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A Vehicle for Fun


ABOVE This elegant sleigh, made by Dennett and Potter, probably in Massachusetts or Maine in 1858, is one of the featured objects in SPNEA's exhibition Cherished Possessions: A New England Legacy, currently traveling nationally. Gift of Jane Standen Tucker.

This sleigh, with its sleek lines and expensive paint job, was the equivalent of a sporty red convertible in Richard Tucker's carriage house at Castle Tucker in Wiscasset, Maine. Tucker purchased it in November 1858, when he and his wife, Mollie, were setting up house and starting a family. In the coming years, the sleigh saw enough use that eventually its floor covering had to be replaced with fragments cut from a household carpet. Over time the Tuckers' vehicles also included a Rockaway carriage (the equivalent of a Cadillac), a phaeton, an outing wagon, and a two-passenger Portland Cutter sleigh.

Few people in New England owned as many vehicles as the Tuckers. In the middle of the nineteenth century both sleighs and carriages were still made chiefly by hand, and the work required wheelwrights, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths, and upholsterers. Until industrialization overtook the trade, carriages remained a luxury item that few could afford. Sleighs, since they did not require expensive wheels and axles, were less costly than carriages. Of course, they were only useful after a good snowfall.

In the nineteenth century, snow made travel in winter easier than in other seasons. Snowy roads were packed smooth by rollers, which allowed sleighs on their runners to glide silently along. In fact, sleighs were so quiet that drivers added bells to their horses' harnesses in order to avoid accidents. The ringing bells beckoned people outside and added to the joy of the season. Winter, at least amongst those who could afford it, was a time for leisure in pre-industrial New England. Farming and shipping slowed, and people found time to catch up on reading or correspondence, to spend time with family, and to visit with friends and neighbors. A good fresh snow provided an opportunity to get out and enjoy a drive. On all but the coldest days, heavy coats and gloves and warm lap rugs made it possible to enjoy the crisp winter air and to speed thrillingly along, windswept, in a stylish horse-drawn sleigh.

-Nancy Carlisle


FImg_01rom the CHAIR
Exciting times! As the year draws to a close we look back on a great deal of excitement for SPNEA. New President Carl Nold arrived with energy and enthusiasm for our goal of serving greater audiences in all that SPNEA does. In partnership with MASS MoCA we demonstrated that history can be contemporary too. Working with Colby College Museum of Art, we opened the exhibition Cherished Possessions: A New England Legacy, to begin a run that will tour the nation and make SPNEA resources better known to collectors and the public.

Less visible, but equally important, educational programs at Pierce House, Dorchester, Massachusetts, placed SPNEA squarely at the center of community service. There is much more, including National Historic Landmark status for Beauport, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, new publications, and collections acquisitions. All in all, it has been a year of success in serving our members and the public.

These successes would not occur without the generous support of our members, foundations and granting agencies-without you! Year end is when we come to you for an annual gift of support, and I know that you will respond generously to recognize the exceptional contributions made by SPNEA to the preservation of New England heritage this year, and to help us continue that work in the year ahead. Thank you, and best wishes.

-Janina Longtine, M.D.
A Vehicle for Fun