From the Vineyard Gazette edition of January 5, 1940:
The first real snowfall of winter began Friday night and continued through Saturday morning, until the Island was covered to a depth of four to five inches. There were no large drifts in most neighborhoods, but the snow proved to be a taste of genuine winter just the same. The snow clung to trees and fences, and the outlook everywhere was spectacularly beautiful.
With temperatures well below the freezing point both night and day, the snow had not even begun to melt up to this morning, and further cold weather was predicted. In many places, however, the walks and streets were trodden or rolled down until the snow changed into ice, and a few warm suns helped to glaze an icy surface.
Snow on the ice ponds retarded the thickening of the ice, and no cutting was reported on any of the ponds.
The snow which fell Friday night and Saturday was not extraordinary in any way, but it has proved somewhat uncommon in its lasting quality. Seldom in recent years has there been a fortnight of early winter with low temperatures sustained as they have been, and the snow and ice so long coating the streets. Should this sort of thing continue, the sleigh might come back.
We did not know what it was that drove the sleigh from the ordinary life of the Island — whether the sleigh went with the horse, or whether it went because winters became milder. It is certain that we have had one or two prolonged cycles of mild winter, without much snow or ice. The present experience will probably be remembered vividly by many young people, and when they are adults they can tell about the good old fashioned hard winters they used to know.
Ordinarily we get our worst cold snaps in February (it was usually from the end of January until early March that the steamboats were apt to be icebound in some harbor) and ordinarily the ground is free of snow most of the winter.
The fall of snow last week was unfortunate for the ice dealers because the blanket of snow insulates the ponds and considerably delays further freezing. It seems too bad to have a fortnight of temperatures so far below freezing and no good ice to show for it.
Real sleighing accompanied by all the music of jingling bells, the snorting of restive horses, the shouts of men and the giggling of girls, well wrapped in buffalo robes, has been the recent program at Wayside Farm, Chilmark. The snowfall, exceptional both in its depth and the length of time it had remained, supplied the finest of sleighing on the bridle-paths of the Fenner ranch and adjoining properties, and the Vineyard descended upon the scene, eager to enjoy this rare sport.
In double and single sleighs, with single horses and pairs, the snow-riders have flashed through the Quenames woods and out upon the low country of Quenames, day after day. The horsy group which has been riding for months through these same paths has found recent days somewhat cool and comfortless in the saddle, but submerged in the depths of a cutter, half-filled with robes, the weather exerted no effect whatever and the gay winter program has continued.
Sleighing as a pastime, sport or recreation is something that the Vineyard has not known much for many years. Time was when virtually every horse owner possessed a sleigh, livery stables always had several, and even carried runners which could be fitted to the heavy surreys and other types of heavy carriages, simply by removing the wheels. Thirty-odd years ago, up-Island mail often arrived at Vineyard Haven by sleigh, and even the freight transported over Island highways was sometimes carried on sleds.
Somewhat before that time, when no less than half a dozen truckmen handled the landing freight at the Vineyard Haven steamboat dock, Arthur B. Swift, Capt. Leroy Lair, Jacob Luce, John Luce and others introduced the pung, a box body on plank runners, for this purpose. Mr. Swift built the first pung, following an unusual snowfall at about this time of year, and others followed suit.
Since those days, however, there have been few snowfalls that provided sleighing for more than a day or two at a time, and with the passing of the horse the attention paid to sleighs and possible sleighing has been less and less. With present conditions, however, the automobile has not been at a real disadvantage, as the main highways were plowed thoroughly. But the frost in the ground before the snow fell served to preserve the few inches of snow left by the plows, which, under the packing by traffic, turned to icy hardness, and there were few places east of West Tisbury village where sleigh could not have been used to advantage on the highways, and virtually all fields were well covered except on Gay Head. Here, as is traditional, the snow gathered but lightly, being blown clear of the land by the wind which accompanied the snow.
Compiled by Hilary Wall