Dorchester’s Return to the Races

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By the late 1800s bicycles and cycling had become a fixture on the Eastern Shore, including Dorchester County. This relatively inexpensive mode of transportation offered freedom and mobility to a largely rural population. As a matter of fact, within the Town of Cambridge ordinances were enacted to protect the safety of the cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Bells were to be carried and sounded at all street crossings to alert other traffic, pedestrian and cycling, of your approach. Riders were also directed to carry or display a light when riding at night in town. Of course, riders must stick to the streets, off of sidewalks and footpaths and at no time exceed eight miles per hour. The last was later amended to twelve miles per hour. Fast riding brought a penalty of $3.00 per offense while other bicycle infractions charged $1.00. Racing within town limits was a big problem, therefore carried the steep fine of $5.00 and incarceration until the fee was paid.

With cycling taking such a quick hold on the county and knowing the competitive streak that many possess, it follows that in July 1894 a cycling club was formed in Cambridge. This Cambridge Cycling Club would eventually gain more than 200 members. The membership form, that all had to sign, stated “I have a wheel, know how to ride, and take an interest in the promotion of cycling.”

This group met officially once a month, charged dues, chose team colors (orange and black) and organized club rides out into the countryside. They found a permanent home, renting the old Catholic church building on Gay Street for $10.00 per month. This was used as a club room and gymnasium until fire damaged the building in October 1896.

This cycling frenzy continued in the next couple of years and improved the town by promoting and building both a race track and baseball ground at the end of High Street. This twenty-one acre property held a half mile course, grandstand, stable room, dressing rooms, office and baseball diamond.

In March of 1896 the Cambridge Cycling Club made an official pitch to hold the Maryland Division bicycle meet in Dorchester. CCC won this bid over both Easton and Frederick, must to the dismay of the latter towns.

In July of 1896, Cambridge played host to the Maryland races and saw an influx of up to 10,000 people over the two day event. The preparations were extensive and included scheduling extra trains, chartering boats, decorating the town, ordering extra bedding and planning the meals. This was the largest event that the county had ever seen.
Moving forward, the club began to wane as other interests and business took much of the members’ time. By February of 1900 the club made the decision to wind up its affairs.

Moving to the 21st century, Dorchester is playing host to another important race, IRONMAN Maryland, this upcoming weekend. Athletes and supporters will descend upon the town by Friday, the 19th, for preparations for the most famous triathlon event in the world. Cambridge is scheduled to host this event for the next four years as well. The races have returned to the area.

Starting, bright and early Saturday morning, IRONMAN Maryland begins with a 2.4-mile swim in the Choptank River on the Delmarva Peninsula. The 112-mile bike portion takes athletes through Dorchester County and into the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, while the 26.2-mile run is on flat country roads.

If you would like to get up close and personal to the racers, you can become a member of Iron Club by visiting ironclubmd.com by Friday the 19th at 12 noon. Memberships are available from $24 on up and those joining at the $262 level or above will receive a VIP pass to the finish line seating area.

In support of the races returning to Cambridge, the Heritage Museums and Gardens of Dorchester is opening a temporary exhibit “The Cambridge Crackers” which will share the history of the Cambridge Cycling Club through photos, artifacts and text. Also on display will be an authentic late 1800 penny farthing bicycle on loan from the Julia A. Purnell Museum. The Heritage Museums is located at 1003 Greenway Drive in Cambridge. For information about the site or the exhibit, please call 410.228.7953 or email dchs@verizon.net.

Please note that the CCC photo was supplied courtesy of Donald Davidson. The historical information for the article was gleaned from Claude Gootee’s book “The Cambridge Crackers” published 1993.

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