“The department of the public works have over 100 teams at work removing snow from the streets to-day. ... To-day the teams are at work in Chapel and Church streets. The city is paying $5 per day for double teams and $3 for single teams.”
That’s the latest storm update—from Friday March 16, 1888.
The news appeared on the front page of The New Haven Evening Register, four days after the beginning of the Great Blizzard of 1888.
That blizzard dumped 45 inches of snow on the city, nearly a foot more than New Haven received last weekend when Winter Storm Nemo roared through town, earning the title of biggest blizzard since 1888.
A perusal of newspaper reports and photos from 1888 reveals some similarities between the two storms and a number of important differences. For one, the Great Blizzard of 1888 was responsible for some 400 fatalities along the Atlantic coast, while Nemo claimed only 18 lives, in the U.S. and Canada.
In 1888, workers cleared the sidewalks first, while the streets remained piled high with snow, indicating the different transportation priorities of the age. While Nemo stranded cars and trucks throughout the city, the blizzard of 1888 shut down horse-drawn streetcars and railroad service, and took out the telegraph wires.
“A Howling Blizzard,” the Register declared on March 12, 1888, with something approaching pride. “Winter saved its best trump for the last. It threw it to-day and won the pot. A bewildering, belligerent, blinding blizzard ... If there was ever anything like it before in this part of North America, no one remembers it and if they did their testimony against the reputation of this blizzard as the prize storm wouldn’t be received.”
Click here to read the Monday March 12, 1888 issue of the Evening Register. Click here, here, here, and here to read issues from later in the week.
Train service was “knocked endwise” on the first day, cutting off New Haven from New York as if the city “were out in the desert of the Sahara,” the paper reported.
The snow also stopped the “horse cars” running between Westville and Fair Haven.
Power stayed on downtown. “The city will be illumined with electric lights to-night as usual,” the paper reported. “The Electric Light company had little trouble straightening out its wires.” The naptha lamps in Fair Haven, however, were expected to be out all night.
While telegraph wires were down, the blizzard seems to have improved phone service. “Strange to say the local telephone service was never better, and calls were answered much more satisfactorily than on ordinary days.”
As with Nemo, the storm caused a number of cancellations. Children were sent home from school, the post offices were closed, and the Meriden-New Haven polo game was cancelled.
After four days without trains, the first arrival was a train from Springfield, which was “wildly cheered at the depot.”
“Four days without a train coming or going!” the top story proclaimed on Thursday, March 15, 1888. “That will be a queer yarn to hand down into history.”
Street car tracks were still unusable by Thursday, but the Fair Haven and Westville Horse railroad company was working to run “big sleighs” on the line.
“Six of Yale’s young gentlemen” were arrested for “snow-balling.” They fought the charges, bringing over 100 “Yale men” who filled the gallery. Judge Pickett was not swayed, and the students were fined up to $15 each.
Business in the city began to return to normal by Thursday, amid concerns of a lack of fresh meat. And the city began to assess the cost. “A well posted financier and business man estimated to-day that the loss to the city will not fall below a clean half million of dollars”—about $12.5 million in today’s dollars. That’s compared to estimates that Nemo will cost the city $2 million.
Can you identify where the photos in this story were taken? Let us know in the comments.
posted by: HewNaven on February 18, 2013 12:40pm
“In 1888, workers cleared the sidewalks first, while the streets remained piled high with snow, indicating the different transportation priorities of the age. While Nemo stranded cars and trucks throughout the city, the blizzard of 1888 shut down horse-drawn streetcars and railroad service, and took out the telegraph wires.”
I wonder how people got around back then without cars? For most people that seems impossible or insulting to suggest. I’m trying to find a nice way of saying, “look how lazy and entitled you are compared to previous generations!”
posted by: robn on February 18, 2013 12:53pm
One thing, alas is for sure. Had Yale Men not haphazardly parked their buggies about town as if they were so many Nimble Pins scattered about a child’s lawn, the snow could have been trained away in a far more expeditious manner.
posted by: Edward Francis on February 18, 2013 2:15pm
The ninth photo was taken in front of the Artizan Street fire station as the firefighters were digging out and took a break to pause for the picture. No one mentioned “Climate Change” as the cause of the severity of the 1888 blizzard. I guess it was just expected to be part of a bad winter storm that took everyone by surprise. Today we have the blame game for everything from politics to weather.
posted by: Curious on February 18, 2013 2:48pm
Edward Francis, does it really escape you that there were not yet any satellites in orbit in the 1800’s, and that maybe we didn’t know about climate change yet for that reason?
You might as well say that people dying during the Black Death didn’t blame bacteria :/
posted by: robn on February 18, 2013 3:10pm
The appropriate term for climate change back then was “witch” and to fight it you didn’t reduce your output of CO2, you burned women at the stake.
posted by: Edward Francis on February 18, 2013 4:20pm
Curious we have always had climate change….it’s called summer, fall, winter & spring. It’s the same sun that changes its position in space that influence the seasons. The debate will go on and on…
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 18, 2013 4:30pm
1. Near the corner of Artizan Street and Grand Avenue looking towards the Hoggson & Pettis Co. building on Court Street.
2. According to the writing on the photograph, its the “Residence of H. C. Rowe on Prospet (sic.) St.” Most likely the H. C. Rowe who was part owner of one of the most extensive oystering businesses in the world at the time, which was based out of Fair Haven.
3. Chapel Street near the corner of Orange Street looking East. I think the tower on the upper left is the clock tower for the former City Market, which was located at the corner of Union Street.
4. Near the corner of State and Chapel Streets looking west towards the Green. Street Building (b. 1832) on the left.
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 18, 2013 5:04pm
The tower to the City Market is in the top RIGHT of the third photo, not left.
Also, $3 a day in 1888 is like $75 today, which averages out to over $9 an hour for an 8 hour day, which is over a dollar more than Connecticut’s current minimum wage - not bad, although there wasn’t much in the form of a social safety net in 1888.
Also, very interesting article.
posted by: Joe Taylor on February 18, 2013 6:20pm
1)Church St south of Crown looking toward George
2)Church St between Center and Crown building on right side old Post Office
3)State north of Crown
6)State looking north to George
7)Wall east of Church
11)Chapel East of Orange tower on the right Henry Austins 1849 Union Station located between Union and State building in foreground is the church at Olive and Chapel St, Paul’s the two wooden steeples where being replaced with stone
12)Chapel looking west near State
I Goggled Winter of 1888 and found this article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanic_winter
posted by: Dean Moriarty on February 19, 2013 12:28am
Mr. MacMillan, again you’ve produced a beautifully written, thoroughly fascinating and informative read (could I add comfortable too?). I for one would LOVE to see more of your in depth work here. I’m still in love with your series on Midge Renault (which I really wish you would develop into a full length book, it would have huge potential). You’ve stepped up to your usual high standards here and delivered a great insight and comparison point to our current weather. Thank you. Please bring more.
posted by: Dylan111 on February 19, 2013 11:05am
Boy, people just cannot refrain from getting their political shots in, can they?
posted by: Dean Moriarty on February 20, 2013 1:49am
Robn, of course, you’re right. Thank you for correcting me. My sincere apologies to Mr. Hoffman. I thoroughly enjoyed his piece on Renault and regret that I mis-credited him. I’m enamored of both writers. They’ve truly brought a lot to New Haven journalism.