North Yarmouth farm marks 20th Sleigh Day

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NORTH YARMOUTH — During a frosty February 2000, Skyline Farm shook up the dead-of-winter doldrums by holding its first-ever Sleigh Day.

It now draws hundreds of people each year, and the no-charge event will be held for the 20th time from noon-3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9. Skyline Farm, at 95 The Lane, will concurrently launch its new exhibit, “Sleighing – Fashionable, Fun and Family.”

“It’s definitely our signature event, because it was our first event,” Pam Ames, the farm’s vice president, said in a Jan. 30 interview at Skyline’s museum.

Ames and her daughter, Jennifer Kimball, were part of a group in 1999 that formed the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization. They raised $310,000 to purchase the farm the following year from the late Ken Sowles, with an eye toward preserving its 54 acres of fields, woodlands and streams amid the most developed part of North Yarmouth.

The farm put 46 acres of open space into a conservation easement managed by the Royal River Conservation Trust, according to a history at skylinefarm.org.

“The public will always have this as a nucleus to our town, which is great,” Ames said.

Initially, the group was not “sure how to approach getting the word out about Skyline,” Ames recalled.

Sleigh Day did the trick.

Skyline now features rotating exhibits, inspired by Sowles’ collection of horse-drawn carriages, in the 55-by-110-foot building Carl Semmes constructed decades ago.

“His vision was to have a museum, and not just piles of vehicles,” Ames said.

Skyline now has about 165 sleighs, carriages and wagons made or used in New England between the early 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Some people in … the early 1900s, they never switched to cars and trucks when they were invented,” Ames said, “because they had their horses and they knew how to handle them, and they just stayed with it.”

She credited the draw of the event after nearly 20 years – she estimated attendance to be between 200 and 300 people – to Skyline’s authenticity and connection to its history.

“We have an equine background; this used to be a horse stable that gave (indoor) riding lessons in the ’50s and the ’60s, so there’s a little bit of that charm,” she said. “We’re practically one of the only events (this time of year) … except for ice fishing.”

Sleigh Day has “kind of built on itself,” Ames added.

Skyline hires sleighs to give rides around the field during each year’s event. Ben LaPointe of Greene will give rides in his mini sleigh, pulled by a pair of miniature horses, for children up to age 12 beginning at noon. The cost per child is a $5 donation.

Topsham-based Hideaway Farm’s team of draft horses will also provide rides for a per-person donation of $8, or $25 a family. The tickets help offset the cost of hiring the horses, Ames said.

A demonstration of horses and drivers showcasing 19th-century skills and sleighs will be held in the outdoor arena at 12:30 p.m.

“It’s one thing to see a static carriage in a museum, but we like to pride ourselves in being a living museum,” Ames said. “… We will take three or four of our sleighs from our collection and bring them out, and people will use them.”

People are asked to bring their snowshoes for a guided tour of Skyline’s wooded trails at 2 p.m. 

Those wanting to escape the cold can purchase refreshments and homemade hot chowders and soups at the heated Visitor Center. The connected museum’s exhibit, which spotlights hundreds of hard-to-find sleighs and wheeled vehicles, is open 1-4 p.m. Sundays from Feb. 10 to March 31, and by appointment.

“You won’t see children crying at all” at this weekend’s event, Ames assured. “You’ll see happy faces, the inside of the building will be alive with laughter, we’ve got the wonderful food here.” 

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Ben LaPointe of Greene will give rides in his mini sleigh, pulled by a pair of miniature horses, during Sleigh Day at Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth Saturday, Feb. 9.

Pam Ames is vice president of Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth, which holds its 20th annual Sleigh Day event Saturday, Feb. 9.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.