Great Catches of Shad in the Delaware River Were Common
Heavy Snow of 1874

by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, NJ, April 24, 1930

Note:  These observations  by Mr. Bush on the blizzard of 1874 seemed especially appropriate for this time of year.

The Heavy Snow of 1874

Most of us feel that we have seen big snows, and some of them have been big enough to satisfy our ambition in that direction. Memory says that in April of ‘59 or ‘60, a ten-inch snow fell after farmers had their oats sown, but did no damage to that crop. Another fell May 3, 1861, covering the ground to the depth of from 3 to 4 inches. We planted potatoes in the forenoon of that day while the leaden clouds hung low and all the earth was drear. The afternoon was spent in watching the great flakes come down while men discussed—I think some of them omitted the “dis” part of it—the great war that was then rushing upon us. Several inches of snow fell on the 29th of April, 1874. I still saw some of that snow along a shady roadside on my way to Flemington, May 1. The next day was so hot that we hardly knew how to keep comfortable. Doors and windows were thrown open, birds were joyous and peach trees were in full bloom. We despaired of peaches that year, but our fears were groundless. The great blizzard of March 1888 is so recent that it needs no more than to be mentioned.

But, if we may credit what good people told us, the “deep snow”—always so designated to distinguish it from all others—eclipsed anything and everything seen in later days. The narrators were somewhat tangled on dates, but all agreed that it had kept on snowing and snowing, day after day, with now and then a break but no clearing until the high “worm fences” of that time were buried out of sight. The sun came out at last. The tops of the great banks were somewhat softened by day, only to be frozen hard at night, until they became so solid that teams with sleighs and sleds and all kinds of loads went over them anywhere, paying no attention to the fences buried below.

I recall having seen trees with trunks curiously angled, said to be relics of the “deep snow.” These trunks grew upright four or five feet, then horizontally for a few feet and turning another right angle, resumed their upward growth. The explanation was: “These were only small trees at the time of the deep snow, were bent over and partly broken at the first bend that you see. Being unable to spring back when the great bank melted the slender body remained as you see it and the top turned upward and has been growing that way ever since. There may be such trees yet. It is not many years since I saw one that bore evidence of being “the tree inclined as the twig was bent.”

[The Great Shad]
The advent of the shad season, whether shad come or not, always brings to mind stories of great catches of shad and sturgeon in the Delaware away back in the days of which our fathers and grand-fathers were so fond of telling. Shad must have been both plentiful and cheap. It appears that a hundred or more fine shad at a haul with an ordinary net was only  fair luck while the “water haul” was practically unknown. Now the water haul is the usual thing and to enmesh a score of puny shad would astonish the fishermen.

And the sturgeons must have been big fellows; yet not bigger perhaps than one of which we read now and then, as having been caught in the river farther down. But such catches are very rare down there now, and were not at all unusual up here in the old days. “Sturgeon” was so cheap that it seems ridiculous to tell the cost of the one that stood out as rather notable in those days of great fishes. The current story told of a farmer who bought a sturgeon for himself and his neighbors, a fish so big that when they laid it in the body of his farm wagon with the nose touching the fore board, and the tail stuck out behind. Something of a fish. But the cost of it? “Ah, there’s the rub.” That fish cost the farmer one whole dollar! Now the fishermen lucky enough to catch a big sturgeon can get more at wholesale for one pound of the roe than the fishermen of that early day received for the whole fish.

[Note: In his book, “Natural Lives, Modern Times” (New York, 1992, pg. 14), Bruce Stutz wrote that sturgeon could get as large as ten feet in length and weigh 400 pounds. That would certainly fill up a wagon, though how the farmer could get it into the wagon leaves me puzzled.]