Duryea Festival riding high on Saturday

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1980 01 01 00.02.35 1

 Marty Potts keeps a somewhat-serious look on his face when he talks about his 1888 high-wheeled bicycle.  He restored the 55-inch bicycle in 1972 and for him, its history is important.

When he gets on the bicycle, though, the East Peoria man beams like a kid who just got his first bike at Christmas. Even if you can’t hear it, you can practically see him exclaiming “whee” as he wheels the bicycle around.

“Fun? Oh, yeah. It’s still a lot of fun," he said just after hopping off the bicycle during a news conference at Tower Park in Peoria Heights. “It’s why I still do it.”

The news conference was to promote the 10th Annual Duryea Festival in Peoria Heights, which is Saturday beginning with a parade at 10 a.m. The festival celebrates the unique and rich historical heritage of the village, which is where Charles E. Duryea invented the high-wheel bicycle as well as the first “drop-frame” bicycle for women before he invented the first gasoline-powered car.

Part of this year’s celebration will be members of the Illinois Wheelmen showing and riding their high-wheeled bicycles and other bicycles. Janie Potts, Marty’s wife, will ride her drop-frame bicycle, which much more closely resembles the bicycles of today than the high-wheeled bicycle even though it was made a mere 10 years later, in 1898. “Quite a radical change in design in just 10 years,” Marty Potts said.

He and Janie will join other members of the Illinois Wheelmen chapter – as well as any other cyclists interested – in riding part of the Rock Island Trail, starting at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Another highlight this year will be the display of the Glide automobile that was manufactured in Peoria and was the vehicle President Teddy Roosevelt rode in on Oct. 12, 1910 to tour the area, the day he proclaimed Grandview Drive “the world’s most beautiful drive.”

Other events will be a cruise-in of more than 100 antique and class cars, a decorated bicycle contest for kids, a bags tournament, live music, food and beverages and many other activities. That’s just at Tower Park.

The many stores and restaurants in the village will be open, several hosting sidewalk sales.

Many high-wheeled bicycles were actually manufactured elsewhere, before Rouse, Hazard and Co. began manufacturing bicycles in Peoria Heights, in the building that still stands across the street from the Peoria Heights police department. That started in 1895 with the manufacturing of the Overland brand; before then, the company assembled  bicycles from parts made elsewhere, including overseas.

Charles Duryea, a farm boy from Wyoming, Illinois, invented the Sylph bicycle, the first to have the drop-frame design for women. It sold for $100. So popular was that bicycle and others Duryea invented, that is how he financed the invention of his car and other items, including the first armored car that was equipped with machine guns.

The Potts’ bicycles both were made in Boston. The high-wheel bicycle features a nickel-plated frame and leather seat. The wheels are of a steel frame and hard rubber tire, similar to that of a wheel chair. Getting on the bicycle requires stepping up on a tiny piece welded onto the frame. “Every time I get on the bike I think the mounting step is going to break and I’m going to end up speaking in a very high voice,” Marty Potts joked.

Janie Potts rides a bicycle with wooden rims. It also has fenders and places to attach lace to keep skirts from getting caught in the spokes.

She doesn’t have to worry about her skirt getting caught in a chain, however; this Columbia bicycle is made with a drive shaft that was more efficient than a chain, but much more expensive to build.

Marty Potts has ridden the bicycle on a cross-country event, from San Francisco to Boston, in 1984 and from Detroit to Philadelphia in 1976.  He has never done a “header”, but has fallen a couple times, he said.

The reason for the high front wheel on the bicycle was that, because the pedals are a direct-drive mechanism rather than a chain that drives the rear wheel, meant the machine could go faster and longer with each revolution of the wheel. “A man was only limited by the inseam of his pants. Remember, back then the average height of a man was much shorter,” Potts said. He noted that made riding a 60-inch bicycle even tougher; he owns one of those but no longer rides it. He also owns a 50-inch bicycle.

The fastest he has gotten his high-wheeler to go with pedaling is about 25 miles an hour. However, there was one time when he was going downhill on a much steeper incline than he expected and could do nothing but coast and hope he didn’t hit anything on the way down. He said a truck driver pulled up beside him and informed him he was going 50 miles an hour down that hill.

“I wouldn’t want to do that again,” he said.

He and Janie will ride their bicycles in the parade before displaying them at Tower Park.

Below is a schedule of events for the festival.

Schedule of Events


                                     10 a.m.                            Duryea Parade starts at 4450 N. Prospect Road Heritage Square going north to Tower Park. KIDS: Decorate your bikes, be in the parade and win prizes. 

                                       TOWER PARK STAGE EVENTS

           11 a.m.                           Singsations: Exciting music and dance performance ensemble

            Noon                             Julie K: Award-winning interactive children and family performance

                                               1 p.m.                             Where’s Waldo?

                                               1:30 p.m.                        Peoria Heights Historical Society Self-Guided Historical Tours

                                               2 p.m.                             Still Shine Band: “New Grass” acoustic jam band

                                               4 p.m.                             Ed Kaizer Trio: Classic Swinging Jazz

                                               6  p.m.                            Roundstone Buskers: Energetic Celtic, Folk Trio

                                               8 p.m. – 10 p.m.              The Robin Crowe Band: Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues

                                             10 a.m. to 10 p.m.             Great Food and Beverages at Tower Park


                                           OTHER GREAT FUN EVENTS

                     10 a.m. to 5 p.m.              Cruise-In car event with antique and classic cars and trucks

                                            11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.           Historical Glide Car on display at Tower Park. President Teddy Roosevelt rode in the Glide car during his re-election campaign tour in 1910 and proclaimed Grandview Drive the “World’s Most Beautiful Drive.” High Wheel and antique bicycles on display at Tower Park with demonstrations by the Illinois Wheelmen Chapter. Peoria Heights was a major manufacturer of bicycles in the 1890s and early 1900s.

                                            11 a.m. – 7 p.m.               Fun on the Run children events

                                            11 a.m. – 4 p.m.              Wild Style: Face Painting

                                            11 a.m. – 7 p.m                Dunk Tank

                                            Noon – 3 p.m.                  Rare book Evaluation at I Know You Like a Book Store ($2 a book)

                                            1 – 5 p.m.                        Unique Twist: Doug Smith, balloon artist

                                            1 p. m.                             Bags Tournament at Tower Park Parking Lot

                                           10 a.m. – 5 p.m.                Side Walk Sale

                   All Day                              Chalk the Walk: Fantastic art by local artists (Prospect and E. Kelly Ave.)

                                           4:30 p.m.                          Illinois Wheelmen Chapter will do a 10-mile ride on their High Wheel and antique bicycles on the Rock Island Greenway leaving Tower Park at 4:30. Other cyclists are invited to join them on the ride.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).