In 19th century NYC, sleigh carnivals took over parks on snowy days

Posted On Tue, January 29, 2019 By

Posted On Tue, January 29, 2019 By In History

Image: NYPL

While it’s been a snow-free winter in NYC so far, once in a while it’s nice to imagine a snowy January day in Central Park. Ephemeral New York brings us a particularly charming example of how New Yorkers found a reason to socialize even in frozen conditions two centuries ago. Sleigh carnivals turned out scores of joyriding city folk who wanted to show off their new super-light rides. James Stuart wrote in his 1833 UK travel memoir, “Three Years in North America,” that after a heavy January snow, “the New York carnival began, and the beautiful light-looking sleighs made their appearance. Even the most delicate females of New York think an evening drive, of 10 or 20 miles, even in the hardest frost, conducive to their amusement and health.”

Sleigh carnival, history
Image: NYPL

Though sleigh-riding was enjoyed all winter long throughout the 1700s with trips out of town–during which one always ran into friends doing the same–the “sleighing carnival” became an annual event in the 19th century. Larger sleighs were used for public transportation and to get to the city’s parks and promenades; “light” sleighs appeared as more of a personal vehicle for joyriding.

Sleigh carnival, history
Image: NYPL

According to the Carriage Journal, “The popular hours were from 3 to 5 p.m., during which thousands of sleighs thronged the Park and every imaginable vehicle that could possibly be used for pleasure riding was brought out. Where all came from was a matter for surprise.”

If you fancy a winter sleigh ride, you may have to head upstate. Try the Highland County Forest Park, or hit the Adirondacks at Circle B Ranch outside Lake George, or at Lake Placid Sleigh Rides.

[Via Ephemeral New York]

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