Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An Earthquake in Pelham and Surrounding Areas on Sunday, August 10, 1884

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I previously have written about an earthquake that struck Pelham and surrounding areas on July 11, 1872.  See:

Monday, August 8, 2005:  The Day the Earth Shook in Pelham:  July 11, 1872.

A dozen years later, on August 10, 1884, Pelham and much of Westchester County experienced another such earthquake.  An extensive account of the temblor soon appeared in the New Rochelle Pioneer.  That account is transcribed below.

"The Earthquake

On Sunday at about two o'clock, the usual quietness of the village was disturbed by a rumble and roar, as of a number of heavy laden vehicles traveling over a paved street at a rapid rate, and by the vibration of the earth and rattling of windows and crockery in the houses.  The inmates hastened into the open air to ascertain, if possible, the cause.  Many were the conjectures as to the disturbance.  Some suggested that it was an explosion of the dynamite factory at Baychester, others that it was a boiler explosion on the Sound.  The greater number, however, were of the opinion that an earthquake was the cause of the commotion.  The shock was felt in every town and village in the county, and great consternation prevailed for a considerable time.  Some of the more superstitious believing all things terrestrial were about to come to an end, fell upon their knees in supplication.  The sick suffered greatly from the shock, and serious relapses, it was feared, would take place.  No particular damage was done in the village, as far as could be ascertained.  Several articles in the Club Room were thrown down, and a small lamp for lighting cigars was overturned.  The large pendulum clock in Mr. Levison's jewelry store was stopped.  It was stated that another shock was felt later in the afternoon, but there were not many who could testify as to the accuracy of the report.  Little knots of people could be seen in the afternoon about the streets, the all absorbing topic of conversation being the earthquake.

At White Plains the shock was so great as to twice distinctly ring the going in the hall door of the Orawaupum Hotel.  Professor John Swinburne, who has boarded in the hotel for thirty years past, has taken great pains to select a very valuable collection of minerals, agates, rare stones, shells and specimens of all the ores and quartz known to the world.  When he examined the case he found many of the specimens displaced.

At Chappaqua immense trees were swayed to and fro.  Houses trembled to their very foundations, shaking loose articles from their fastenings and causing general consternation among the inhabitants.  People rushed from their houses to the streets, asking each other the cause of their own fright.  The course of the earthquake was from the northwest to the southeast.  A similar shock, but of much less force, visited this place nine years ago, its course being about the same.

There was another slight shock on the following day, but it was not so severe as the one on Sunday.  Many are the theories as to the cause of earthquakes.  Major John W. Powell, director of the geological survey, seems to be of the opinion that they may be chiefly attributed to a contraction of the interior of our globe, by a gradual cooling of fluid which is maintained in the earth at a great heat.  Professor W. B. Taylor, of the Smithsonian Institute, is also of the same opinion that an earthquake is simply the relief from tension in the earth's crust in the process of shrinkage.  Professor Wm. Harness, of the United States Naval observatory, says that analysis has shown that the interior of the earth is not entirely in a molten condition.  Little was known as to the cause of earthquakes, but they were doubtless due to concussions of some kind or other taking place at a great depth below the surface of the ground.  Although it seems rash to say that earthquakes are dependent upon volcanic action, it is nevertheless clear that both earthquake and volcanoes are due to some common cause, and as the great earthquake regions and the great volcanic regions are nearly coincident with each other, and almost without exception in the neighborhood of the sea, there seems some reason to suppose that steam generated at considerable depths by the informal heat of the earth may play a prominent part in the phenomena.  General Viele, in speaking of the earthquake said the Lisbon earthquake was distinctly felt in the St. Lawrence River, and it may be that the shock felt here was only a reverberation of a very severe earthquake in some other portion of the earth.  If that is the case the place where it was most severe must have been terribly shaken.  Still there is no doubt that this part of the country was, in pre-historic times, visited by large numbers of earthquakes which may not have been felt anywhere else.

It is not out of place to mention here some previous earthquakes in this vicinity.  On Aug. 7, 1868, a shock was experienced that extended into Connecticut, and 1850 a similar shock occurred.  On July 11, 1872, a sever shock was felt in New Rochelle, Pelham, Mt. Vernon, Rye, Portchester, and other contiguous villages, when the inhabitants were startled from their beds at four o'clock in the morning by the visible vibrations of their dwellings."

Source:  The Earthquake, New Rochelle Pioneer, Aug. 16, 1884, p. ?, col. 4 (date and page number cut off from upper part of page, but text makes clear it was published Saturday, Aug. 16, 1884).

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