The Rise and Fall of Sleighing

Sleighing using horse-drawn vehicles was a popular activity during the period known as the “Little Ice Age.”  From the 1700s to the 1880s snows came earlier and stayed longer, providing perfect conditions for the use of winter transportation. Originally Americans copied designs from European sleighs, but soon redesigned these sleighs to make them sleeker, faster, and more elegant.  The more affluent sought the latest sleighs, designed for not only speed, but with luxurious interiors and attractive body work.  Likewise, the occupants of sleighs began wearing ever more fashionable clothes and using stylish robes and blankets for protection against the elements. Ironically, the height of the sleighing craze coincided with a warming period that reduced the sleighing season from sixteen weeks, Thanksgiving to April, to just six short weeks.  Rather than grooming roads for sleigh riding, commuters demanded that urban streets be plowed to allow better access with wheeled vehicles.  Unfortunately, the sleigh runners did not fare well in the ruts produced by carriage and automobile tires.  Especially dangerous to horses and sleigh riders were street car tracks which caused sleighs to tip over and the horses to break free. A victim of a warming climate and the commuting needs of the masses, sleighing became less popular.  With the advent of inexpensive motor cars, the “Sunday drive” overtook the thrill of “dashing through the snow.”

Frontier Homestead has three sleigh types in our collection:

sleighs and irons 016Albany Cutter -Throughout the early nineteenth century, sleighs became increasingly lighter and more stylish.  The new stylish look included curved backs, flared sides and sweeping dashes.  In 1814, James Goold of Albany, New York, popularized this swell-body style and these sleighs became known as Albany sleighs.  The sleek design of the Albany cutter made the sleigh very popular in urban areas.

Portland Cutter - In Portland, Maine, Peter Kimball built a sleigh constructed of straight pine horizontal planks with vertical battens that resembled boat construction. sleighs and irons 013This style became known as the Portland Cutter which kept the box shaped floor and flat-paneled design of its predecessor, the Delaware Valley sleigh. Portland Cutters were favored in rural areas because of a higher seat position and superior wind protection over Albany Cutters.


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Bob Sleigh - A bob sleigh is a vehicle in which the body of a wheeled carriage has been placed on bob-runners.  Bob runners are short runners with one set in the front and one set in the rear.  With this arrangement, the front bob runners pivot with the axle. For those who did not want to spend the money for a new sleigh, this provided a way to convert an existing carriage for winter use.