By MARISA SHAARI
Special to Montclair Local

Mother Nature gave Montclairians the chance to enjoy a few days of sledding this winter due to a couple of well-timed snowstorms. Did you know that snow sledding was more commonly called “coasting” in the late 19th and early 20th century? 

According to newspaper articles from the time, coasting was a well-loved winter activity for the citizens of Montclair. This photograph shows a group of children and adults, with sleds ready to race, or “coast,” if you will, down a hill. 

Articles abound about winter coasting in Montclair. Some extol its virtues as a wholesome winter sport for all to enjoy. A notice in the February 28, 1885, edition of The Montclair Times notes that about 200 people enjoyed coasting on Hillside Avenue in the evenings. 

Another article, from 1912, printed a quote enthusiastically praising the glory of sledding: “The swift and exhilarating joy of flitting down the hillside was a grand part of a boy’s experience, and will never grow stale in the memory. What a great thing it would be if the spirit of that sport would get into the humdrum of life and brighten it up some.”

But while some saw sledding as a healthy way to enjoy the snow, others lamented the dangers of sledding and advised caution to those inclined to participate. Most of the concerns involved the risks of sledding on the same roads as automobiles and trolley cars. 

One article from 1925 laments, “Coasting is a sport that was carried on with comparative safety in Montclair before the advent of the trolley car and the automobile, but the pressure of these modern means of transportation in the streets has had the effect of making it an extra hazardous winter pastime.” 

Sledding accidents were occasionally documented in newspaper reports over the years. One such accident occurred in 1888, when a man named Thomas Cranley suffered numerous injuries, including a broken collar bone, after colliding with a tree while sledding on Union Street.

On Watchung Avenue in 1892, several unfortunate boys ran into a tree on their “bob,” resulting in “a severe shaking up” and cuts about the head. In 1907, a 4-year-old boy, “little Phillip Henderson,” fractured his leg while coasting on a small hill a few days before Christmas.

A very serious coasting accident occurred in February 1908 when a large bobsled carrying upwards of 10 young adults collided with a stalled trolley car at Claremont Avenue and Valley Road. The bobsled, said to be going at a “terrific rate” of about 40 miles an hour, smashed into the trolley car, inciting panic among the trolley passengers and the other coasters on the hill.

The sledders suffered numerous bad injuries, including fractured bones, a lung puncture, cuts, bruises and sprains. The alarming nature of the accident caused the police to prohibit coasting on the streets of Montclair, at least temporarily.

Nowadays, Montclair residents can enjoy sledding at Mountainside Park, Nishuane Park or Brookdale Park as well as other hills in town. Here’s to creating many happy memories sledding — or coasting — in Montclair!

“History & Heritage” is a series on Montclair history written by representatives of the Montclair History Center and the Montclair Public Library.

To see more historic photographs of Montclair, visit Montclair History Online at  digifind-it.com/montclair/home.php. In partnership with the Montclair History Center, the library offers over 13,000 digitized photographs, maps, city directories, deed books and more for your research enjoyment.

To use other archival resources available for research, contact the library to make an appointment to use the local history room, localhistory@montclairlibrary.org, or call 973-744-0500, ext. 2235. 

Marisa Shaari is the local history librarian at the Montclair Public Library.