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.

Sleighingonbroadway18601

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.

Centralparkcurrierivesmcgowan

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.”

Sleighcentralpark19thcentury1

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.

Sleighinginharlem18721

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.

Centralparksledkids1897mcny

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]

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

  1. vastlycurious.com 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 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: