What it was like commuting by sleigh in snowy 1860s Manhattan

The idea of getting around the city by horse-drawn sleigh might sound like a lot of fun to contemporary, snow-starved New Yorkers.

But as this detailed illustration from 1865 shows, sitting in an open-air omnibus as three teams of horses round a tight side street covered in snow was probably rather miserable.

What a rich scene the illustration offers, though. While two drivers direct three teams of horses to pull the streetcar to its destination, groups of boys are having a jolly time on sleds. A dog joins in the excitement, chasing the horses.

Ads for a tailor and a seller of shirts appear on the storefronts in the background. And when was the last time you came across a shop selling only wine and tea?

This omnibus appears to carry commuters to and from the Fulton Ferry, which allowed people to cross the East River in an era before bridges. I’m not quite sure how the omnibus got from the ferry on the East River to Broadway, Greenwich Avenue, Amity Street (the former name for Third Street), and Seventh Avenue.

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

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5 Responses to “What it was like commuting by sleigh in snowy 1860s Manhattan”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    I have wondered – still do – what happens after snow season and before “real” spring when the streets were seas of oozing mud puddle. Surely they didn’t sled over them, and didn’t wagon wheels get stuck? So how did NYC cope with “mud season”?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      From what I’ve come across, mud season was almost every season—thanks to rain, horse urine, and other liquids that made NYC streets notoriously filthy. With this in mind, a cold snap would have been welcomed!

  2. Bob Says:

    This was one of the routes of the New York Consolidated Stage Company, from 1854.

    “Fourth Route.-From Forty-second Street through Seventh and Greenwich Avenues to Amity Street, through Amity Street to Broadway, through and along Broadway
    to Fulton Street, through and along Fulton Street to Fulton Ferry.”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Bob! That’s a long route to travel by omnibus.

      • velovixen Says:

        Yes! I got exhausted just reading it.

        It’s interesting that rides in sleighs–or any conveyances pulled by horses–is seen as romantic today. The illustration conveys, I think, the arduousness of such trips.

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