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Old Sturbridge Village to Hold Annual Antique Sleigh Rally

Friday, February 15, 2013


After a two week long delay due to lack of snow, Old Sturbridge Village will finally be holding its annual Antique Sleigh Rally this Saturday, February 16th.

The event celebrates the nostalgia, romance and grace of gliding over the snow in the same19th horse-drawn sleighs that so many once used for travel. Vintage sleighs, competing in a dozen different classes, will be pulled by a variety of horses. The rally begins at 11:00 a.m. The sleigh rally is open to the public and free with museum admission.

Sleighs came in many shapes and sizes, from utilitarian vehicles resembling wooden boxes set on runners with benches inside for passengers, to the finely crafted and polished cutters of the high Victorian era. In addition, Bobsleighs were mounted on four short runners called "bobs", which made them the most agile of the time period.

All these sleighs will be featured, pulled by different horse breeds, including Haflinger, Standard Breed, Gypsy, Morgan, Arabian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Registered Mini and Spotted Draft Saddlebred. The competition includes divisions for adults and juniors. In the "Currier & Ives" class drivers and passengers wear costumes from the time period, and in the "Sleigh Dog" class, drivers' dogs are invited to come along for the ride.

"Many other history museums close for the cold months of winter, but Old Sturbridge Village is committed to portraying what everyday life was really like in the early 1800s, and that includes winter! People are eager to see what the experience was like, how people coped with the harsh weather and stayed warm," says Ann Lindblad, VP of Marketing and Communications for OSV.

According to Old Sturbridge Village historians, during the winter early New England families usually switched from wheels to runners and from carriages to cutters to deal with snow that had accumulated on the roads. Even stagecoaches exchanged their wheels for runners during this season. OSV Curator Tom Kelleher explains,

"For this one season at least, New Englanders enjoyed paved roads, even though they were paved with ice and snow," he notes.

"Instead of plowing the snow away after a storm as we do now, teams of horses and oxen were driven out to trample the snow down. Rolling the roads did not become the norm until the end of the 1800s. Sleighs and sleds dashed along the smooth, slick surfaces much more quickly and comfortably than was possible over rutted, muddy dirt roads. And with rivers and lakes frozen solid, these usual obstacles to travel instead provided convenient and level shortcuts to one’s destination."

According to Kelleher, America saw many new sleigh designs in the 19th century. The cutter, with a single seat for two passengers, and pulled by one horse, evolved in the early 1800s. These tended to fall into two styles: the gracefully curved, swell-body of the Albany cutter, credited to James Guild of Albany, New York; and a similar sleigh with straighter lines, known as a Portland cutter after designer Peter Kimball of Portland, Maine.

Winter was also the most important social season in New England during this time notes Kelleher.

"People not only had time to relax a bit and socialize, but traveling to see friends and relatives was easier in the winter. The winter months were filled with visiting, organized dances, impromptu 'frolics,' and other social occasions. Travel by horse-drawn sleigh usually played a major role in all the cold weather jocularity."

Besides being very educational, the event is sure to be a fun experience for the whole family.

"It’s an entertaining experience – so many antique sleighs, and different horse breeds – a real crowd-pleaser. It’s fascinating to see the differences between small Mini horses and giant Clydesdales, and to see the different sleighs in action," says Lindblad.

For more information, visit the Old Sturbridge Village website.


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