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New England Winter, 1856-57

Winter of 1856-57

The winter of 1857-57 was one of the severest winters ever known in this climate, and is the last very rigorous season that has occurred in New England. It began much earlier than usual, and continued far into the spring. There were thirty-two snow storms in all, three more than the average number for a score of years, and the snow fell to the depth of six feet and two inches, the average depth for twenty years having been but four feet and four inches in eastern Massachusetts.

On the night of Saturday, January 17, and also the next day, the cold was severer than it had been during the winter. At Salem, Mass., the temperature was twenty below zero on Saturday night and five below zero on Sunday noon. At Lowell, Mass., on Sunday morning it was twenty below, and at noon six. By evening, however, it had risen to twelve above zero, and snow had begun to fall. The wind was strong and from the northeast, and as the night advanced the storm increased until it became one of the severest and most violent that had been known for very many years. For several hours after sunrise the next morning the wind continued to be very cutting, and it was hard to face. The violence of the storm ceased before eleven o'clock in the forenoon, but snow continued to fall in flurries all through the day. Snow fell to a great depth, drifts on the northern side of Essex street in Salem, Mass., being from eight to twelve feet deep. Business was necessarily almost entirely suspended everywhere, and the streets were so blocked that no draught animal made an appearance during the day, milkmen, bakers and butchers making no attempt to distribute their supplies in the ordinary manner. A Sabbath stillness prevailed in the city as well as in the country. No cars could be run, no mails came or went during the day, and scarcely any one travelled about the streets. The snow was too deep to be pathed in the old-fashioned ways by oxen, either with a log or with the Swedish heater. Not quite as much snow fell in Maine during this storm as in Massachusetts, but in the south it came in remarkable quantities, being at Washington, D. C., two feet deep. The wind forced the snow into every crevice and cranny, and large drifts were deposited in barns and other buildings that were apparently water-tight. The streets in Boston were piled full of snow, and three day afterward many of them had not been broken out. Several people were nearly smothered or frozen to death, the cold during the storm being most intense, and the wind drove the snow into the faces of those that were travelling. Snow shoes were found to be necessary to pedestrianism, and many of the old ones were hunted up and brought into use again.

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article | by Dr. Radut