, he also began to collect wild animals for his private zoo in the mansion's courtyard. He became determined to harness one of his moose and train it to pull his coach, and he finally succeeded much to the terror of his neighbors. More and more he confined himself to the mansion and gardens. In 1885, a full sized statue in the likeness of his departed wife Agnes arrived from Italy that he had mounted as a shrine to her in one of the gardens. Around this time Hezekiah also invited six young ladies to stay at the mansion, and rumors circulated that they were servants, students or his harem. They would often join him in the garden, along with the violinist he kept on staff, for music and conversation. His health would continue to deteriorate, and on November 3, 1887, the great Hezekiah Bradley Smith died of pneumonia at the age of 71.


ADDENDUM: Thanks to pickquick76, we may all now take a virtual tour of the Metz Bicycle Museum in Freehold, New Jersey; a 20 minute ride from where I live. Some of the incredible bicycles seen in this Quicktime video are possibly the last of their kind:

"A step into the Metz Bicycle Museum in Freehold is truly a stroll through history. The Museum houses one of the world's finest collections of antique bicycles, dating from the 1850's to the 1950's. Hundreds of bicycles are artfully displayed. Boneshakers, highwheelers, quadricycles, tricycles, ordinaries, safeties, children's bikes, trick bikes, and many more unusual and one-of-a kind cycles make up this fascinating collection....There are several very unusual bicycles in the collection that, to the best of Mr. Metz’s knowledge, are the only ones in existence in the world. His lamplighter bicycle is over eight feet high and was used in New York City in the 1890's to light the gas street lights. He has several trick bicycles used in circuses and side shows. He also has a complete collection of handmade miniature reproductions of antique bicycles made by a prisoner of war in Belgium in the early 1940's..."

http://www.metzbicyclemuseum.com/media/IMGP0202.MOV (large file. Be patient.)

or you may click through his treasures: http://www.metzbicyclemuseum.com/Bicycles1.html

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