Like fidget-spinners and hula-hoops, a whole new craze swept America during the late 19th century and that craze was the bicycle. Omaha was not immune with Solomon’s Bicycle and Velocipedes for both boys and girls advertised by N.I.D. Solomon as early as 1880. By the 1890s, there were local Wheelclubs of bicycling enthusiasts who encouraged and sponsored longer trips all the way down to Glenwood, Iowa and elsewhere as well as races for speed and endurance. Then, in July 1895, the Omaha Bee announced that the city would have its own dedicated “cycle park” located on Charles Street between 17th and 18th Street to be officially opened on August 5. This would be a wooden track “eight laps to the mile” and was constructed on the site of a former local baseball field. The new Charles Street “cycle park” was “banked on the turns so high that it is almost impossible for a rider to slip or fall on them.” The new track featured a grandstand and was well-lighted by “arch lights” placed directly over the track.
The new track originally was originally managed by a Mr. Mardis and its early adulation went on to suffer several bumps. One race by women went on “unsanctioned” and then in May 1897, the track was “blacklisted” by local cycling officials until W. E. Becker and George Mierstein were given their due rewards from the “last big day six-day race”. Still, on November 6, 1897, Omahan Charles R. Hall set several “world’s unpaced records” at the Charles Street track. Hall had set out to reduce the state records and instead the “National Racing board” had determined that he lowered the world records in the 3 through 10 mile categories with a time of 7:07 minutes for the three mile and 25 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.5 seconds for the ten mile.
The same month those records were set the Bee also reported that the Charles Street track had fallen into a “dilapidated condition” as the newspaper considered that “board tracks, like cedar block pavement, last but a very short time”. The bicycle track wasn’t even three years old and already “the foundations are nearly all rotted away” with the board track itself “rotten and splintered”. The newspaper predicted that after another winter it would be “dangerous to ride upon” and instead promoted the potential promises of “cement tracks”.
Thus, in May 1898, an otherwise magic year for Omaha, the Bee newspaper reported the “old Charles Street park track” was being torn down. The grandstand was already gone and within 10 days the newspaper predicted the track would be taken back to “bare ground”. The grandstand stood over part of Charles Street and the newspaper predicted that thoroughfare would be returned to the city and reopened to regular traffic. There was also talk of an alley between 17th and 18th Street which would cut the old bicycle park in half. As for “local wheelmen”, they lamented the end of the Charles Street track as it was “the only exclusive bicycle track in the city”.
There are no memorials today to this short-lived phenomenon in Omaha history when the city had its own designated bicycle park. Charles Street between 17th and 18th is closed today and the site of a playground north of New Visions Homeless Services. Whomever rides their bicycle through there today likely doesn’t know the history of that site or its role in setting world records back in the days when the bicycle craze swept through Omaha and across America.