Travel in the early years of the nineteenth century was not the most pleasant adventure. The roads were maintained by the local land owners, who might or might not keep them in good repair. Many roads became overcome with ruts and holes in wet weather. Joseph Sickler states in his "History of Salem County" New Jersey travel was "decidedly tedious". Sickler indicates that "gigs and light wagons were in use but were considered to be luxuries" Many of the sections of road that were habitually wet and muddy were turned into corduroy roads. A corduroy road is lined with logs, side by side, to allow easier passage in the mud. Unfortunately, this also created a very bumpy ride. John Cunningham indicates in "New Jersey-Americas Main Road" that the roads were full of loose stones and deep holes. A traveler could be shook so violently, that when they stepped down they could hardly stand. The one thing that smoothed out all the bumps was snow. When the roads were covered with snow, it might have been cold, but it was a great way to travel.
And where was it great to travel to? Taverns of course. The Salem County Historical Society possesses school essays from the 1820 to 1835 time frame which talk of the "delightful recreation" of sleighing in general and of sleighing to taverns. Taverns or inns were originally known as ordinaries. Cunningham indicates that in the seventeenth century it was the order of the law in New Jersey that "every town provide an ordinary for the relief and entertainment of strangers "By the late eighteenth century, the ordinary became an inn or tavern. Cunningham indicates that the taverns and inns "represented the political, legal, and social center of a community, where major affairs took place, where news and gossip were exchanged. The towns people looked up to the tavern keeper. He distributed mail, held sheriffs sales and served as a host for community gatherings." In the early nineteenth century the tavern became important as a leveling influence and class distinctions were not recognized. Jon Bull brown indicates in "Early American Beverages" that the tavern was a place to "obtain a good meal, along with drinking alcoholic refreshment, dancing to a fiddle, and playing with pennies". So it was great fun in the winter snows of the early 1800s to sleigh to a tavern in another town and to have some beer or cider .It is to be noted that New Jersey was famous in the early years for the cider and applejack which were warming in the cold of winter.
Sometimes, near a tavern would be a glass house as in the case of Malaga. Hammonton and Glassboro, New Jersey. In 1835 there were two glass houses in Glassboro, Harmony (Olive) Glass Works and Temperance Glass Works. One of the essays ,from 1835 talks about a tradition of evening sleighing to Pole Tavern or Black Horse Tavern for "one of their famous suppers "After supper the party went on to the glass houses in Glassboro," where the fires and works were kept going all night".
The essay then states, "Here many fancy glass ornaments were manufactured, singing glasses, balls, horn, canes, ect". There were also hats, chains and flip-flops, along with pitchers, bowls and drinking glasses. The sleighers would purchase some of these whimsies that were put out as souvenirs of their winter trip.
Glass House whimsies are considered to be non-production items the glass workers made for gifts, presentation pieces or just to show their craftsmanship. This documentation that the whimsies were being sold does not conclude that they were production items. The glass workers saw an opportunity to make a few extra dollars by accommodating the sleigh ride parties. The workers provided the warmth of the glass house and the chance for those in the party to obtain a few souvenirs not normally available to them. This also, most likely influenced the glass workers to use their craftsmanship to expand the types of whimsies they made. These early years of the 1800s were apparently rich with the making and obtaining of Glass House Whimsies.
The school essay goes on to say "singing glasses resemble a decanter, upset to where held by the neck, the lips pressing the bottom, a musical sound would accompany the voice. these singing glasses were very thin and it was a great treat to get one home safely. The balls and horns were easily carried, and ladies had the duty of the glass artifacts, if saved, to get them home safely. The horns were used to notify the population about 4 or 5 am that a sleighing party was on their way home. Every gentleman blew the horns, and there was noise enough "From the words in this quote, you can see that the winter sleigh parties were somewhat of a regular treat that took place over a number of years. There is also the indication of a frolicking, noisy party. Sickler indicates that the winter of 1829 was the coldest since 1780 and that even the Delaware River was frozen over. With this cold spell, there was probably snow and some grand sleigh rides for supper, partying, and souvenir buying.
Charles Hajdamach talks about singing glasses in his book "British Glass 1800-1914".In addition to mentioning flip-flops, Hajdamach indicates "In addition to this action with the flip-flop, boys used to put the thin part to their lips and sing upon it, when the vibration caused a sound consequent on their breath bearing upon the thin surface, it was then called a 'singing glass'. "Hajdamach indicates that glass lads of the early 19th century used the singing glasses while going out carol singing at Christmas time.Of course, the flip-flop could also be blown into at the stem end to produce the customary flip-flop sound.
The essays give us a good sense of the enjoyment that the winter sleigh rides provided in an otherwise difficult life style. you would also get the sense that it wasn`t worth the aggravation to take one of these trips in a wagon because of the road condition. We are indebted to the Salem County Historical Society for bring these essays to light.
Photos taken from "Down Jersey" by Cornelius Weygandt.