The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Winter in Boston

Happy Winter Solstice!

I have gathered a few historic winter views of Boston for you to enjoy on this long winter’s night.



To begin, let’s just say that Bostonians have always been a hardy lot. “Scene in Winter Street, Boston, during the late snow storm” by W. J. Peirce, illustrates the horse-drawn Boston & Jamaica Plains Trolley attempting to get through the storm of 1854. Today we complain about trolley service delays during snow storms, imagine trudging out with a shovel to clear the trolley path through Boston’s congested city streets in 1854. 

In modern culture we romantically idealize sleigh rides through the snow as a common winter pastime of “yester-year”. Well, apparently that was not enough for Bostonians who clearly craved much more excitement. Lets reimagine that “Currier and Ives” Christmas image and instead think of Sleigh Racing on Boston Neck circa 1850. Sleigh Racing was a popular winter activity at the time and this graphic depicts the crowds milling around applauding the action as men race down Boston Neck (now filled in) with the Washington House in the background. 

And perhaps the most wonderful of all Winter activities, with an equally delightful description, “Coasting on the Common” seems like the perfect winter thing to do, doesn’t it? For those of you who are not familiar with Boston, the Boston Common is a public park in the middle of the city, directly in front of the Massachusetts State House. Published in Harper’s Weekly, V. 19, no. 946, February 13, 1875 p.132 this graphic “Coasting on Boston Common” from a sketch by Edmund Henry Garrett, depicts boys on sleds on Boston Common racing downhill, while adults in the crowd look on. An insert in the upper righthand corner shows the boys pulling their sleds back up the hill. The city of Boston actually built and maintained the ‘coasting’ course, and even built bridges over the course for spectators to watch the action from overhead. 



The article states “boys of all ages, sizes and complexions take part in this exhilarating pastime.” And that “Nothing but the lack of unoccupied sleds, says a Boston Paper, prevents the young ladies from taking part in the sport. This is a sad commentary on the gallantry of Boston youth. Why shouldn’t the young ladies, and the old folks too, have their share of fun and frolic if they feel inclined?” Although the article does go on to say that “young ladies “come to grief” before reaching the end on the course”, it is still rather liberal for 1875, indicating that ‘Coasting on the Common’ was truly open to all.


If you happen to be in Boston to enjoy the winter holiday, stop into to see our exhibitions, which are free and open to the public.  The exhibitions includes a special display of the “Anti-Christmas laws”- yes! you read that correctly! Curious to learn more? Stop in to see the Anti-Christmas proclamation.During the holiday week, the galleries will be open Tuesday (12/26) through Saturday (12/30) from 10am to 4pm.


permalink | Published: Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 12:00 AM


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