The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Harry Adams Hersey’s Bike Ride: Creating a Digital Map from a Nineteenth-Century Travel Diary

When spring arrives in Boston, bicycles return to the streets. No longer are two-wheelers limited to intrepid all-weather cyclists bundled up in scarves, hats, and gloves, navigating their way around ice, snow and potholes -- now riders young and old can strap on a helmet, jump on a bike (perhaps borrowed from Hubway?) and set off across the city -- or further! -- in search of adventure.

As I have written previously here at the Beehive, we modern-day cyclists follow in the path of a trailblazing generation of “wheelmen” (and women) who popularized bicycle riding in America during the late nineteenth century. Many Bostonians were enthusiastic early adopters of the bicycle, including a young Dorchester piano tuner named Harry Adams Hersey (1870-1950). In July 1892, the twenty-two year old set off to ride from Dorchester, Massachusetts, to Boothbay, Maine. He was accompanied to York, Maine, by his cousin Fred Howard and two friends, Arthur Newhall and Fred Ducette. He chronicled the adventure in a diary that he later circulated to friends and family as a “descriptive letter” of his travels. He writes about the weather and the state of the roads, the tourist sights visited, and where the friends found food and shelter.

Consulting this diary in our reading room recently, I was struck by the number of geographic locations Hershey mentions in his brief account. Using the free online tool Mapbox, I created an interactive map sharing quotations from the diary, as transcribed by his daughter, Helen, in the 1990s, mapped onto the locations which the diary describes. Thus, readers can follow Hersey’s journey, geographically as well as narratively, as he moves northward from his Dorchester home to the wilds of coastal Maine.


Seven years after his cycling vacation, Harry Hersey became engaged to a schoolteacher named Lottie May Champlain, shortly after his ordination to the ministry. The couple married in 1906, and raised four children while Hersey served Universalist congregations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and Indiana.

According to his daughter Helen, Hersey rode over 100,000 miles over the course of his lifetime, “without a major accident,” riding his bicycle both for pleasure and parish business. Hersey died in 1950 in Somerville, Massachusetts, only three years after completing an ambitious bicycle trip on the coast of California. Helen Hersey Dick donated her father’s memoirs and accompanying photographs to the MHS in the 1990s, where they and her transcripts can be accessed in the Society’s reading room.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 1:00 AM


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