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The Portland Cutter

- Sem Groenewoude

Enjoy this informational article about the Portland Cutter by Sem Groenewoud, former coachman for the Rockefeller family and world esteemed four-in-hand driver.

Portland Cutter

Cutter is an American name for a light sleigh with a single seat board. It appears to have been first used about 1800. The Portland type was square bodied, with a curved dash attached to the upward sweep of the runners. The design is attributed to Peter Kimball, a wheelwright and carriage builder in Maine. The Portland became one of the most popular types of American sleighs. Large numbers were made by specialist builders in New England and Michigan, who sold them wholesale to carriage dealers in other parts of the country, and these dealers often attached their own name plates. The Portland Cutter can be used by a single or pair of horses.

Wethersfield's Particular Portland Cutter: 

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Maker: Brewster and Company, 374 Broome Street, New York, NY

Year Made: 1893

The body is painted midnight blue with black patent leather fenders and nickel-plated screen. This sleigh has vermillion scroll and runners with a single black stripe and black trim and Bedford cord cushions. Painted on the side panels is the Stillman crest (a camel’s head by Louis Proudfoot).

Accessories: a pair of shafts and a pair of red horse plumes.

Owner: According to Mr. Stillman, his father Charles Chauncey Stillman, owned this cutter.

Mr. Stillman used a heavy lap rope and fur feet warmers in the sleigh.

This sleigh seats two persons and was mostly driven by Mr. Stillman, accompanied by his wife, guest or his horse groom. It could be hooked to a Morgan, small Warm-blood, Austrian Haflinger, Norwegian Fjord, etc. Mr. Stillman preferred his own breed of the Hackney horse.

The Hackney is a recognized breed of horse that was developed in Great Britain in recent decades. The breeding of the Hackney has been directed toward producing horses that are ideal for carriage driving. They are an elegant high stepping breed of carriage horse that is popular for showing in harness competitions.   

The harness used on the horse is black, well treated and in top class condition with well-polished brass fittings. It is decorated with brass bells and red horse-hair plumes. A woolen quarter sheet was draped over the horse’s loins for warmth.

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The snow makes sleighing silent. No noise from rumbling wheels or the clip clapping of the horse’s hoofs on the pavement. The bells are there to warn pedestrians and horse riders that the sleigh is approaching.

The conditions for sleighing must be close to perfect. Ideal footing is that the trails have no ruts, are frozen, and have snow cover of about 6 inches. If there is no enough snow, the runners would cut through and hit dirt. Too much snow would be too heavy on the horse(s) to pull the sleigh. The high stepping Hackney horse has less of a problem.

One very important aspect of sleighing is the shoeing of the horse(s). Mostly in late November the farrier (blacksmith) has to put the horse(s) on winter shoes. He fits a rubber pad between the horse shoe and the hoof. If this is not done properly, the snow would ball up and the horse could twist its ankle and go lame. Small studs are put on the shoes to keep the horse from slipping.

Imagine, you and your significant other, warm and cozy, in a one-horse open sleigh, pulled by a stylish Hackney horse, dashing through the snow over hill and dale of the Wethersfield Estate, by moonlight. That is truly MAGICAL.       

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Sem Groenewoud enjoying a drive on a Portland Cutter