NYC Snowstorms in the 1800s Were Toilsome Affairs

January 3, 2014 | Andy Cush

New York City got hit with a lot of snow last night. And while it will surely inconvenience us–and provide Bill de Blasio with the first big challenge of his brand new mayoralty–it will be nothing like the quaint, Dickensian chaos New Yorkers faced a century and a half ago, before the days of SUVs and snow plows and Uber surge pricing.

Thanks to the New York Times public archives, we have a glimpse into the ways the city experienced snow dating back to the paper’s founding in 1851. Just remember, next time you’re complaining about your commute: at least there aren’t dead horses littering the sidewalk or “snow-balling vagabonds” causing mischief.

“News of the Morning,” January 13, 1853: “As we write, (1 o’clock AM) the storm continues unabated: the snow is quite deep, and promises to be deeper before our readers get this morning’s paper. The Southern mail came in some hours behind time, and the railroads on all sides are obstructed. The telegraphic wires were in order as far as Syracuse and Washington late last night. No evening dispatches received from the East–a symptom at least of fractures in that region. The rest of the world, so far as heard from, are having it very much as we are.”

“Sleighing,” January 17, 1853:The Israelites in the desert scarce looked with more eager anticipation for a fall of manna, than some of our citizens for fall of snow. From the first day that cold weather has fairly set in, sleighs of most tempting and gaudy hues, are displayed on the pavement by speculative coach-builders. Little boy’s sleds painted to catch the youthful eye are seen in the windows and at the doors of toy-shops; are regularly baptised, and have names of an inspiring nature inscribed upon them. One is called ‘Black Warrior,’ which is very appropriate, considering that it is painted red.”

“The First Snow,” January 20, 1854: “Whether we shall hear the merry jingle of the sleigh bells in Broadway to-day, is a question which the reader will decide, before those who make the morning’s papers have awakened from their first sound nap. Well, the season has been a mild and pleasant one, so far; and we can afford to wade through a foot or two of snow for a day. It will not continue longer than that. The Railroad Companies will do the public a favor by putting their new sleighs on the routes, unless the tracks are easily cleared. Walking home at night in a snow-storm is decidedly disagreeable.”

“The Snow–The Sleighing–The Cars–The Boats, &c.,” January 9, 1856: “Dead horses were very plenty in the streets. We found one in Centre-street–lying where he fell three hours before. Another was all the evening laid across the side walk, corner of Gold and Fulton streets. There was no great deal of snow-balling yesterday. The Police did their duty, and nipped the young vagabonds ‘in the bud’ who attempted it. At present appearances, the sleighing and the snow are good yet for two weeks.”

“Snow Obstruction on the Eighth-Avenue,” March 12, 1856: “The Special Committee of the Board of Aldermen, appointed to investigate the charges against the Eighth-avenue Railroad Company, with reference to the removal of snow from the track, met in the City Hall yesterday afternoon. There were a number of persons present who reside in Hudson-street on the line of the road; all of whom agreed that if the Railroad Company were permitted to throw the snow from their track to the side of the road, and the snow from the sidewalk were to be thrown on the same place, it would be impossible for private carriages, carts, &c., to use the street. They asked that when there is an unusual amount of snow upon the streets, the Railroad Company should run sleighs, and not break it up to run their cars.”