When rich New Yorkers and their horses took to Central Park’s new carriage drive

Central Park was a work in progress when Winslow Homer produced this richly detailed scene in 1860. But that didn’t stop New York’s fashionable set from coming out to the park in stylish carriages to see and be seen in a daily ritual known as the “carriage parade.”

Every afternoon between 4-5 p.m., the east side carriage drive from 59th Street to the Mall came alive, explained Lloyd Morris in Incredible New York. “In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Perhaps Homer isn’t capturing just the carriage parade but the various ways Gotham’s wealthy and their horses used new park. Take the woman in the foreground, for example. Thanks to the carriage drive, riding was now socially acceptable for ladies, according to Morris.

“The fashionable hour for equestriennes was before breakfast,” he wrote. “You could see them elegantly togged out in silk hat draped with a flying veil, tight buttoned bodice and flowing skirts….A lady riding alone was invariably attended by a liveried groom or a riding master.”

Men in positions of power indulged in the trotting fad, riding expensive fast horses to Harlem Lane and back to the park. “When General Grant visited the city at the end of the Civil War, one of his first requests was to be taken out to Harlem Lane,” stated Morris. “He shared New York’s passion for trotters, and agreed that ‘the road’ of a late afternoon was one of the most thrilling sights in the country.”

[Lithograph: up for auction at Invaluable]

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5 Responses to “When rich New Yorkers and their horses took to Central Park’s new carriage drive”

  1. aspicco Says:

    “to see and be seen?”
    …so this was the Facebook of the 1860s?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Absolutely! In fact, regular folks used to crowd the drive to get a glimpse of them. Kind of like a red carpet or runway, 19th century style.

  2. countrypaul Says:

    I miss being able to drive through the park on the entire loop road. Is it permanently closed or just using Covid as an excuse for it? Or something else?

  3. jms Says:

    Harlem Lane is but one segment of a most storied (and confusing) route in the city, which includes or has included Weekquaeskeek, King’s Way, Great Post Road, Albany Post Road, Eastern Post Road, Boston Post Road, Queens Road, Kingsbridge Road, Saint Nicholas Avenue, and now Juan Pablo Duarte Boulevard — not to mention Broadway, Park Row, the Bowery, and Fourth Avenue!

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