Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 36

READINGS -- SLEIGHING ON EUCLID AVENUE - 1890s

"After noon racing down Euclid Avenue on the snow was one of the long-ago most popular sports; the sidewalks were crowded with spectators and the roadway with fine horses and cutters driven by every kind and class of people, but mostly by men of means, who had fine horses and knew how to drive them at speed. Probably no finer road horses were owned anywhere than in Cleveland in the seventies, eighties and nineties......There was an occasional collision or spill or a horse got out of hand, but that was rare, as the gentlemen of Cleveland were skilled horsemen and drivers......

Belden Seymour


"....I remember a Mr. C.A.Brayton in a one-man cutter, snow on his mustache, in a big fur hat....

Almost everybody had mustaches and whiskers in those days, and when they were covered with frost, they could give Santa Claus quite a handicap.....there is a list of people too long to mention, who spent much time sleighing on the Avenue....It was great fun to see mixed in with these beautiful thoroughbreds, with their sleighs and roves and owners, some butcher boy with an old pacer, who would dash through and make quite a sensation.....

....Occasionally a coal wagon would drive down Euclid Avenue, probably because the driver wanted to see the racers, and this was rather dangerous, and occasionally there were some serious accidents, but nothing that would more than add a little excitement. Although I recall two horses collided and one of the horses received a bad stab from the shaft of the cutter and had to be done away with. There was a lot of talk about this for years and the drivers were more cautious when turning.

....The street used to be pretty well lined with the fans and when the butcher came through with his pacer the shouts were loud.........

Charles A. Otis


"...the snow carnivals (were) along Euclid Avenue, from Perry street (East 22nd street) to Erie Street (East 9th Street)....we could sit at our front window and see the racers go by, and it certainly was a sight. We used to have about four to six weeks of sleighing, and most every afternoon, and especially Saturdays, there was a sleighing carnival....All heavy traffic was kept off the Avenue, and the driveways of the private homes would be filled with observers in their sleighs, and the sidewalks would be filled with people two or three deep, watching the races....I have been told that there was a great deal of betting among the real sports; the stakes were usually baskets of champagne and swell suppers, but even coin of the realm sometimes changed hands.....

.....The real racers had specially built sleighs. In those days the single horse sleigh was called a 'cutter', and the most popular cutter for the racers was called a "Portland Cutter," built as light as possible on the lines of a racing sulky, and only accommodated one person; the driver was low behind the horse, the horse acting as a wind-shield and the cutters were really skeletons....Lowman and Son and William Gabriel were leading Cleveland makers......There were occasional smash-ups and accidents, especially at the end of the race where some preceding racers were turning around to go back, and the following racers would not pull up quick enough to avoid a collision. Also where two or three were in a bunch trying to get by each other, the runners of the cutters would lock, and some of them being so frail and light they would break and spill the drivers, and then there would be runaways. The writer never saw it, but he heard of several runaways where the excited horse tried to jump over the sleigh in front and landed in the sleigh."

.....Every turnout had to be equipped with bells, as that was the law. Sometimes a horse would have a string of bells around the neck or a long string around the body close to the pad through which the reins were passed and the chick-rein was hooked, or there would be standing up from the pad at the top of the horse a metal frame containing from five to ten small bells, and sometimes there would be horsehair plumes; but the racing cutters had the bells fastened on the under side of the shafts or thighs, so that they would be out of the way and not be cumbersome or bother the horse...

Then there were the beautiful big two-horse sleighs, and the driver in some cases would be way up high in front with a big fur cap pulled down over his ears and with a big black bear fur cape around his shoulders, and big fur gauntlet gloves. Sometimes there would be a footman alongside of him similarly dressed. Down in the body of the sleigh would be two wide seats facing each other, and over the backs of these seats would be beautiful fur robes of black or brown bear, wolf or fox, and the occupants would sit on these robes, and then have other luxuriant fur robes to wrap around them to keep them warm. Also there were foot warmers, which were charcoal burners in metal cases, covered with heavy carpet or felt. These sleighs were as ornate in their day as the automobile is today.

The runners were of a different color than the body, and the bodies were striped and paneled in gold, and even had pictures on the back panel. Some of these pictures were landscapes; others would be pictures of animals, such as lions or tigers, or a painting of a bunch of flowers.....

The harnesses of the horses were very showy. They were highly polished brass buckles, rings, rosettes for the bridles, or they might be silver plated.....The horses would have plumes on their bridles, and the whole outfit was certainly gorgeous.

Some of the single sleighs or cutters would have bodies like a sea shell, others would have bodies like a swan, and then again there were the plain, modest cutters of people who believed in simplicity....

Those who lived on the north side of Euclid Avenue were called the "Nabobs," and those who lived on the south side of the street were called the "Bobs".....

Henry Whiting Avery


Discovery: A Teacher's Guide to Regional History,Timothy H. Barrett, Editor,
The Western Reserve Historical Society, 1987.


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