Cycling Races at Audubon Driving Park Race Track 1887-1890
Stop 7 of 10 in the Shadow Steeds of the Crescent City tour
The Audubon Driving Park Track was used in the late 1880s as a horse racing track. ("Driving" referred to horse riding.) Audubon Park, built in 1879, had been the site of the World's Industrial Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884 and 1885. Starting in 1887, the arena hosted a new amusement for the people of New Orleans: bicycle racing.
In May of 1887, a tournament was the first bicycle racing event to be held on a track in New Orleans. Attendance for that race was disappointing. But the sport gained quickly in popularity that year. As the Daily Picayune reported:
“A bicycle contest has largely become the people’s choice, close upon if not rivaling the horse race. It is by no means strange that the bicycle race should so invariably attract the public, for a contest of these beautiful steeds, the will-o’-the-wisps of modern speed, is indeed one of if not the finest sights in American sports.”
The tournament held that fall was attended by around 3500 people, the majority of the spectators being women, to the pleasant surprise of the cyclers. Enthusiasm for the bicycle as spectator sport and pleasurable transportation rose over the next four years. Reports on the races took up more and more space in the newspapers. The bicycle races at Audubon park became grand affairs for the city’s bourgeoisie. Women were especially caught up in the racing fever, filling the majority of the stands and wagering personal articles on their favorites.
From 1887 to 1890, the Louisiana Division of the League of American Wheelmen held their annual tournament at the Audubon Park track. By 1891, however, the track had been abandoned, to the wistful regret of the cyclists.
“What sad thoughts are suggested to one who gazes on the ruins of the Audubon Driving Park track, that familiar place where four of the most successful race meets have been held, the wreck of the immense grand stand upon which thousands of the fairest daughters and interested mothers have gathered to witness their brothers and sons contesting for glory and fame on their winged wheels, at the meets of the Louisiana Division. All is gone, even the track itself can hardly be seen through the grass that covers it, and the wheelmen of New Orleans will have to look for other fields of contest, but the memory of this place, and the many pleasant occurrences therein will be fresh in the minds of the boys, and old men also for many years to come.”
In 1891, the League began holding tournaments at the Fair Grounds.