Henry Ar Foon: Chelsea Cyclist of the 1890s

by: Lorenz J. Finison, PhD

Researcher, Archives, Healey Library, University of Massachusetts – Boston

Gravestone of Henry S. and
Grace Ar Foon, Mount Hope
Cemetery, North Scituate,
Massachusetts; taken by
Polly Kimmitt, 15 Sep 2008.
Henry S.和Grace Ar Foon的
年9月15日由Polly Kimmitt

In February 1897, the Boston Herald noted the election of Henry Ar Foon as president of the Winnisimmet (Chelsea) Cycle Club. He was popular with his comrades and “very much Americanized…” His father was Robert Smith Ar Foon, who opened a restaurant and ice cream café on Chelsea’s Broadway with a tea merchant partner, Oong Ar-Showe. His mother was Charlotte (“Lottie”), said to be the first Chinese woman to arrive in Boston. They lived through increasing anti-Chinese agitation, particularly virulent in the west, but occasionally spiking in the east, too, with special restrictions on Chinese women immigrants. Henry Smith Ar Foon, born in 1872, was allegedly the first person of
Chinese descent born in Boston. The family gathered under the umbrella of the Chinese Sunday School of the Mt. Vernon Church on Ashburton Place.
A reporter noted that: “Mrs. Ar Foon . . .looks and dresses like a respectable English woman, and is all satisfaction with her sturdy boy of eleven years and her husband, from whose cropped hair I concluded that they had adopted America as a permanent home.” While the Ar Foon family eagerly assimilated to American culture, they also renewed at least one tie to the homeland, In 1880, Rongjan Tang, who had come to New England as a student member of the Chinese Educational Mission, lived with the Ar Foon family.
“Cropped-haired” Henry had many opportunities to fulfill his parents’ dreams. He joined the Winnisimmets and both officiated and cycled in road races. He entered an East Boston to Revere ten-mile event. Despite a three- and-a-half minute head start he came in thirteenth of fifty-one racers. Ar Foon was better at pool and joined the pool team—cycle

clubs frequently competed at such the winter-time diversions. He also captained the club’s baseball team. In 1896 he was secretary of the “Better Roads League” in Chelsea. Henry was well prepared for Winnisimmet leadership. The Boston Globe headlined that the current president, J.B. Hewes, was under fire and was: “Beaten by a Chinaman.” But the club secretary protested and declared that “Mr. Ar Foon … is not a Chinaman. Mr. Ar Foon is a native of New England, but is of Chinese parentage.”
He continued on through 1899 when the cycling clubs began to die out. Newspaper accounts reported over the next few years that he was the first Chinese juror on an American court; in 1913 a witness for a biracial Chelsea foster-brother, Edward Ar Tick (son of Hee (John) Ar Tick and Margaret Sullivan), who was entangled in a Chinese Exclusion Act proceeding upon trying to reenter the U.S. after seven years in Hong Kong; a prominent member of the Chelsea Yacht Club—other members were witnesses for Ar Tick too; and a clerk, interpreter and private secretary to a prominent Boston millionaire, Dudley L. Pickman. In the 1930s he moved away from Chelsea and settled in Scituate, where he died in 1955. He was buried along with his Worcester-born Caucasian wife, Grace Lloyd (d. 1935) at Mount Hope Cemetery in North Scituate.
Henry Ar Foon and his family showed the desire to be considered real Americans—to belong—during trying times and also of the newspapers’ desire to contrast assimilation to American culture with what they considered the inferiority of foreign ways.

More detail about Henry Ar Foon and references are available in my book: Boston’s Cycling Craze,
1880-1900: A Story of Race, Sport, and Society
(UMass-Press, 2014).

This article originally appeared in the Chinese Historical Society of New England Newsletter, Fall, 2018.

Henry Ar Foon Celebration Ride

A Bicycle Ride Honoring Henry Ar Foon
RAIN POSTPONEMENT UNTIL SUNDAY: 9AM, Saturday, October 7th, 2023

NEW DAY: 9AM, Sunday, October 8th, 2023

Curated by New England Coalition for Cycling Diversity

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on a Bike

Required Pre-register at https://forms.gle/nmKKxUFhFuoH3VK6A. Check website https://neccd.bike/henry-ar-foon-celebration-ride at 6 AM for cancellations.  Sign waiver at the start.

Hosted by Blue Hills Cycling Club

Cosponsored by the New England Chinese American Alliance, LexRide, and The Chinese American Association of Lexington

·    Come join us on a ride to honor Chinese American cyclist Henry Ar Foon, reportedly the first Chinese child born (1874) in the Boston area and elected president of the Winnisimmet Cycle Club of Chelsea in 1897. We visit scenic Wompatuck State Park, lovely Jerusalem Road in Cohasset, and ride to Scituate to his later-in-life home site and grave site.

·    Start information. The ride will start at Wompatuck State park. If taking the train, the Cohasset MBTA commuter station is about 3 miles away from the Wompatuck Visitor’s center by bike trail. MBTA trains run from South Station.

·    Multiple-speed, no-drop groups to accommodate newer riders, and also those who like more spirited rides: 11-18 mph for 17 and 37 miles (extension to Hull). Maps and RideWithGPS directions and ride leaders will be provided.

37 or 42 Mile loop:
37 Mile route from Wompatuck
42 Mile route from the train station

17 or 23 Mile loop:
17 Mile route from Wompatuck
23 Mile route from the train station

Required Pre-register at https://forms.gle/nmKKxUFhFuoH3VK6A. Check website https://neccd.bike/henry-ar-foon-celebration-ride at 6 AM for cancellations.  Sign waiver at the start.

Information on Henry Ar Foon in English: https://neccd.bike/henryarfoonoon-en/

Cyclist Henry Ar Foon (1872-1955) with friends at his home 60 Mordecai Lincoln Road, Scituate. Mr. McKinney, Bill Barnes, Eddie Ar Tick, Henry Ar Foon
Henry and Grace Ar Foon gravesite in Mount Hope Cemetery, Scituate, near corner Mt. Hope Lane and next to 330 Clapp Road. Grave at rear left section.

Photos courtesy Polly Kimmitt. https://pk-pollyblog.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-ar-foon-family-of-chelsea-and.html

The NECCD UnConference!

Hi Cycling Friends!
Join us at the NECCD UnConference this Sunday at 6 pm. A great group of people from all over New England is going to look at Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in bicycling. We’ll discuss hopes, plans and challenges for increasing diversity in bicycling — folks of color, ages, gender identities, backgrounds, nationalities. The aim is to get more folks riding!
Bring your experience, your questions and your concerns. If you don’t have any ideas, come join us to get some! 
What’s an UnConference? Need more info? See the NEECD Events page and register for the NECCD DEI UnConference. Registration is open now at https://neccd.bike/events/
Come see what it’s about!
Wendy for the NECCD steering committee
The UnConference rocks!

NECCD Un-Conference

Hi, Cycling Friends. Wendy here. 

I’m a long-term road cyclist who’s biked in 15 countries. While I’m well-traveled, I’m not fast or competitive. (We cyclists come in many types: some of my best friends are competitive speed demons!) 

I love the sport and I’m also committed to diversity. So I am very much looking forward to our NECCD Unconference on May 16th at 6pm. It’s a chance to share ideas and make some real progress on diversity in bicycling. I hope you’ll come, too, to share your ideas and suggestions.

See the NEECD Events page for more info and to register. Registration is open now.

Wendy S.