The Beautiful Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is honored to be part of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships coming to Richmond in September. The Garden, located at 1800 Lakeside Avenue in Henrico County, is the start venue for the elite men’s and women’s team time trial events on September 20, 2015.

Our involvement is a natural fit. The historic home on the property, Bloemendaal House, was originally the Lakeside Wheel Club. Built in 1895, the structure was one of the nation’s first “wheel” or bicycle clubs and an integral part of early cycling history in Richmond. Now, 120 years later, history has come full circle and the property will again be at the center of cycling, not only for Richmond, but the world.

Bloemendaal House 1890s

Thanks to the Garden’s Librarian Janet Woody and Group Tour Coordinator Lucy Coggin, we have an exhibit detailing early cycling history in Richmond and the Lakeside Wheel Club. Eight panels address different topics, including:

The Cycling Craze at the Turn of the Century

The popularity of cycling soared in the late 1800s with the arrival of safe, affordable bicycles available to all ages and genders. The bicycle was called the “wheel” and those who embraced the sport were known as “wheelmen” or “wheelwomen.” Richmonders were caught up in the cycling fervor; favorite routes were established and social clubs were formed.

Women and Fashion in the Bicycle Boom

Women embraced cycling, in large part due to the freedom the sport provided. Clothing styles of the day were modified to allow cycling, but not so much as to be scandalous. Chain guards were designed to keep long skirts from tangling with chains. Here’s what Susan B. Anthony had to say in 1896: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

The Heyday of the Lakeside Wheel Club

Lewis Ginter (1824-1897), a prominent Richmond businessman and philanthropist, owned nine acres of land near Brook Turnpike northwest of the city. Ginter was a member of both the Commonwealth Club and Westmoreland Club, elite establishments for Richmond’s captains of industry. When he was approached with the idea of building a bicycle club, Ginter agreed. The Lakeside Wheel Club opened on Monday, November 4, 1895. Festivities included an elegant banquet for over 100 members, many of whom rode their wheels out to the club.

Bloemendaal House 2 Don Williamson

The Lakeside Wheel Club had a relatively short lifespan. The cycling craze had cooled by 1901, thanks to electrified street cars and the automobile. After Lewis Ginter’s death in 1897, the wheel club property reverted to his estate. His niece Grace Arents bought the property sometime around 1911. She added a second story and for a short time it was a children’s hospital. Eventually it became Arents’ residence until her death in 1926. Arents’ will left the property and an endowment to the City of Richmond with the stipulation that a botanical garden be created in honor of her uncle. She also left life rights to her close friend Mary Garland Smith, who lived on the property until her death in 1968.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was chartered in 1984 and opened to the public in 1987. With more than 50 acres of lush gardens, a Conservatory, dining and shopping, it has become one of the most-visited attractions in the Richmond Region. The Garden was voted number 2 in USA Today’s 10Best Public Gardens contest and other recent awards include: one of the “Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Traveling For” (BBC Travel) and one of the Best Botanical Gardens in the U.S. (Travel Channel). Learn more about the Garden at lewisginter.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (Photo left: The Lakeside Wheel Club became Bloemendaal House, part of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden; photo: Don Williamson.)