When New York winters were spent on the ice

One of the few activities open to both men and women in the 19th century city, ice skating was hugely popular.

“Skating in a moral and social point, is particularly suited to our republican ideas as a people,” stated the handbook published by the Brooklyn Skating Rink Association for the 1868-1869 season.


Above, skating at Brooklyn’s Union Pond in 1863, once in the town of Williamsburgh on Marcy Avenue.

“The millionaire and the mechanic, the lady of fashion and those of humbler rank, all meet together to enjoy this fascinating and beautiful exercise.”


How democratic ice skating was is not exactly clear. Ice was plentiful, but you needed the money to buy or rent skates.

And the fashionable attire worn by ladies on the ice, as seen in this Winslow Homer painting from 1861, was not cheap.


These sleighs and the handsome teams that pulled them were costly as well, afforded by only the richest New Yorkers.

This Currier & Ives lithograph shows the skaters and the sleighs, sharing a snowy Central Park in what looks like the 1860s.

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2 Responses to “When New York winters were spent on the ice”

  1. Beth Says:

    Are you familiar with the Ladies Pond in Central Park? I only learned about this just recently. Wasn’t all that successful, to the ladies’ credit. Gotta love those Victorians!

  2. Jackie Cangro Says:

    I recently saw a short segment about the beginnings of the Central Park ice skating rink. The host said it was so popular because it was the first type of “sanctioned” exercise for women. Ice skating opened the door to other sports for women.

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