Being a city of hills, Amsterdam was ideal for the winter sport of bobsledding.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, winter coasting carnivals brought visitors from miles around to slide down steep city thoroughfares including Market, Northampton, Bell and Locust.
The Amsterdam Daily Democrat gave a full account of a nighttime coasting carnival in February 1887 on Market Street. There was a parade and parties after the races, which went on into the night. Red flares and Japanese lanterns lighted the course.
The bobsleds had front and rear steering, clanging bells and brake systems, according to historian Hugh Donlon. “Much depended on the steersmen and brakeman of the teams that ranged from 10 to 20 men, all colorfully uniformed. The Joker Club, for instance, wore red St. Nicholas caps, red coats, blue cuffs and collars, blue knee breeches, red stockings and low shoes.”
Despite the precautions, serious and even fatal accidents sometimes resulted and the sport was finally banned in the 1920s, when motor traffic increased.
For the coasting carnival on Valentine’s Day night in 1887, the weather was not ideal, according to the Daily Democrat. Amsterdam had thaw and slush, not the clear, bracing weather that was desired. Nonetheless, the newspaper reported, the evening was “fairly successful.”
A dozen or more coasting clubs arrived from Albany on the 6:16 p.m. train, which included a special car for their handsome bobsleds, or bobs. The Thirteenth Brigade Band of the National Guard played to greet them. The “hungry bobbers” did “ample justice” to food provided at the YMCA and the Hotel Warner.
The band played again at 7:30 p.m. for a parade through downtown and up Market Street hill for a fireworks display. Albany’s clubs included several named Yum Yum. Other clubs included Beverwyck, Monitor and even a club named for Tammany Hall, the New York Democratic Party political machine.
The newspaper reported: “The bobbers presented a very pleasing appearance in their neat and tasteful uniforms. The Beverwyck club were attired in dark blue and white, the Yum Yums in orange, the Monitor club in gray, and the Tammany Hall club in plaid suits.”
Clubs from Fort Plain and other points west arrived on the 8:43 p.m. train. Coasting began at 9 p.m. There were no races as it was too dark.
The Democrat wrote, “The bob Beverwyck made the first trip down the slide. As it was turning the corner at the foot of the hill it went over the bank. The bobs Niagara, Bob Moore and Nonpareil, which were close behind, ran into the Beverwyck. The crews of the bobs were thrown into a confused mass. Several persons received injuries.”
The bobs were hauled by teams of horses up Northampton Road to the top of Market Street hill for the next event. Yum Yum ’88 tipped over during the second slide down the hill. On that run, Yum Yum ’87 collided with Yum Yum ’86.
The wounded were taken to the house of Dr. Timmerman. One injured man spent the night at the Hotel Warner and was attended by two Amsterdam doctors.
Despite the accidents, the Democrat wrote, “The heavy bobs sped down the hill like lightning and the coasters greatly enjoyed the sport. The Tammany Hall was one of the fastest, if not the most fleet bob on the slide. The Flyway of Fort Plain made good time.”
The Amsterdam Coasting Association entertained at a party at the YMCA after the event. The out-of-town teams left on midnight trains east and west.
Some Albanians stayed overnight and enjoyed a barouche ride the next day. A barouche is a stylish horse-drawn carriage.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.