January 9, 2013
Cortland 1894 bike part of SU exhibit on women
An 1894 women’s bicycle made in Cortland will be featured in a Syracuse University art exhibit that looks at the life habits of women during the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
The bicycle, called the Diana, and made by the Cortland Wagon Company in the nineteenth century, was donated by Anne Planck of Cortland to the Cortland Historical Society in 2008, according to Jennifer Gibson, director assistant at the Cortland Historical Society.
The bicycle sports tires with wooden frames, rims, fenders and a seat, with a wicker inset on the seat. It has cork grips. It will be among the items featured at the SUArt Galleries in its show, “Nouveau Risque: A Perspective on Women and Progress.” More than 70 original objects, including color lithography posters from the arts and craft movement and examples of furniture, lamps, vases, clothing and other accessories, will be featured.
The show will run Jan. 24 to March 17 in the Shaffer Art Building on the Syracuse University campus. A free opening reception will take place 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 24. Open to the public. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Beth Gray of Canton, Conn., daughter of Anne Planck. The more that people see it, the better, she said of the bicycle. “It is the only known one to be in existence,” she said.
Anne’s husband, Sterling Planck Jr., a former owner of a used car dealership, had a collection of over 300 antique bicycles, and a museum to hold them, said Gray.
Gray said the Diana bike was in someone’s barn and the owner wanted her father to have it for his museum.
“It was either sold or donated to my dad,” she said.
After Planck Jr. died in 2005, his wife donated the bike to the society.
“In that decision, they both (knew) it would stay in its original hometown roots for all the local and out of town visitors to enjoy,” said Gray, in an email message.
“I think it’s a great (piece) to show what women were doing and it was made locally,” said Mindy Leisenring, executive director of the Cortland County Historical Society.
The Cortland Wagon Company, which made the bike, was located at 67-69 East Court St., in Cortland in the early 1900s. At one point, the company had offices and representatives in London, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco, said Gibson. Wagons were sold in every state plus Canada, until a tariff prevented it, but they were also sold in Mexico, South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China and India, as well as Europe, Gibson said, according to historical articles.
“Back then, if you rode a bicycle, you had to look out for the horses and the trolley,” said Mary Ann Kane, City of Cortland historian.
She said probably only a small segment of the adult population rode the bicycle, like today, and a woman riding a bicycle in the 1900s was probably not unusual.
But Gibson noted that the bicycle was an important tool for women in the 1890s, in that it allowed them more freedom. On a bicycle, they could have their own transportation, independent of a man. It influenced their fashion, since billowing dresses and tight corsets would be cumbersome. It allowed them to go for styles like the bloomer, allowing for more freedom of movement.
Kane said in that time, people thought nothing of walking to work.
The city had a trolley that ran the length of Main Street and also on Elm Street.
“The people that lived on the east side could walk or take a trolley to wherever they wanted to go,” she said. “The west side of Cortland was not developed at that time.”
“My granddad lived on Hubbard Street and he worked at the Lehigh Valley (Railroad),” Kane said. A conductor out of the South Main Street station, he walked to work, Kane said.
In her family, only her father used a bicycle, Kane said.
He worked as a teen for a drug store on Main Street, as a delivery person, she said. The drug store sold paint, which he would deliver all over town, on his bicycle.
“He had cans of paint on his handlebars,” said Kane.
“It was an inexpensive alternative for people or their business. That would be in about 1910 maybe,” Kane said.
People walked, used horses and carriages or horses and sleds, or the trolley, and when cars came in, they went to cars.
“They never took over the city. Bicycles never took over the city.”
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