The Snow Storm: Its Effects 1867

The storm, the coming of which was duly announced by our City seers and soothsayers, for a wonder, came down upon us something after the fashion predicted. A sudden change of temperature about 10 o'clock on Wednesday night, and the gathering of dense shadows overhead, shutting out the pleasant moonlight, were the first indications of the immediate presence of the weird visitor from the north. Shortly before 11 o'clock the snow began to fall, continuing without intermission until noon yesterday. The good, sensible people, who go to bed when they ought, were much surprised when, peeping through their window-blinds after daybreak, they got their eye-full of the transfigured City. Six inches of snow to speak within bounds, lay in the centre of the street, and huge piles of drift on either side lay up against the stoops. Basements were choked up, and familiar pathways thereto were unrecognizable. The milkmen and the bakers' boys wandered knee deep in search of their customers, whose homes had lost their identity. Along each sidewalk ran a narrow line of pathway made by the early plodders on their way to work, partially filled or renewed again in its distinctness as the snow or the pedestrian was the master of the situation. As the morning advanced industrious maids not too proud to sweep a stoop went to the work with energy. Boys already armed with broom and shovel found liberal customers everywhere, and not a few even of the dignified owners of brown stone fronts condescended to aid the willing urchins at their labors.

The car tracks had been wisely cared for by the snow-plows during the night, or yesterday must have been an idle day in the lower part of the City. Although they did not run so frequently, we have not heard of a stoppage of the cars on any of the City lines. Luckily for the poor horses, four of them to a car, person only who were called out of doors by sheer necessity left their homes throughout the day. There was a noticeable absence of ladies in the down-town-cars, as there was also of the very young people on their way to school, who usually crowd their elders most uncomfortably in the early morning.


In storm or sunshine Broadway is the theatre of scenes. It is as individual in its way as if it were a city by itself. Every other street or avenue has certain belongings peculiar to itself and distinct from those of its neighboring street or avenue, either in the nature of its traffic or the distinctiveness of its habitures; but Broadway seems to have its sample of each and all of these, just as the great river partakes of all the components of its tributaries. To talk of Broadway, then, is to tell the story of the City. When the footpaths were cleared off, the snow rose on either side like a river's banks, and between these, with more than the usual indulgence in explosives, carters, stagemen and expressmen drove their unwilling teams. As early as noon the sleighs began to show themselves, of every shape and size. The expressmen seemed to be the first in the field on runners. These were soon followed by the less shapely and ill-cared-for sleds of the cartmen, and these again by the gaily-painted equipages of the pleasure-loving, all gliding into the great avenue from every street. The scene at this time, looking down the City, with Canal-street fairly in view, was novel, as it was animating, in the extreme. The window-sills, freeze-tops, architraves and ornamental projections everywhere, on either side, were flecked with snow. The huge panes of plate glass, frosted with fantastic shapes, shut in the motley array of wares which it was their duty to discover. The noisy rush of wheels upon the uneven pavement was missing, and in its stead was heard the pleasant ringing of sleigh belle, or the jingling of those attached to the horses' collars, with noiseless wheels behind them; the cheerful shouts of caution from the drivers, and the pleasant echoes of the "kindly human voice," in conversation on the footpaths, so rarely heard in Broadway.

The Gale

About 3 o'clock the scene lost its charm somewhat, but not its novelty. A gale from the northwest sprang up, carrying with it from the housetops clouds of blinding drift. Rushing furiously along the streets it gathered up the loose snow-flakes like chaff and flung them against everything animate or inanimate which barred its progress. Whirling when met by conflicting currents, it almost buried the half-blind pedestrians in swift-made shrouds, from which they extricated themselves, half stiffed, to run for shelter to the nearest hospitable doorway. Sleigh-riding was no longer enjoyable; far from it. The occupants of these graceful locomotives, who but a few moments before lay back longingly in their seats, the envy of all who trudged their way on foot and of the many who huddled together in the stages, now did with blue noses, peeping-out of the snowdrift which covered everything that lacked heat enough to melt at, wish themselves heartily at their snug fire-sides in which direction the almost obliterated John turned the heads of the steaming horses, driving as if for dear life.

The gale continued until night set in, when it somewhat abated, having in the meantime not only swept the housetops and the window-sills, and the fringes off all projections, but also every biped from the streets whom the lingering delays of business or other dread necessity of the hour did not hold back from the seasonable comforts of a home.

When night gathered down the City was as silent almost as a grave-yard, excepting only in the main avenues and in a few of the leading streets. Ghostly figures moved stealthily and noiselessly along, disappearing here and there at the sepulchral-looking entrances to their homes, and were it not for the interrupting echoes of the collar bells of the horses in the cars, or the encouraging shouts of the drivers, heard now and then, as the wind blew toward the listener, the lonely wanderer homeward might have warmed himself with the fancy that he was the last of his race in a frozen City.


As the more advanced hours of the night arrived, the wind moderated, as Artemus would say, much and, notwithstanding the bitter lesson sleigh-goers had been taught when caught out in the afternoon, by 10 o'clock every street was alive again with the glittering throng, and the very air made jocund with their merriment. Where they all came from is a mystery not the people, but the sleighs. The virgin snow was spotted over by the moving things as were the Egyptian corn-field by the locusts. Up the Bowery they rushed, some tenanted by the inky-lipped swaggerers of the footpath and the billiard-room; others by your pleasure-loving Teutons, their wives and little ones, wrapped up beyond all recognition by their nearest relatives; others again by the laughing belles, brunettes and blondes of Division street going Parkward with their boys, and not so anxious as the Teuton ladies to hide their charms from the admiring eyes of their vis-a-vis, but in all the radiant glories of new bonnets at first cost.

Out to the waiting vehicles at the doors of the hotels on Broadway and Fourteenth-street, down from the lofty stoops of Fifth avenue palaces, or from the no less lofty mansions of the numbered streets in the City's centre, patted briskly, furred to the very chin, the petted ones of fortune, to be handed in by gallant cavaliers and whisked away into the night as if to some fairy carnival. Thus through all the great arteries of the City moved the joyous things in the direction of Central Park_the great rendezvous of all.

The Rivers

The blinding storm, almost as dense as a November fog, alone, would have interfered considerably with the trans-river traffic yesterday. But added to this was the presence of immense drifts of ice, in many instances completely choking up the passage. The East River seems to have suffered most in this respect. Not infrequently the ferry-boats were delayed, or at best made perilous trips across. Instances are given where the boats had to sail around huge cakes of ice, occupying over half an hour in making what should have been the shortest passage. It is said that on one occasion a Wall street ferry-boat had to circumnavigate a field of ice, and before succeeding passed with a stone's throw of Governor's Island.

In the North River the blockade was not so great by still ice, but the passage across was much more dangerous, owing to the strong current, and even more caution on the part of the pilots of the ferryboats was necessary. The difficulty of getting the boats into the slips on either side of the river was also great, and was an important cause of delay. The ice, broken into fragments by the boats, eddied into the slips and froze together in shapeless and almost irresistible masses, frequently resisting all the impetus brought against them, while the impatient people on the boats, or on the wharves, grinned their discomfort at each other in the most melancholy way. No vessel able to get wharfage any where along the river remained in the stream.


Brooklyn, of course, repeats our own disagreeable story of the obstruction to ferry traffic. On some of the trips from that side of the river, even at the busy time of the day, the ferry-boats left with but a dozen passengers. Nobody came to New York after the morning rush who could avoid the journey. The traffic, what there was of it, was in the other direction.

The travel by railroad was greatly impeded by the snow, which in numerous places drifted in heaps to the height of three or four feet. The snow-plows were put into requisition during the previous night, and by 6 o'clock A.M. the tracks had been sufficiently cleared to enable the cars to run with double teams. In consequence of putting four horses to one vehicle, nearly one-half of the cars were withdrawn, thus making the number of trips less in proportion. The lack of the usual carrying facilities caused considerable inconvenience to passengers who crowded the platforms in a short time after leaving the point of staring, so that residents along the line were either compelled to push their way through the snow on foot, or wait an indefinite time until standing room could be secured on some later car. As in the case of the ferry boats there was comparatively little travel during the middle of the day. A partial suspension of travel was caused between the Eastern and Western Districts in the morning. A number of men with brooms, together with the snow plows, removed all obstacles, however, in a few hours, and the trips were resumed.

The storm in the interior of the Island is said to have been more furious than in the city. The trains were all behind time, but as far as ascertained no accidents occurred.

Business in the principal streets was virtually suspended during the day. Customers were few and far between. The sidewalks appeared to be almost deserted, except by those whose business compelled them to face the storm.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Snow Storm: Its Effects 1867
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 The New York Times January 18, 1867 Page: 8
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