Nyack People & Places: Sled Race on N. Broadway


Nyack is not the North Pole, but historically it has not been short of winter attractions. Nyack was not only home to the Ice Bridge, which crossed the frozen Hudson River to Tarrytown, but it was also a sleigh center. Sled racing has become a winter sport in the pre-automobile Nyack. On January 24, 1891, horse-drawn sleds gathered to compete on a course from Upper Nyack to First Baptist Church on N. Broadway. Crowds lined the street as runners competed for a purse that amounted to $ 3,000 in today’s currency.

Sleds were important everywhere in the pre-automobile era. They were the only reliable form of transportation for snowy and icy roads or to cross the Ice Bridge. And in the lower Hudson Valley, Nyack was the hub of sled making, attracting both sporty and fashionable types to Nyack for sledding gear of all kinds.

Manufacture of sleds in Nyack

A trendy and highly detailed two-seater sleigh sold by Christie through a nationally distributed magazine.

Two full-service sled makers began producing sleds during the Civil War era. It made sense for the car makers to have a second “winter” company so they could work year round. Unlike modern automobile manufacturing, where components are built in different places and assembled in a single factory, the Nyack companies would manufacture each part and assemble the sleds in one location. Metalworkers, upholsterers, carpenters, leatherworkers and painters all worked under one roof.

The “Model T” sled of its day was the Portland Cutter, a two-person, inexpensive, easy-to-manage single-seater sled. Nyack’s sleigh shops stood out because local designers, taking inspiration from European models, created trendy custom sleds. The two-seater and three-seater fancy models sold mainly outside of Nyack, but the widebody bought large three-seater models.

Wright Factory

The brickyard of O. Wright on Hudson Avenue with a team of sled makers holding tools for their various trades. Around 1890.

EL Wright began making cars in 1843. He also made carts, harnesses, and over 27 different types of sleds. His large factory was located in a three-story wood-frame building at Hudson and Railroad Avenues (now called Depot Place).

Wright’s factory was near Nyack train station, so it was a convenient place to send finished sleds to distributors. The lumber mill burned down in the 1880s and was rebuilt in 1887 as a brick mill run by Wright’s son Ornan P. Wright.

OP Wright’s designs were often featured in Monthly transport, a national trade magazine. Its Vis-à-vis six-seater Russian sled body had panels on all sides that depicted a shell with tiger heads carved on the doors. The bodies were painted ultramarine blue with light blue stripes. The sledges were lined with blue cloth. The cushions had diamond-braided tops with fancy buttons. And the carpets were blue with narrow red stripes tied with laces.

Christie Factory

The Christie Carriage and Sleigh store circa 1865. The Christie brothers are not labeled but they may be the two tall men in the center of the photo.

Aaron Christie was the first to make horse-drawn carriages and sleighs in the village, starting his business in 1835 on Broadway near Main Street. Christie lived off Broadway, next to what was then the Presbyterian Church and is now the Nyack Center. In front of the house was a municipal water pump, known as the Christie Pump. Christie quickly moved her factory to larger neighborhoods on Liberty Street, between Church and Jackson Streets (now part of Nyack Plaza), near the Nyack evening newspaper building. Several shops were grouped together, including, in a corner of the building, a saddler and a coach tailor; and elsewhere, a blacksmith’s workshop, a wheelwright’s workshop and the painting room.

Christie’s sons, Augustus E. and James H., developed the business in 1871, thriving as the AE & JH Christie Company, making beautiful cars and sleds. Like OP Wright, it was a national company, advertising in the Monthly transport. Not to be outdone by Wright, in 1888 the Christies also offered a six-passenger Russian sleigh.

Sleigh Road Rage, accidents and social celebrations

Couple sled races in this Currier & Ives style illustration.

With so many sleds on the road, conflict was inevitable. AJ Smith of Upper Nyack was returning from a train at 8:11 one morning in his cutter. As he reached downtown Broadway, Edgar Smith stopped beside him as if to hand him the “brush.” When AJ saw this his eyes sparkled and he sent his horse forward for all he was worth. He accelerated, satisfied that he hadn’t let the other Smith walk past him. When he finally turned around, he realized that Smith had turned onto Main Street and hadn’t run at all. People who had seen the incident burst out laughing.

Sleigh riding wasn’t just fun. Accidents were not uncommon. In 1875 a young couple moved from Mr. Knapp’s Highland home to Rockland Lake. Mr Knapp saw the horse and the overturned sleigh come back and ran to stop the horse in High St. The young couple were bloodied. The cause of the accident hit a stone. In 1889, a large sleigh with six people on board traveled from Norwood to Central Nyack turning onto Highland (9W) and, turning onto Depew Ave towards downtown Nyack, the sleigh tipped over. No one was injured and the driver was able to hold the reins and stop the team of horses.

The sleds could hold several people. For example, in 1887, sixteen women took a sled to Viola County Hospice from Nyack, eleven miles away. It was a big problem for the women to go alone, even though the driver was an African American from the Demarest stable. They had lunch at the hospice and declared it clean and welcoming. They returned just as darkness fell at 5:30 p.m.

The sleigh race of 01/24/1891 on N. Broadway

It was a Tuesday afternoon in 1891 when the trotters gathered for a pre-arranged informal competition. The conditions were perfect, with snowy and icy roads. It was a whole collection of horse flesh and sledges. At least seven runners from Nyack participated, along with at least four from neighboring towns. George Chapman, who played golf and tennis during the summer months at Nyack Country Club and was an officer with the Nyack National Bank, was initially lined up. The racetrack on Broadway Avenue, between First Baptist Church and the Upper Nyack Line near Highmount Avenue, is a quarter-mile straight run. The gathering of more than 10 horses and sleds must have filled many front yards and neighboring fields. There is no record available of the exact distance of the race course, the rules of the competition or who won the purse. The owners claimed to “brush” for fun, but the cash prize was significant. the Rockland County Journal noted, however, that “many groups came together from both sides of Broadway to watch the competitions and the sleigh was superb.” The races lasted all afternoon and cleared up as the sun set over the Nyack Hills.

See also

Photo credits: Photos courtesy of Nyack Library

Michael Hays has been a resident of the Nyaks for 30 years. Hays grew up the son of a teacher and a nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He recently retired after a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Hays is an avid cyclist, historian and amateur photographer, gardener and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he wants to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

HRHCare community health logoNyack People & Places, a weekly series featuring photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by HRHCare and Weld Realty.

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