By 1923, cars were no longer a novelty on Cumberland’s roads. They had surpassed horse-drawn wagons and carriages as the main form of transportations. With more cars on the streets, the chances of accidents rose.
Cars could zip along at speeds of 40 miles an hour or more. However, just like today if a driver tried to stop too quickly on snow-covered streets, the car could slide out of control.
That was causing problems because children sledding shared a similar problem. Once their sled was in motion, it was hard to stop. Unfortunately many of them didn’t stop until they hit a moving car.
This led parents to action. At a city council meeting in February 1923, “The suggestion that a special street for sled riding by children be roped off and protected by city authorities in order to prevent accidents from vehicular traffic was frequently heard today,” reported the Cumberland Evening Times.
The initial program began with the police department barricading a few selected streets in the city on snow days and allowing sledding in the evening from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Using any other streets could get you arrested, according to a 1926 Cumberland Evening Times article.
The program grew in popularity. More streets and Constitution Park were added for sledding. The Cumberland Recreation Department and then the Parks and Recreation Department became the administrators of it.
“We would put barricades out and lanterns on them at the top, bottom and main intersections with the street,” said Gene Mason, a former director of the Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department.
The Cumberland Evening Times noted that the streets were left unplowed to allow one night of sledding. At the most, streets were barricaded 36 hours. Following the night of sledding, the barricades were removed and the streets plowed and had cinders spread on them.
Mason said he even enjoyed sledding with his children. His last time sledding was in the late 1960’s when he was sledding on Winifred Road with his daughter. His daughter was riding down the hill on his back when they hit a bump and went into the air. When they came down, the sled’s runners folded under them.
“She went flying through the air,” Mason said. “I slid a few feet and scratched my face. I also cracked two ribs. My daughter thought it was great fun and wanted to go again. I told her, ‘You can go, not me.’ It was hurting me to breathe.”
By the 1970’s, 19 streets in seven sections of the city were being set aside for a day of sledding. This didn’t stop kids from sledding at other locations, but problems that arose only supported the need for the sledding program. In 1967, the Cumberland News reported on a number of children injured in accidents with cars when they were sledding on streets not set aside for sledding.
“I don’t recall any complaints about the program by the neighbors,” Mason said. “They recognized that it provided a safe place for kids to sled.”
Mason said the program ending in the city in the 1980’s.
“You just don’t see as many kids riding sleds on the city streets now,” Mason said. “It was a good program, though, and the kids enjoyed it.”
See the original story in the Cumberland Times-News here.