The sleighs and sleds of snowy old New York

Rapid transit in early to mid-19th century New York consisted of horse-pulled “omnibuses” that could seat a dozen or more passengers and followed fixed routes up, down, and across the city.


And after a winter snowfall, omnibus lines often used sleighs to navigate snowy or icy streets. This illustration depicts some jovial riders on an omnibus sleigh heading downtown on a Broadway line.


Maybe a sleigh ride through freezing-cold Manhattan wasn’t always so cheery.

In his diary, lawyer George Templeton Strong described commuter sleighs as “insane vehicles” that “carry each its hundred sufferers, of whom about half have to stand in the wet straw with their feet freezing and occasionally stamped on by their fellow travelers, their ears and noses tingling in the bitter wind, their hats always on the point of being blown off.”


Having your hat blown off—not much fun. A sleigh ride was a form of winter recreation too, especially on a vehicle that that glided through Central Park or flew through semi-rural Harlem.


Speed freaks liked to race each other’s sleighs as well, as the above Currier and Ives image of a part of the park then called McGowan’s Pass, near East 106th Street, shows.


On snowy days, city parks were also filled with kids soaring down hills on sleds . . . or enjoying being pulled along a flat snowy surface, like these little ones.

[Images: New York Public Library Digital Collection; last image MCNY]

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7 Responses to “The sleighs and sleds of snowy old New York”

  1. Says:

    Beautiful post!

  2. Tom Wilcox Says:

    Thank you, I love pieces on New York City history.

  3. mpav Says:

    Great post on a great site. Brings to mind the death of a city auditor, loyal to Boss Tweed, in a sleigh accident in Harlem. His replacement blew the whistle on Tweed, which led to Tweed’s downfall.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks! And a sleigh accident, wow…there must have been lots of them when roads really iced over.

  5. MHM | Commuter Sleighs? Says:

    […] The sleighs and sleds of snowy old New York, Ephemeral New York. […]

  6. Peek into a travel diary of colonial New York | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 18th century city knew how to have a good time. “Their diversions in the winter is riding sleys about three or four miles out of town,” Knight writes, “where they have houses of […]

  7. What it was like commuting by sleigh in snowy 1860s Manhattan | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] More sleighing and sled scenes from old New York can be accessed here. […]

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