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 →
This past week I celebrated my 31st birthday (not a milestone year at all!) – at home, in my pajamas all day, glued to hour after hour of non-academic television shows, and watching the snow fall outside. By the end of the day, my Connecticut yard was blanketed with about 10 inches of snow. I did venture outside to shovel a path for my Border Collie, Poncho, and, along with my husband, played a little soccer with him. This was one of the highlights of birthday #31!
Poncho and his favorite soccer ball on a much warmer day.
We are celebrating many other birthdays at the Connecticut Historical Society this winter!
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.
Our newest exhibit, “Through a Different Lens: Three Connecticut Women Photographers”, will be open October 11, 2013 – March 29, 2014. That’s next week! You’ve got 5 months to check it out, but please tell me why you would wait. You might think you have time to roll in some lazy Saturday afternoon in the hazy near-future, but have you already forgotten the snow-mountain blizzard of February 2013? The tree-attack ice storm of October 2011? This is New England, people. It’s October. Get out while you can. (And I don’t mean move to Arizona. Or maybe I do.)
Hurricane of 1893, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Photograph by Harriet V.S. Thorne. Okay, not a blizzard, but it’s a hurricane for pete’s sake, and it could have been winter.
Blizzard of 1898, Norfolk, Connecticut. Photograph by Marie Kendall.
Winter storm of 1977, Mystic, Connecticut. Photograph by Rosalie Thorne McKenna.
These three Connecticut women knew photography and they knew storms. Marie Kendall and Harriet Thorne hauled heavy tripods and viewfinders before you had a cell phone. Rosalie McKenna developed film before you could annoy your friends with social media. They came from different times and different places, but like all of us hardy (resigned) New England folk, when the snow started flyin’ they strapped on their boots and started snappin’.
Blizzard of February 2013, Bristol, Connecticut. Photograph by a five-year old female photographer from the top of a snow mountain created by an ineffective, rusty old snow blower that almost ran over her dad.
Ben Gammell is the Coordinator of Interpretive Projects at the Connecticut Historical Society
Weather diary kept at Ashford, Connecticut, 1837-1838.
One of the more intriguing questions I get from researchers and writers is “what was the weather like on May 12, 1835”, or some equally distant date. Amazingly, I can often find the answer using regular diaries and what we refer to as “weather diaries.” Continue reading →