The following is a report, written for the Hunterdon Republican newspaper, on the record-breaking blizzard of 1888. I have taken it from transcriptions of the Republican published by William Hartman (available from the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society). A timely article for the blizzard of March 13-14, 2017, winter’s parting shot.
The Blizzard of ’88, Part One
Roads Blockaded – Travel Suspended – Mails Cut Off
published in the Hunterdon Republican, March 14, 1888, [No author given]
The very “oldest inhabitant” does not remember a storm as severe as that which we have just passed through. The storm commenced Sunday night and when people awakened on Monday morning they were astonished to find a genuine blizzard in full blast. The snow was falling rapidly and the wind, blowing a fierce gale, drove it in all directions with blinding force, piling it in huge heaps and sending it through every crack and crevice. The storm increased in severity as the day advanced and continued with unabated fury until about nightfall, when the snow ceased, but the gale continued and Monday night, was one of the coldest and roughest ever experienced in this latitude. Monday morning trains started out as usual, but the roads were all soon effectually blocked.
The Lehigh Valley Branch train made the first trip to Flemington Junction and back and then went over again and stuck in a snow drift near the Junction and that was the last trip made up to the present time. The 6:55 train for New York, on the South Branch Road, succeeded in getting as far as Flagtown and then was unable to go farther or return. Two engines with a snow plough, sent to its relief, also became fastened in the drifts and could not get out. The 7:50 train on the Flemington Railroad got to Lambertville without much trouble and then was sent on to Trenton as an extra. Another train was sent out from Lambertville to make a trip to Flemington, but was stopped by the drifts near Ringoes. Two engines worked hard on Monday trying to loosen the engine, but finally gave it up and went back to Lambertville. This morning the engines returned and about 2 o’clock this afternoon, the engine was gotten out and taken to Lambertville. The cuts this side of Ringoes are full and there is not likely to be any travel on the Flemington Railroad for a day or two. All means of travel being blocked, we have had no mails, except from Clover Hill and Reaville, since the storm commenced. The Clover Hill and Reaville mail was brought to Flemington early Monday morning by Jacob Todd. Mr. Todd started to drive from Clover Hill to Flemington, but he found the roads impassable and when he got to the residence of John P. Case, midway between Clover Hill and Reaville, he put up his horse and walked all the way to Flemington. It was perilous undertaking to face such blinding storm, but Mr. Todd finally reached his destination and brought with him the only mail matter that has reached Flemington up to this writing.
Andrew Knauss, an employee on a freight train on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, died from an apoplectic stroke, Monday night, while his train was snowed under near Neshanic. He had been sent to the rear to display the danger signal to a second train which was supposed to be close behind. The rear train, however, got fast in a snow drift near Landsdown and after Knauss, had stood at his post a long time waiting for the train that did not come, he returned to his train and soon after died. Exposure is supposed to have hurried his death. The deceased was an old and faithful employee of the road. The engineer of the freight train which became snow bound near Landsdown, finding it impossible to move his train, uncoupled his engine and endeavored to clear the track. After he had gone some distance he endeavored to return to his train. This he found impossible and was obliged to come on to Flemington Junction, where he and his engine now are. The freight train, it is said, has two car loads of horses with it. In the rear of this train is a passenger train, with forty passengers on board. The Clinton Branch Railroad is blockaded. The steeple on the Presbyterian Church at Clinton was blown down.
At the present writing (Tuesday afternoon), although the storm has abated, the wind, blows a furious gale, causing the snow to fly in all directions and it is uncertain when communication with the outside world will be resumed, as it will require an immense amount of work to clear the roads. All through trains on the Central and Lehigh Valley roads were stopped on Monday and it is reported that the mail and paper trains on the Central are snow bound between Somerville and Raritan. Large forces of men are employed endeavoring to clear the tracks of snow. The country roads are all badly drifted, some of them being entirely filled and it will require several days’ time and entail a heavy expense on the townships to render them fit for travel.
Altogether, it was a most memorable storm and its like is not remembered so late in the season, or indeed at any time, by anybody in this vicinity. As we go to press, Wednesday morning, although the gale has subsided, no trains are yet running, it having been impossible to clear the roads in the fierce wind which prevailed yesterday. The passengers on the blockaded trains have been supplied with food, during their imprisonment, from neighboring farm houses. (To be continued.)
The Blizzard of ’88, Part Two
published in the Hunterdon Republican, March 21, 1888
When our paper was printed last week, we were completely isolated from the outside world, with railroads blockaded by snow and no trains running. The first three days of the week, so far as business was concerned, were probably the dullest ever experience in Flemington. Nobody could get here, consequently little or no business was done.
Wednesday [14 Mar. 1888], the wind having subsided, some progress was made toward opening communication by rail and otherwise. Two engines and a large number of men commenced work in the morning on the Lehigh Valley Branch and toward evening the road was cleared to Flemington. The trains on the main line of the Lehigh Valley commenced running regularly on Friday morning, the eastbound track having been cleared from Easton to Metuchen and since then there has been no interruption to travel by that line.
The first mail to reach Flemington since the preceding Saturday was brought by the train from Lambertville on Thursday evening and the papers it contained were eagerly sought after. The Belvidere Division had less trouble from the storm than the other roads and trains were running with some regularity on Tuesday. The Flemington Branch, however, was pretty well snowed in and it was not until about 10 o’clock Thursday morning that they succeeded in getting a train through from Lambertville to Flemington.
The New Jersey Central, in common with other roads, had the worst week ever experienced. Train after train was snowed up and abandoned. In some instances only the tops of the cars and the smoke stacks of the locomotives were visible. Engines sent to the relief of the stalled trains also became stuck in the drifts, until nearly every engine on the road was disabled in this way. The officers of the road, as soon as the storm abated, set an immense force of men at work and by Thursday, the road was gotten in shape and traffic resumed.
The South Branch Road, from Flemington to Somerville, was badly snowed up, in some of the cuts the drifts being nearly twenty feet deep. There were no trains over the road for the whole week. Friday morning an effort was made to get to Flemington, but an engine was derailed shortly after leaving Somerville and that delayed operations for the day. Saturday morning three engines, with a snow plow and a large force of men, under the supervision of Trackmaster Abbott, started from Somerville and about 6 o’clock in the evening reached Flemington, after a hard day’s work. About 10 o’clock, the train of engineer Joseph Case, which left here on Monday morning and was stuck at Flagtown, made its appearance and was gladly welcomed, as it brought the first mail from New York for the entire week. There were twenty-two sacks of mail matter, making quite a formidable job for the postmaster and his assistants in the distribution of their contents. Postmaster William J. Poulson, very obligingly kept the office open on Sunday morning, thereby giving an opportunity, which was very generally embraced, for our people to obtain their long-delayed letters and papers.
The discomforts and hardships occasioned in our locality by the storm were experienced over a wide extent of country. It extended over a portion of Canada, the Eastern and Middle States, as far west as Chicago and about as far South as Washington, DC.
In New Jersey, the storm was very severe all over the State. The great Pennsylvania road was completely blockaded and no trains were run between New York and Philadelphia from Monday until Thursday. Hundreds of passengers were left in the drifts and some suffered from insufficient supplies of food. On the Bound Brook Road, six or eight trains were snow bound at Trenton Junction and sandwiches were sold at 50 cents each by residents of the vicinity. At Monmouth Junction, on the Pennsylvania road, the same exorbitant prices were gotten for eatables. A citizen of Flemington, who became snow bound at that place, was compelled to pay 25 cents for a boiled egg. Every railroad in the State was blocked and some of the branch lines were more than a week in getting dug out.
In New York City, the effects of the storm were disastrous. The city was entirely cut off for two days, no trains arriving and fears were entertained that a famine would result, as no supplies could be obtained. Milk was in especial demand and we read of one farmer selling twenty quarts for $25. Business was in a great part suspended; all the street car lines ceased running and the elevated cars were also stopped for some time. It is estimated that the damage done the city and its business by the storm amounted to at least $10,000,000. It is known that at least thirty people perished in the city and vicinity and probably many more.
Many disasters to shipping are reported, attended with great loss of life. At least one hundred oyster sloops are reported wrecked on Chesapeake Bay.
The storm was one of the most memorable of the century and the worst within the recollection of those now living. It will be remembered for years to come and the blizzard of March, 1888, will never be forgotten by even the small children of the present day.