Reminisce: Lima streets ‘lively with sleighs’

Winters just weren’t the old bone-chilling, snow-covered wonders of yore, the Allen County Democrat lamented a century and a half ago.

“Within our remembrance, winter here meant deep snow, plenty of sleighing, any amount of sleigh rides, with skating and sliding down hill, the newspaper wrote November 30, 1876. “All is changed now, however” the Democrat added. “Snow and sleighing are the exception. Mud, slush, and rain are the rule. The weather is deadly cold one moment, and warm and melting the next.”

Not surprisingly, the Democrat’s late autumn declaration of the demise of the old-fashioned winter proved premature. “On Friday last our streets were lively with sleighs,” the newspaper noted in early January 1877.

Lima’s streets in the last half of the 19th and early 20th century, before horsepower replaced horses, were often lively with horse-drawn sleighs in the winter. “We have had three days of intense cold, though it is now moderate. On Monday morning we are informed that the thermometer stood 26 degrees below zero. Snow good and sleighing beautiful. Girls ditto,” the Democrat declared January 4, 1860.

The sleighing apparently was so beautiful that Lima’s Weekly Gazette on December 30, 1859, suggested that “the fine sleighing throughout the county affords a first-rate opportunity for those of our country subscribers who are in arrears to come in and pay up, and start the New Year by paying in advance.”

Four years later, at the height of the Civil War, the Gazette again praised the quality of the sleighing but dropped the bill collection attempt. “Sleighing is at present better than ever,” the newspaper wrote January 20, 1864, “and everybody appears to be enjoying it – especially the young folks. Last week some three or four sleigh loads visited our neighboring town of Wapak and had a very pleasant time with the exception of a ‘break down’ of one of the sleighs when near Lima on their return.”

In the years after the war, sleigh rides were a popular winter activity, despite, in the words of the Democrat in February 1881, “croakers who have been in the habit of complaining that we have not had ‘good, old-fashioned winters’ of late…” Noting that the area had, had more than two months of freezing temperatures that winter, the Democrat wrote that, in addition to affording “farmers an excellent opportunity to accomplish much work that could not so well and expeditiously be done with the wagon,” it provided everyone else a lot of fun. The Democrat then went on to paint a scene right out of Currier and Ives.

“What a mint of enjoyment to young and old has it vouchsafed in the way of pleasant sleighing parties. The tinkling of sleigh bells has been the music which enlivened and made cheerful every waking hour since the latter part of November,” the Democrat wrote. “From our office window we can see the fortune favored on our town gliding at a 3:40 speed over the icy surface, wrapped in comfortable blankets and variegated afghans. Our ‘country cousins’ came in, both in sleds and sleighs, and the rosy cheeks of the gentler sex look like the blush of a ripe peach. The ‘sliver moon’ the subject of many a lover’s song, has helped light the way of the parties who seek recreation in a night’s ride to and from the neighboring towns.”

Some, however, were not interested in tinkling sleigh bells and a leisurely ride under a silver moon to and from anywhere. They wanted to race their horse-drawn sleighs as fast as possible down West North Street from Baxter to Elizabeth streets.

“West North Street looked like a circus in town yesterday,” the Lima News wrote January 22, 1892. “All the high and fast steppers were out, and for two solid hours the street was given up to racing.” North Street at the time was not paved and races were held several afternoons a week, often drawing crowds approaching 1,000, according to the News.

“Good many of the racers were out on North Street Tuesday afternoon, and several good races took place,” the Allen County Republican-Gazette wrote January 29, 1897. “Long Dang, the Chinaman, was there; he hardly ever came down the pike last, many times leading.” Dang, who operated a laundry on North Main Street, was one of less than a handful of Chinese Americans living in Lima at the time. He was a well-known owner and racer of horses.

Not everyone was a fan of the sleigh races. “As usual on such occasions everybody with a team had business on North Street, many times stopping the races. Some people imagine they own the earth – they stop their wagons in the middle of the street in order to stop the sport,” the Republican-Gazette sniffed, adding the same people – “generally non-taxpayers,” according to the newspaper – would stop for hours to watch the races.

“Let the sport go on,” the Republican-Gazette concluded. “Give the people that invest money in blooded stock a chance to show what their horses are made of. They pay big taxes for valuable horses, so give them a chance.”

Mostly though, sleighs were used for transportation and pleasure, not racing. “Christmas day was certainly never more inviting to merry makers than the one which is yet green in the memory of all,” the Democrat wrote December 29, 1883. “The air was of a moderate, bracing temperature and the roads could not have been in better condition for sleighing. Savory Christmas dinners and pleasant evening parties supplemented with delightful sleigh rides, was the order of the day and not an opportunity for enjoyment was lost.”

Sleigh rides, of course, could be less charming. Sleighs broke down and overturned, resulting in bruises and broken bones. In the middle of January 1893, a Lima Electric Street Railway Company car struck a sleigh carrying two women at the intersection of South Main and Kibby streets. “The horse was knocked down, the sleigh overturned, and the ladies thrown out,” Lima’s Daily Times reported. The stunned women were taken to a nearby drug store for treatment while the horse “struggled to its feet and ran down Main to Circular Street and turned east, distributing the contents of the sleigh along the route.”

Mischievous children also caused accidents, usually while trying to grab a ride on a sleigh’s runners. “Tuesday afternoon about half-past three o’clock R.M. Funk, the livery man, met with a serious accident,” the Daily Times wrote December 27, 1884. “He was driving out West Market Street in a sleigh when several boys who had been amusing themselves by jumping on every sleigh that passed, attempted to hang on his. The horse became frightened and started on a run. Mr. Funk in his endeavors to stop the animal was thrown from the sleigh and dragged some distance.”

By the 1920s, the horse-drawn sleighs had all but glided into history. On January 17, 1920, the News, in an editorial reflecting on the joys of a good snowfall, wrote. “Sweetest and best remembered of all, were are the bells, the joyous jingling bells, which used to play magic music to which our hearts leaped and danced even as the flakes in the air about us. They are gone. We still have snow, but the cutters and sleighs are stored away in forgotten barn lofts and our winter music is the snort of motors and the backfire of five-ton trucks.”





This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


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