The Big Race

By William Thibodeaux History columnist

A bicycle race between Gilbert Bonin and George Summers created a lot of excitement in Abbeville on Friday, July 16, 1897. According to the news story from the Abbeville Meridional, the big race took place in Abbeville on the west side of the Vermilion River at five o’clock Friday afternoon.
The course was laid out from “the corner of the public road between W. B. White and Boniface Bigats, down the straight stretch, one half mile to a point opposite Raymond Placets.” According to the article, a large crowd gathered to witness this momentous event. But before the race got underway, it took some time to clear the way for the two bikers, which were described as being “in good trim.”
As previously mentioned, the big race generated a lot of excitement in town. A number of ladies went to the bike race in buggies, such as Mrs. E. M. Stebbins, who was accompanied by Mesdames: L. Sokoloski and L. J. Feray. Uncertain what happened to excite Mrs. Stebbin’s horse when it came down the “slope of the ridge just west of Boniface Bigat’s house” but whatever it was, it caused a harness malfunction. Some of the animal’s harness came loose and detached, and the horse began to run wild. The article mentioned that the frightened horse crossed a bridge, (probably the Vermilion River Bridge) and soon crashed into a garden fence. The occupants were violently thrown from the buggy. Fortunately, Mrs. Feray jumped from the buggy at the precise time of the incident and escaped injuries. Mrs. Sokoloski wasn’t quite that lucky, she sustained serious bruises with a deep scalp wound. Mrs. Stebbins was also badly bruised about her shoulders.
Both injured women were confined to bed for several days as a result of their runaway adventure. From the newspaper report the buggy was said to look as if it had been through a Kansas cyclone.
The bicycle race got off to a good start, or as the paper reported, they got off in hot haste. At times Summers was in the lead and other times it was Bonin. It was a real dandy of a bike race alright. When the dust cleared, the winner was clearly Gilbert Bonin who had reached the finish line a good 20 feet ahead of George Summers. At about that time, an interesting article appeared in The Meridional of January 1, 1898. It was a front page ad for a brand new Columbia Bicycle to be presented to the most popular young lady of Abbeville. It was said that the young lady with the most votes by 8:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve would be presented with “the finest ladies wheels on the market”—the world famous Columbia bicycle.
The cost of a ticket was two and one-half cents! Tickets were on sale at the Columbia headquarters in “the new building on State Street.” The name at the bottom of the ad was W. W. Ward, and at the time the Columbia bicycle was probably the top of the line in bicycles. They were manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut and sold for $100. A year later due to its popularity, the bike sold for $140. Unfortunately, after searching numerous articles I failed to find the name of the lucky winner of the 1898 Columbia bicycle.

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Abbeville Meridional

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