The Holidays are upon us, and I’m taking time to celebrate and enjoy some time with family, That means I won’t have much new for you for the next week or so. (Don’t worry, we will wrap up the Alfred T. Bonniwell story in the very near future. I promise!) But in case you need a little Clark House history for fireside reading this week, I’m going to re-post several seasonal CHH favorites from past years. And since much of the Midwest is currently under a blizzard warning, I thought we should begin with this essay, which originally appeared in early 2021, was revised last February, and has been updated with an additional Currier & Ives lithograph for today’s post.
Snow, and often lots of it, was a feature of Jonathan and Mary Clark’s life in Wisconsin. And if you wanted to go to town or church or visit your neighbors during the snowy Wisconsin winter—or just enjoy a pleasant winter ride in the country—you’d need a sleigh.
Currier, Nathaniel (1813-1888), The road, winter / O. Knirsch, lith., 1853. New York: Published by Currier & Ives. Yale University Art Museum, Whitney Collections of Sporting Art, given in memory of Harry Payne Whitney (B.A. 1894) and Payne Whitney (B.A. 1898) by Francis P. Garvan (B.A. 1897) June 2, 1932. Public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.1
We don’t know if the Clarks owned a sleigh while they lived in Mequon. I suspect they did, though their sleigh—and their clothing—may not have been quite as posh as those in this Currier & Ives lithograph from 1853.
Dashing through the snow…
In this image a couple is “dashing through the snow” in a two-horse open sleigh. This would make for a fast and occasionally wild ride, much like driving an expensive, stylish sports car today. And as in the immortal holiday song, the near horse (and also the far horse, I think) had a strap full of jingle bells draped over his back and around his girth. (The next time you visit, take a look around; I think there is a similar strap of bells hanging in the Jonathan Clark House Museum.)
The handsome couple in this sleigh have a nice open road to travel, presumably somewhere in New York state. In contrast, the Mequon area of the 1830s and ’40s was much more thickly forested.2 But by the late-1850s or ’60s—after a decade or two of settlement and land clearing—the area around the Clark’s home may have looked much like this 1853 snowscape, with a decent road passing by large open fields punctuated by the occasional farmhouse and smaller stands of hardwood and fir trees.
Speaking of snow
Unknown artist, The Snow-Storm, published by Currier and Ives, c. 1864, Art Institute of Chicago, public domain CC0.
Of course, even with a sleigh, you’d prefer to have a reasonably clear path for the horses, especially if you like to go fast. After a big storm—without modern snow-throwers or truck-mounted snowplows—that might take a while. The Clark’s longtime neighbor, Rev. James W. Woodworth recorded such a storm in early 1871:
Sabbath, Jan. 15. We are snowed in to day, for a violent storm of wind and snow came on yesterday afternoon.
Jan. 17. We are completely blocked in this morning, and [son] Lewis and I turned out with seven other men shoveling snow, and opened a way as far as the Green Bay road, more than a mile west of us; have been working a part of three days, and finally have succeeded in digging out.3
Here’s hoping you won’t need nine men and three days to shovel out from the snow this winter.
- Our first version of this post featured a black-and-white version of this 1853 Currier & Ives engraving, courtesy of the Library of Congress, which I lightly retouched for color balance. In 1853 this hand-colored version of the engraving would have cost more than the black-and-white version.
- For more on the history of Mequon’s first roads, and Jonathan M. Clark’s role as a road commissioner, see these posts:
• County Government – Early Records
• Marking out the roads
• Roads into the Woods, 1841
• Another Road into the Woods, 1841
- Woodworth, James W., My Path and the Way the Lord Led Me, Milwaukee, 1881, 296-297.