Frank D. Elwell

From Wooljersey

Frank David "Pancho" Elwell


BIRTH 27 NOV 1866 • San Francisco

DEATH 22 OCT 1955 • Alameda, California


Bay City Wheelmen

F. D. ELWELL, ONE MILE 2-48 1 2.jpg

Frank Elwell

Funeral services were held yesterday for Frank D. Elwell, 88, retired construction engineer, "high bike" champion of California during the 1880s and the “first cyclist up Mt. Tamalpais."

Mr. Elwell died Saturday in his home at 4710 Fair Ave.

He was the holder of 10 medals for “high bike" racing from 1884 to 1849. The "high bike" was the old fashioned cycle with a large high front wheel and a little wheel behind.

It was in 1885 that Mr. Elwell rodę and pushed his cycle up Mt. Tamalpais. He récalled later that it was difficult going up the mountain but “lots of fun" coming down. He said he must have taken at least 20 spills. RETIRED IN 1918 Mr. Elwell gave up cycling in 1918 at the age of 52. By then the present-type bicycle had come into being-bikes which "high riders" referred to with disgust as "safeties."

A member of a pioneer California family, Mr. Elwell was born in San Francisco. He spent his boyhood in San Francisco, Oakland and China. His stepfather was head of St. John's Hospital in Shanghai at one time.

He became an engineer when a young man, serving with the telephone company and two construction firms before organizing his own company in Oakland. He built steel bridges and other projects throughout the state. He retired in the 1920s. MARRIED IN 1908 In 1908 Mr. Elwell was married to Carrie Pratt, former assistant librarian for the City of Alameda and at one time the official court reporter for Del Norte County. Her father, Frederick H. Pratt, an early settler in this area, was postmaster of San Rafael in 1871.

Mr. Elwell was a 50-year member of Durant Masonic Lodge No. 268 and a former member of the Sierra Club and the Oakland YMCA.

Besides his wife, Mr. Elwell is survived by three children of a previous marriage, Mrs. Geraldine Beale of Fairfax and Bouchard and George S. Elwell, and a brother, Henry Boone of Arcadia.

Services were at the Albert Engel Mortuary.

Frank D. Elwell obituary Tue, Oct 25, 1955 – 38 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) ·

He lived here:

Elwell Frank D v pres Mervy Elwell Cor 4710 Fair av

Polk-Husted Directory Co.'s Oakland,Berkeley and Alameda Directory.... (1916). United States: Polk-Husted directory Company.


Some of the articles mentioning Frank D. Elwell on this site:

The Bay City Wheelmen include the following gentlemen : H. S. Blood. S. F. Booth, Jr., F. B. Cook, C. L. Davis, G. F. Day, W. H. Day, John Ehlus, E. Fahrback, H. Houseworth, T. L. Hill, F. C. James, F. E. Johnson, Thos. Knight, J. A. Little, W. M. Meeker, Chas. McCulley, W. J. Monro, A. S. Neal, D. O'Callaghan, G. L. Payne, J. C. Quinn, H. Reaman, E. Rideout, W. Rideout, R. A. Smythe, C. J. Schuster, W. K. Slack, W. F. Sperbeck, H. C. Tenny, R. Little, Thos. Thornberg, Wm. Tietjen, Edward Mohrig, C. Thompson, F. E. Walsh, R. M. Welch, G. E. Dixon, P. E. Haslett, W. G. Davis, J. W. Lawlor, Sam Parsons, F. D. Elwell, Robt. Turner, W. G. Waters and C. Angel. To the young Rideout brothers belong the honor of being the first to make the Yosemite trip on bicycles.

ON THE WHEEL. - Daily Alta California, 29 November 1885

Elwell, the first in, is a young man, six feet in height, who weighs 175 pounds. He has only been riding a short time, and is considered a phenomenal rider.

A BICYCLE RACE. - The Bay City Club and the Highland Park Club Compete. - Wed, Feb 24, 1886 - Page 3 - Oakland Tribune

On May 31, the long-looked-for races of the Bay City Wheelmen and the Albion Athletic Club came off. The day was very fine, but in the afternoon a rather stiff breeze came up, which, coupled with the softness of the track, made the pushing up the back stretch very much like work. The track was a five-lap one consisting mostly of gravel upon which about one week's work had been done. In some places it was very soft, the wheel sinking in as much as three inches, which accounts for the slow time. The bicycle events were a half, one, two, and five mile, and a maiden mile, the first two being scratch. In the half-mile were F. D. Elwell, of the Bay City Wheelmen, and H. G. Kennedy, of Denver. Elwell obtained a very poor start by giving his handle-bars such a jerk that they nearly broke. Kennedy thus got a start of about 40 feet; when Elwell got underway, however, he came like a streak, passing Kennedy in great style and winning the race in 1.33.

In the mile scratch were Elwell, of the Bay City Wheelmen, W. G. Davis, of the San Francisco Bicycle Club, and C. A. Biederman, all of San Francisco. Elwell and Davis lit out, leaving Biederman some ten yards behind, on the second lap. Elwell led until the last lap, when Davis passed him on the inside and won in 3.10 1/2. Elwell thought there was another lap and intended to let Davis lead half of it and was quite surprised, as were all present, to see Davis carry the tape. He claimed a foul, which would have been allowed had he cared to press it, but he preferred to run it over, to which, however, Davis objected. They will probably meet at a future date, if Davis has the grit.

In the two-mile handicap were Elwell, Kennedy, Biederman, H. S. Blood, and a few others. Elwell and Kennedy started from scratch. Blood fifty yards, Biederman sixty. From the start it was easy to see that the contest lay between Elwell and Kennedy. They soon overhauled the head men and then laid down to work, Elwell forcing the pace with Kennedy's wheel lapping him. If the track had been in any sort of condition a good record would surely have been made. On the final lap, when near the tape Kennedy forged a wheel ahead of Elwell; the latter straightened up and throwing all his weight on the pedals came up even and just at the tape got his wheel about a foot ahead of his competitor, winning the race in 6.56 1/2.

The mile maiden race was one of the most interesting of the kind ever run on the coast. The entries were I. S. Ireland, [A. S. Ireland] H. P. W., R. W. Turner, B. C. W., J. D. Sears, F. James, B. C. W., W. Hammer; the other entries failed to put in an appearance. Ireland and James started out at a good pace, closely followed by Turner. On the last lap the men got bunched very closely until the last half when Turner forged ahead and succeeded in keeping so to the close. Time, 3.27, Ireland second, James third. Before the two-mile race some friend (?) of Elwell's filled him with beer, the bad effects of which he felt after the race, so he concluded to stay out of the five mile. The race was started with Kennedy scratch, Blood, Sears, and Churchill with handicaps from 50 to 100 yards. Kennedy soon caught up the handicaps and led, with Blood second, Churchill third. Blood passed Kennedy several times but the latter always succeeded in catching up. On the five mile Churchill put on a good burst of speed and got to the front. Lap after lap was passed with him leading. Blood and Kennedy alternately trying to pass him but without success. On the last lap, however. Blood met with success and got to the front, but was in turn passed by Kennedy, who succeeded in winning the race in 19.04 1/4, Blood second, Churchill third.

ON THE TRACK. - The Wheelmen's and Athletic Tournament at Alameda. - May 31, 1886

The preparations for the twenty-five-mile road race have been completed and the race cannot but prove one of the greatest ever run on this Coast. Barring accidents F. D. Elwell should be the winner, and will probably ride the distance in less time than one hour and forty minutes. The start will be made seven-eighths of a mile from San Leandro, so that three times around the triangle will give the required distance and finish at San Leandro.

The Bicycle Sports. - Thomas Stevens - 25-mile road race - 22 Nov 1886, Mon The San Francisco Examiner

Elwell is an expert billiard player.


Elwell expects his new 56-inch machine this week.

The Bicycle. Bay City Wheelmen to incorporate Elwell billiards Mrs. E. Mohrig first CA lady L.A.W. 25 Oct 1886, Mon The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California)

The road race [25-mile State Championship - MF] was won as expected by F. D. Elwell in 1:37 2-5 with L. R. Larzalere second in 1:37 4-5, and C. E. Adcock third. The first two laps were mostly ridden at an easy pace, but the pace improved at the beginning of the third lap and the last mile must have been ridden very near the three-minute mark; it was certainly the fastest mile ever ridden on the road in this state.


F. D. Elwell is particularly proud of the basket of flowers he received marked "From the ladies to the lucky young man."

The Bicycle - 25-mile state championship - 29 Nov 1886, Mon The San Francisco Examiner

The inscription on the trophy won by the Bay City Wheelmen is as follows: Oakland Ramblers' 25-mile road race, club trophy, won November 25, 1886, by the Bay City Wheelmen club team, F. D. Elwell. C.E. Adcock, S F. Booth Jr. Time, 1 hr. 37 min. 2 7/8 sec.


Elwell "coasted" Mount Tamalpais last Sunday. The distance is about nine miles. He took one fall, but did not injure himself. He rode half way up and walked the rest.

Thomas Stevens finishes his around-the-world bicycle journey in San Francisco, January 8, 1887.

Frank D. Elwell, the champion of the Coast, has always raced under the colors of the club. His record of twenty races in a year and a half, of which he won nineteen firsts and one second, stands out above all others as the best individual record of the Coast. The club's rooms bear evidence of the prowess of their champion in the massive silver bowl, the prize of the California Roadracing Association, for which he has won two of the three road races, and also the handsome silver pitcher, presented by the Oakland Ramblers for their twenty-five-mile race. In the annals of racing in this State, his final spurt at the finish of the five-mile national championship at Stockton will always be remembered as the finest piece of riding ever seen, and it is doubtful if it could be duplicated at the fountain head of cycle racing. Ewell has won six championships, including two of the National League. He has never been properly trained to develop the speed that is surely in him. If the track that is expected to be laid at Haight street next season proves a fast one and the champion's business will permit, the local riders may look for some good records. He is what the Englishmen delight in, "a head rider," or one who assists his bodily powers by thinking out how to win.

The Bicycle. - Mon, Jan 10, 1887 - Page 3 - The San Francisco Examiner

Since its organization the club has been most prominent in racing circles, having produced such good men as Elwell, Cook, Adcock, Davis, Browning, Fahrback, Turner and Cox. It has since its organization, almost without exception, provided the winner of all championship and novice races. The following are the records held by its members at the present time:

TRACK RECORDS. One-quarter of a mile, 37 2-5 seconds, F. R. Cook. One mile, 2:48 1/2, F. D. Elwell. One mile, safety, 3:10 3/4, N. A. Robinson. Ten miles, 32:00 2-5, C. E. Adcock.

ROAD RECORDS. Twenty-five miles, 1:33:51, F. D. Elwell; 50 miles, 3:31:00, F. D. Elwell. San Francisco to San Jose without dismount, in 3 hours and 53 minutes, by F. R. Cook. Twenty-four-hour ride, 207 1/2 miles, F. R. Cook. Club run to San Jose and return in one day by seventeen members. San Jose and return on this side of the bay in 11 hours and 44 minutes by William M. Meeker.


The San Francisco Examiner Sun Oct 14 1888 el.jpg

Frank D. Elwell, the champion of the Coast, has always raced under the colors of the club. His record of twenty races in a year and a half, of which he won nineteen firsts and one second, stands out above all others as the best individual record of the Coast. The club's rooms bear evidence of the prowess of their champion in the massive silver bowl, the prize of the California Roadracing Association, for which he has won two of the three road races, and also the handsome silver pitcher, presented by the Oakland Ramblers for their twenty-five-mile race. In the annals of racing in this State, his final spurt at the finish of the five-mile national championship at Stockton will always be remembered as the finest piece of riding ever seen, and it is doubtful if it could be duplicated at the fountain head of cycle racing. Ewell has won six championships, including two of the National League. He has never been properly trained to develop the speed that is surely in him. If the track that is expected to be laid at Haight street next season proves a fast one and the champion's business will permit, the local riders may look for some good records. He is what the Englishmen delight in, "a head rider," or one who assists his bodily powers by thinking out how to win.

BAY CITY WHEELMEN, Well-Known Athletes Who Travel Around on Wheels. - The San Francisco Examiner, Oct 14, 1888

This organization has not developed as many riders during recent years as its rival, the Bay City Wheelmen, which club will place hosts of men in the contest. Or these, Elwell is the most likely to carry off one of the races. There is little doubt but that he can win either if he conscientiously trains, and if he is sent East Windle, Campbell and some of the other fliers will have to pedal remarkably fast to beat him, for he is a magnificent spurter and does not know what quitting means. Plummer and Hammer will also ride and are good men for second choice, although young Turner is likely to surprise people in the three-mile race.

But in picking the winners the men from the country should not be overlooked. If one of the races were for five miles there is little doubt but that Julius Smith of the Garden City Wheelmen could win easily. He has a very good chance at the lesser distance, but is hardly in it with Davis, Elwell and Wheaton.

THE WHEEL. - Probable Contestants for the District Championships. - Sun, Apr 27, 1890 - Page 1 - The San Francisco Call

The year 1888 marks the climax of bicycle racing in California. Five meets were held where championships were contested. Early in the year, W. S. Wing, of the Los Angeles Wheelmen, appeared, and won the three-mile championship in 9:30. The Bay City men, with Elwell, won the one, two, and three mile championships, - the latter called the national championship. The one-mile championship, run on the Stockton quarter mile track, is the most celebrated in local bicycle history. The race started out with a large field, Davis and Elwell favorites, who reached the tape within a few inches of each other. The time of this race is the present official record at one mile, 2:48 1/2; the two-mile record, 6:10 4-5, was made by the same man, Elwell, in that year. W. G. Davis, of the San Francisco Club, captured the half mile race, making 1:27 3/4, the present record.

Bicycling in California in 1892 - The Overland Monthly, June 1892

The first 25-mile race on this course was held February 22, 1888, by the Oakland Road-racing Association, and was won by F. T. Elwell in 1:33:56.

The second was in June of that year by the same association, and was won by Elwell in 1:38. The third by this organization was also won by Elwell In 1:37:2 2-5.

San Francisco Call, Volume 73, Number 85, 23 February 1893 - RACING ON WHEELS - A Pacific Coast Record Broken.

Frank D. Elwell was pre-eminently the racing champion of California. With a magnificent physique, the ambition of youth and the advantages of good training, and the experience of older riders, he won almost every race in which he competed during the years of 1886, 1887 and 1888. His first race was a road race from Gilroy to Menlo Park, February 27, 1886. He came in first in 3h. 30m. 50 4-5s., being more than half an hour ahead of the next man. As a member of the Bay City Wheelman's racing team, in the races held over the San Leandro triangle under in the auspices of the California Inter-Club Racing Association, Elwell rode first in every race, captaining the team and bringing his men through in first, second and third-order in two of the events and close up to the front in the others.

His spurt is simply phenomenal. In the one-mile championship at Stockton, July 4, 1888, he made the most remarkable ride ever witnessed in California. The pace had been comparatively slow until the last lap. About 200 yards from the finish, Davis and Elwell passed another contestant like a flash and came neck and neck for the tape. Elwell checked momentarily, and Davis, going at an awful gait, almost made it, but Elwell had won by inches in 2:48 1/2, beating the coast record of 2:50 1-5. When the three judges decided unanimously that Elwell had won the Bay City wheelmen went nearly wild with excitement, and such a scene as transpired then has never before nor since been witnessed on a bicycle track.

From the 200-yard mark it was impossible to see Elwell's feet, so rapidly were they going. It seemed almost as though he were flying through the air instead of pedaling over the smooth ground, but not | in this race nor in any other was Elwell ever pushed to his full capacity, so that nobody really knows how fast he can go. "Senator" Morgan, the noted professional race promoter, who has seen Elwell ride, has declared that he is the most remarkable rider in America, as he combines with his spurting abilities most remarkable staying qualities. He is at the present time the official handicapper of the California Division League of American Wheelmen, and is not engaged in racing.

THE CYCLING WORLD - OLD TIME RACING MEN. - San Francisco Chronicle, Sat, Jul 8, 1893

In February, 1886, the Club discovered another world-beater in one of its members, Frank D. Elwell, who won the fifty-mile race from Gilroy to Menlo Park in 3 hours, 30 minutes, and 59 4-5 seconds, beating the second man by fifteen minutes. ...

When the time came for locating the annual meet of 1888, the Oak Leaf Wheelmen of Stockton made such a generous offer that it was decided to hold the meet in that place. The Oak Leaf Wheelmen built a quarter-mile track at their own expense, and made most elaborate arrangements for the accommodation of its guests. The track was in perfect order, and the intense rivalry between the San Francisco Bicycle Club and the Bay City Wheelmen made the excitement at fever heat. All the interest was centered in Davis and Elwell, who were to come together again for the first time since Davis won from Elwell at Alameda in 1886. These two men were the representatives of the rival clubs, and they knew full well what was expected of them. They were perhaps the coolest of the thousand or more people on the grounds, and their outward appearance, as they lined up for the start, showed little of the intense fire that was burning within them. A slight delay kept the crowd at fever heat, and when at last the men were off the spectators breathed a sigh of relief, and settled down to watch what proved to be the greatest race ever ridden on this Coast.

The event was the one-mile Division Championship, and besides Davis and Elwell there were entered W. S. Wing, of the Los Angeles Wheelmen, and B. G. Toll, of the Capital City Wheelmen. The men got off well together, and Toll started to make the pace. Wing shot ahead, however, and led the race until the last lap. The other three men kept close behind, riding well together. A fast pace was set all through the race, but on the last lap the riders seemed to shoot ahead faster than ever. As they entered the home stretch they were all struggling desperately for the lead. Nearing the tape, Elwell forged ahead, and then seemed to relapse. Davis coming on close behind shot alongside with a rush, but Elwell recovered himself and crossed the tape so little ahead of his opponent that many people in the grandstand thought that Davis had won the race. The judges decided that Elwell had won the race, and immediately the track was swarming with spectators, some claiming the race for Davis, others clamoring to uphold the decision. Pandemonium reigned supreme, and it was long before order was restored. At no race since has such excitement been displayed, and although on the same day Davis and Elwell again came together in the five-mile national championship, this race was tame by comparison with the most sensational race ever contested on a California track.

The records established at this meeting were the half-mile, by A. W. Allen of Los Angeles, in 1:22 1/2; one mile, by F. D. Elwell in 2:48 1/2; the two and three miles, by A. S. Ireland.

The Wheel in California - Overland Monthly Vol. XXII July - December 1893

The track at the Pavilion is said to be one of the fastest ever laid, and is the work of F. Elwell, who designed the Bay City track and the one at the Midwinter Fair. The Bay City track was the first scientific track ever built on this Coast, and is held in high regard by the wheelmen. It is the same kind of track on which Zimmerman made the world's record.

NIGHT PARADE OF CYCLISTS. - THE TOURNAMENT. - Clubs and Counties Will Divide Time - The Championship. - The San Francisco Examiner, 17 Feb 1895

Within a few days the work of building an eight-lap bicycle track in the Mechanics' Pavilion will be begun under the supervision of Frank Elwell, the veteran rider. It is intended by Charles Wikidel, who is furnishing the funds, about $1000, to build the track to give a six days' tournament from March 5 to March 11, in which the best of the cyclists of the country, professional class A and class B, will compete.

San Francisco Cycle Racing Association, Charles A. Wikidel

Elwell rode his first race back in 1886. It was a fifty-mile road race, in which all of the crack riders were entered, and the course was from Gilroy to Menlo Park. He won that race so easily that the numerous spectators who had gathered at the finish were about to depart before the second man put in an appearance. Elwell followed this victory with a series of wins in sprint races over such men as Bert Cook, Billy Davis, L. Larzelere, Bob Turner and Wing, a crack rider of Los Angeles. In twenty-three of these races Elwell won twenty-two, and in the other, he fell. He rode his last race on New Year's day in 1889. That day he won the State championship from Bert Cook.

Elwell then took up the work of contracting, and he was as successful in the building of wheeling tracks as he had been as a rider. It was he who furnished the plans for the famous Madison Square Garden track, which has been the scene of many great races. He also built the tracks at Salt Lake and Ogden.

OLD TIME RACER TO BUILD TRACKS - Frank D. Elwell Will Assist in Re-establishing Bike Game. - Sun, Oct 27, 1907 - Page 19 - San Francisco Chronicle

"There were no paved highways in those days, in some places the best to be had was a macadamized road, but the jump between these stretches was far. The members picked by the Highland Park Wheelmen were J. P. Churchill, who rode a 56-inch diameter wheel; Alex Ireland, with a 54; Alex J. Rosborough a 54 and Frank Blinn a 52; while the Bay City Wheelman had selected a big and powerful-legged rider named Elwell, who rode a 58-inch wheel, (and as I remember Cooke, [Cook] Zeigler and Davis), each riding a 54. The general opinion seemed to be that Elwell would capture first place, but the Oakland boys figured that even if he did they could win on points. So the riders went away from Los Gatos to a good start and humping over the handlebars, got into the long grind. All went well as the big wheels pinged over a rock or a rough spot, until approaching San Jose, when Churchill, who was pressing Elwell hard, hit a rough spot and grounded. He waved all on, calling out that he was not hurt, and made his way to a watering trough to wash the blood out of his eyes, and then, though out of the race, came on to join at the fine banquet. When the jolly fine banquet was finished, Churchill, Blinn and Rosborough rode back to San Jose and then back to Oakland, making it 120 miles for the day,"

Big Wheels - Fifty-Mile Bicycle Race - The Knave - Sun, Nov 18, 1951 - Page 73 - Oakland Tribune

Alex Rosborough's reminiscences about early day bicycle racing has brought two communications on the subject from Milton Charles Thomas and Carrie Elwell Pratt. [Carrie Pratt Elwell] Thomas writes in part: “I remember the days of the 100-mile relay race starting in San Francisco and ending at The Tribune. It was a 10-man team and I rode the first 10 miles for the California Cycling Club against riders from the Century Wheelmen and the Garden City Wheelmen of San Jose. This was about 1902. We would also make pleasure rides starting out on Saturday night and riding to San Jose where we would stay over night. The next day we would continue to Oakland, always stopping at the Estudillo House in San Leandro. We favored the Pierce bicycle. We also had 'home trainers' and held contests in Fisher's Theater in San Francisco. For these one roller was placed under the front wheel and two under the rear wheels. Percy Lawrence won the mile in a minute. It was exciting because each rider would face the other. Jimmy Britt was in his prime then and was our gym trainer.” In his story, Rosborough referred to a "big, powerful legged rider" and Mrs. Ewell identifies him as her husband, Frank D. Ewell. "He was then unknown to me," she writes, “but I learned that he was the winner of the described race by 20 minutes. The race was from Gilroy to Menlo Park. He does not remember the banquet Mr. Rosborough tells about. No wonder, that was about 68 years ago. He was the state champion racer on the high cycle and won several medals and trophies. Most club racing was done on a triangle in the vicinity of San Leandro.

The Knave - Sun, Dec 2, 1951 - Page 61 - Oakland Tribune

It was during this period she met Frank D. Elwell, scion of a socially prominent Bay Area family and a relative of the Albert Dibbles [Dibblee] of Ross Valley. Frank had distinguished himself as a civil engineer.

FRANK AND Carrie fell in love. They married and honeymooned, in Yosemite Valley.

Upon their return to the Bay Area, they took up residence in Alameda. Frank had a business office in Oakland. During the year following their marriage Frank obtained a piece of land in the East Oakland foothills. It was to be the site of their future home.

Frank had only the foundation laid when he was called to the Orient. The new Chinese republic was in the process of tying together the provinces with up-to-date communications.

FRANK ELWELL was put in charge of a railroad project. He remained in China three years, then returned home.


FRANK ELWELL finished his home in the East Oakland hills. He and Carrie had just moved in and settled down when Frank was again called to the Orient. This time he was away five years.

He came back home a man broken in health. Malaria and malnutrition had so wracked his body that Frank Elwell was scarcely recognizable as the same man who had left Oakland. He lived only a few months, then died. [1955]

Carrie Pratt Elwell - Could Look Back 90 Years In San Rafael Daughter Of A Pioneer Merchant Recalled Town Of Her Childhood - Daily Independent Journal - 16 Jan 1965, Sat - Pages 31 - 33

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