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 19, 2017

Another Account of the Earthquake that Shook Pelham in 1872

Few in Pelham know, but only 13 miles from our Town -- far beneath 125th Street in Manhattan -- lies the so-called "125th Street Fault Line."  While it is nothing like major fault lines such as the "San Andreas Fault" on the west coast of the United States, the 125th Street Fault Line is still a concern to experts who recognize that population growth (as well as urban and suburban development) in the region since the late 19th century have increased the risks of substantial damage from a major earthquake.

Pelham has experienced many earthquakes in historic times, a few of which have caused damage.  In fact, Pelham has experienced at least 35 earthquakes just since 1931, the majority of which have been so small that while they registered on seismographs, they were not felt by most.  On July 11, 1872 however, everyone in Pelham and the surrounding region felt the large earthquake that rolled beneath their feet.

I have written a number of times about the 1872 earthquake in Pelham and others.  Seee.g.:  

Mon., Feb. 20, 2017:  Brief Account of Damage in Pelham During the Earthquake of August 10, 1884.

Mon., Aug. 25, 2014:  Earthquake! Is Pelham on Shaky Ground?

Tue., Sep. 15, 2009:  An Earthquake in Pelham and Surrounding Areas on Sunday, August 10, 1884

Mon., Aug. 08, 2005:  The Day the Earth Shook in Pelham: July 11, 1872

Today's posting to the historic Pelham Blog provides an additional brief but interesting newspaper description of the 1872 earthquake and how it affected Pelham and the surrounding region.

Accounts differ as to the time, but it appears that at about 5:30 a.m. on July 11, 1872, an earthquake shook the region.  According to multiple accounts, the shock was most severe in the area including Eastchester, Mount Vernon, Pelhamville, New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Rye and Portchester.  The shock also was felt across Long Island Sound in Glen Cove, Roslyn, Sand's Point, and other Places, though it was not as violent as in lower Westchester County.

In the Pelhamville region, the earthquake began with noise that resembled a heavily-laden cart driven over hard ground.  The rumbling noise grew into shaking of the ground that lasted, depending on where people experiencing it were located, between about fourteen and eighteen seconds.  Residents perceived the earthquake as beginning from the south and rolling away toward the north.  

The quake shook people from their beds.  One account says that it cast down piles of coal in the cellars, shook crockery in the homes, and vibrated the houses.  The newspaper article quoted below states that in the Pelhamville area "beds, sideboards, and other heavy articles of furniture swayed to and fro in an alarming manner."

Though the earthquake frightened the region's residents, there was no major damage, nor any injuries.  Multiple news accounts, however, indicate that the temblor was all local residents could talk about for quite some time. . . . 

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Below is a news account of the earthquake that struck the Pelhamville region on July 11, 1872.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

Shocks of Earthquake Felt on Long Island and in Westchester County.
Waking Up Roslyn and Astonishing Glen Cove -- Westchester in a Tremble.

Following close upon the footsteps of the fatal thunderstorm and the thunderstorms which have swept over Manhattan Island within the last week, the report of a shock of earthquake in our vicinity caused no small sensation from the good people of Gotham last evening who in no way wanted an earthquake to fill up the measure of our atmospheric evils.

A year and a half ago a light shock of motus terra was felt in New York city itself and almost within twelve months after that a shock of earthquake was felt across the river in Williamsburg so distinct that many people who . . . . [illegible text omitted] 

The Shock on Long Island.

A HERALD reporter was immediately despatched to the Long Island town from which the shock was first reported to learn if possible its source and any facts of public interest in connection with it.  He first visited Whitestone but nobody in the village seemed to have heard of the earthquake and those to whom the HERALD reporter spoke on the subject with true Long Island instinct believed that he knew all about it and forthwith set about interviewing him.  Returning to Flushing he resumed his inquiries, but there too the people were in most blissful ignorance that subterranean guns were being fired off within a few miles of them in honor, no doubt, of the Baltimore nominations.  One incredulous individual with whom the reporter conversed pooh poohed the idea of an earthquake on Long Island and with the greatest self complacency remarked it was 


But as the guns at the City Hall were not fired at the City Hall at half past four o'clock in the morning (notwithstanding the energy of General George Broome) the reporter went further and fared little better in the thing.  He made inquiries in every direction about the village, but only one individual had heard of the earthquake seven miles off, and that was the lady who runs the telegraphic bureau of the Western Union Telegraph Company on the main street of Flushing.  That interesting personage had left the bureau to run itself for a couple of hours but when she returned from her afternoon walk she blandly informed the reporter that she had heard Glen Cove and Roslyn


about the earthquake at eight o'clock in the morning but she was perfectly sure that there was no earthquake in Flushing, as she was awake all night.  The reporter asked her if she would be good enough to talk over the wires to Glen Cove and Roslyn and ask them if they knew anything about the earthquake, when she replied with a frightfully knowing all 

'Roslyn is new to the business and you may not be able to raise her but Glen Cove is smart enough if she wants to do it.  I don't think, really, that you can get anything from Roslyn, but I'll try Glen Cove.'  

The reporter was about to leave the bureau, intending find what Glen Cove could do when the fair operator called after that she was calling Roslyn from New York but he cannot raise her.'  Allowing for the snitty condition of the atmosphere and the normal dulness [sic] of Roslyn except when an earthquake turns up the reporter thought it better to cross over himself and since the fair operator couldn't be raised, raise something himself.

At Roslyn

all the morning nothing was talked of in the village but the earthquake.  The shock was distinctly felt throughout the entire town, and, the reporter was informed by one gentleman, for fully sixteen seconds.  This same authority stated that the shock came in the direction of the south side.  No injury was done in the village though the houses which are all built of the lightest kind of timber were shaken to their foundations.  Several bureaus were knocked over, and in one instance, at the hotel a tray of glasses which stood on the bar from the night before, were knocked over and broken the villagers were very much more perplexed than hurt and it is safe to say that, if nothing else, the whole forenoon was lost.

At Glen Cove.

At the village of Glen Cove in almost a direct northerly direction from Roslyn, the shock was felt much more distinctly than at the latter place.  Several persons stated to the reporter that the first intimation they received of the shock was a heavy thud and a dull roar like that of distant artillery.  The shock here lasted for it is said, fully fifteen seconds.  As it increased the noise became greater, until it sounded like a clap of thunder, and then died away across the Sound in a northerly direction.  The shock awakened everybody who was asleep in the town, and people rushed from their beds, half dressed, into the main street.  The houses


as in Roslyn and in some cases small articles of furniture were thrown from their position in the rooms to the ground.  The coal in the cellars and the piles of firewood in some of the yards were completely leveled.  The greatest excitement prevailed throughout that entire village during the day and nothing else was talked of but the earthquake, work being completely neglected.  No accident of any consequence occurred as far as the reporter could learn, though the people were very much perplexed.

At Desoris

and Sands' Point on the north coast of the island the shock was also distinctly felt by some, though there are some people in both villages who slept so soundly that they could not believe that the earth had been moved under them during the night.  

As far as the reporter could learn the shock was felt first on the south side of the island and extended in almost a direct northerly direction through Roslyn along through the level country of Glen Cove and across the Sound to Westchester County.  

In Westchester County.

Shortly after half past eleven o'clock [sic] yesterday morning, an earthquake shock was felt in many portions of Westchester county, particularly in that section lying contiguous to Long Island Sound in the Villages of Portchester, Rye, New Rochelle, Pelhamville and Mount Vernon many of the still slumbering inhabitants were startled by visible vibrations of their respective dwellings while beds, sideboards, and other heavy articles of furniture swayed to and fro in an alarming manner.  No actual damage has been reported, however, nor could it be ascertained whether any window glass was broken by the unusual visitation.

In the vicinity of Rye, situated on the line of the New York and New Haven Railroad, the shock was distinctly felt at the residences of Messrs. Abbot and Lather, as was also the case at the house of Mr. J. M. Ives, which was somewhat more severely shaken than the others.  At Portchester, the residence of a gentleman named Ashley was visibly rocked, while further on in the same direction at Greenwich, Conn. the presence of the earthquake was felt by several persons.  In the latter place the shock was almost instantaneous.  Persons residing at Dobbs Ferry on the Hudson, report that the shock was experienced at that place about the same hour mentioned above and that the evidence of a subterranean commotion lasted about fifteen or eighteen seconds.  Considerable excitement exists in the various places visited by the shock, and the wondering inhabitants are anxiously looking for what may come next.

It is stated on good authority that the shock was felt at Greenwich, Conn. and at Dobbs Ferry -- at the latter place shortly after half past four o'clock yesterday morning.  This would make the line of the shock almost directly north and south."

Source:  NO GREAT SHAKES -- Shocks of Earthquake Felt on Long Island and in Westchester County -- MORE FRIGHTENED THAN HURT -- Waking Up Roslyn and Astonishing Glen Cove -- Westchester in a Tremble, N.Y. Herald, Jul. 12, 1872, p. 6, col. 6 (Note:  paid subscription required to access via this link).

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