Maples, Litchfield Road, Norfolk, Connecticut. Photograph by Marie Kendall, 1898. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1981.58.6
Winter isn’t over yet. Historically, some of the worst winter storms have happened between the end of February and the end of March. The Blizzard of 1888 took place March 11-14th. The Great Ice Storm of 1898 took place on February 20-22nd. Looking at pictures of these historic storms reminds us that giant piles of snow and ice-shattered trees have been regular features of winter in New England. People didn’t have it quite so bad in the old days, however. Everyone in the late nineteenth century had fireplaces, wood stoves, and/or coal furnaces. Few people had electricity, especially in rural areas. Light was provided by kerosene, candles, or gas. Though suburbanization was beginning to affect some of the larger cities, few people commuted very far to work in northwest Connecticut, where the Ice Storm hit hardest. Grocery shopping was not the almost daily activity that it is today, and most families would have had well-stocked pantries, including foods that they had processed themselves. Many families would have had their own chickens or cows. Deep snow and ice posed dangers and hardships, of course, but our ancestors were used to a hard life. A great blizzard or ice storm was an opportunity for families to spend time together indoors, gathered around the fireplace. I’ve always thought that many of the people in the pictures of the Blizzard of 1888 look like they are having a very good time. Marie Kendall recorded the beauty as well as the devastation wrought by the Great Ice Storm. Our reliance on technology and modern conveniences has made us far more vulnerable to nature’s extremes than our ancestors were.
Fifty years before I was born, children of the Cheney family enjoyed sledding on the Great Lawn in Manchester. My grandparents and great grandparents worked in the Cheney silk mills. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1988.133.73
When I found Drive A on a map last summer, when we were in the middle of our map project, “Finding Your Place in Connecticut History,” I knew that I had found my place. There it was on a map of Greater Hartford from the 1950s: Drive A in the housing complex known as Silver Lane Homes in Manchester. Like most of the streets in Silver Lane Homes, Drive A ran steeply downhill. Our house was located near the top of the hill; there was a big pine tree near the bottom and right after that the street curved sharply to the left. I’d forgotten about that, but the map showed it plainly. The houses were flimsy things, built for workers at Pratt & Whitney during World War II. I lived there until I was eight years old. When the houses were torn down, I moved only a block away, and the abandoned streets were fantastic places to go sledding in the winter, smooth and straight (except for that big curve) and no cars. We ran races and set up obstacle courses, jumping our sleds over hillocks and maneuvering around and under trees. My sled was a Flexible Flier, one of the fastest and best. We never complained about the snow in those days. Those wartime housing complexes don’t appear on many maps. We don’t have any pictures of them in the graphics collection at the Connecticut Historical Society (how I wish we did). Finding Drive A on a map was a special experience for me that brought back a special period in my childhood. Funny how a map can do that.
A view from the Connecticut Historical Society on Elizabeth Street in Hartford on Wednesday, February 19, 2014
As I sit in my office writing this post, I look out my window that faces Elizabeth Street, and see a very cold and dreary scene. Not to mention the icicles, some taller than I am, hanging from the roof! Continue reading →
During our January FREE first Saturday family program, children and families were able to create their own indoor Winter Wonderland to take home. Our visitors revealed their creativity once again! Check out some of these awesome snowflakes:
Winter in New England can be unpredictable. Connecticut has already experienced cold, rainy, icy, and snowy conditions (and it isn’t even really winter until December 21st!). Although we were not hit as hard as some of the other spots throughout the country, Connecticut received its first, widespread coating of snow this week. Luckily, the roads were not absolutely horrible and I think many people were able to enjoy the December snowfall.
Now that almost everyone has been plowed out, shoveled, and used the snow blower, it is time to heave a sigh of relief. This was a huge storm, but not compared to the Blizzard of 1888. You think your snowbanks are high? Take a look at some of the images from our collection of what downtown Hartford looked like. Continue reading →