Nearly a century ago, before modern street traffic moved uptown, the streets of Inwood served as playgrounds for the neighborhood’s youth. In fact, it was the automobile that eventually cleared the streets of children and led to the development of playgrounds throughout the city.
But this story takes place in a time before Robert Moses and his famed Parks and Playgrounds movement.
This little tale about the “Boys of Dyckman Street” comes from a 1915 magazine titled: St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks. While primarily a kid’s magazine, the vintage advertisements are clearly geared for the mothers and are just as amusing as the story itself.
Without further ado:
SAILING ON WHEELS IN NEW YORK CITY
From: St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks-1915
On certain days, especially Saturdays, when a stiff breeze sweeps over the Hudson from the Palisades and swings up Dyckman Street, then, if you should happen to be there–mind it is hard to pick the exact time–you would see some very strange craft come rattling up the street, with a youthful skipper at each helm, going (as a sailor would say) dead before the wind, in a friendly race over the smooth pavement.
“For the Boys of Dyckman Street,” says the New York “Sun,” “have invented a new sport, sailing on wheels.
It is not a rich boy’s sport exclusively, but it is within the reach of every lad, for the only requirements are a few old roller-skates or wheels, a soap-box or a couple of planks, a few long sticks for masts and spars, some chord for sail ropes, and a sufficient quantity of light strong fabric for sails. ”
Dyckman Street is paved with asphalt, and the boys and girls of the vicinity have long been familiar with its advantages for roller-skating.”
Each one of the new craft is home made, its young captain trying to outdo his neighbors in some little device that will give him better results. In our illustration the foremost is made from a soap-box mounted on a running-gear and steered with the hand, while the one in the rear is shaped like an ice boat, mounted on roller-skates and steered with the feet. The sails may be of any conceivable shape or material, from an old bed quilt to the canvas of a dainty canoe.
“‘It was plain to me,’ said one youngster in telling about it (to resume the “Sun’s” account), ‘that if I could coast before the wind on roller-skates it ought to be equally possible to sail before it in a contrivance mounted on wheels. So, taking the ice boat as a model, I designed a land-boat with two boards fastened together cross-wise and mounted on the wheels of roller-skates, attached to a mast and sail to its forward end, and gave it a trial.
“‘The wind was blowing a gale from the Hudson River at the time, and I was swept along at a great rate toward Broadway. I had to let my sail go flying out in front before I could stop. After a few more trials I found out that all I had to do to stop the boat was to turn her round into the wind exactly as you would do if you were sailing a boat on the water.’
“Here another boy, who had been listening to his friend, had this to say: ‘I don’t know which of us first thought of a wheel boat; all I know is that we showed up on Dyckman Street on the same afternoon. I guess we ought to have equal credit, as our boats were so different that no one could say that one of us had copied from the other.’
“The boys asked the reporter if he would like to see them race, and he answered ‘Yes,’ took his stand among the children at the finishing line, and prepared his camera to snap the contestants while the race was in progress.
“For a while the race was even. Then it became apparent that the boy in the wagon-boat was to be the winner, the wheels with the greater circumference attesting their superiority over roller-skates.
“Snap! Went the reporter’s camera and the race was over.
“I’ll beat you yet,’ said the loser, as he shook hands with the boy who had won. ‘You won today with your bigger wheels. Next time we race I’ll carry more sail.’
“‘Do you think that will even things up?’ he was asked.
If it doesn’t, I’ll give up roller skates for wagon wheels,’ he replied, which shows that he was willing to acknowledge superior merit when he saw it.”
So, should you find yourself in New York City some breezy afternoon with an hour to spare, take the Subway train to Dyckman Street and watch this new sport. As the “amphibious” craft come sailing along between the picturesque cottages perched on the rocky heights that line the street, you will agree it is one of the strangest sights to be seen in a great city.
For more Inwood history, click here.
I wish I had one of those when I was a kid… but I couldn’t even ride a bike.