Making way for sleighs during the Great Blizzard

A horse drawn sleigh, 18 March 1888, during the Great Blizzard via the Historic National Weather Service Archives.

Boston’s really really big blizzard dumped 40 to 50 inches of snow over Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York State. The storm, also called “The White Hurricane” arrived in Boston without warning (weather forecasters in the 19th century weren’t thought to be too accurate either). The spring had been unseasonably warm and few were prepared for a 36-hour snowstorm.

Cities like Boston and New York, which were more dependent on receiving outside food and supplies than rural areas, did worst. Snow stranded trains and winds downed telegraph lines — The Boston Globe‘s newfangled telephone remained a rare, surviving link to the outside world. Snow cleared from streets blocked sidewalks until men were hired to freight it away. Mass Moments says the blizzard had the belated effect of inspiring some major infrastructure investments, including burying lines and the nation’s first subway.

Clearing away snow wasn’t typical at the time, under less drastic conditions. The normal treatment for roads before the automobile was to use a snow roller to pack it down. Sleighs and wagons could ride on top of the flattened snow. The Brattleboro Historical Society has a fantastic article on the changing modes of snow removal, including one man’s memories of his father getting up to roll the nearby hills and photos of a horse-drawn wooden snow roll.


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