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.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Did the Westchester County Region Experience Yet More Earthquakes in Early 1885 or Not?


We don't have earthquakes in Pelham.  Or, do we?  

According to the United States Geological Survey, our region has experienced nineteen small earthquakes of magnitude 2.6 or smaller in the last three years (since May 10, 2015).  See United States Geological Survey, Earthquakes:  Earthquakes Hazards Program (visited May 5, 2018).

While most such earthquakes are not even felt by the majority of Pelhamites, over the last two hundred years there have been quite a number of more significant earthquakes that have caused damage in Pelham and about which I have written before.  See, e.g.:

Tue., Sep. 19, 2017:  Another Account of the Earthquake that Shook Pelham in 1872.

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

I have written before about earthquakes in the Westchester County region in 1850, 1868, 1872, and 1884.  Today's Historic Pelham Blog article, provides information about two days the earth shook in Pelham in what may -- or may NOT -- have been a series of earthquakes about which I never have written:  small ones that rattled our region on Sunday, January 4, 1885.  

How could there be any question?  Either there was or was not a series of earthquakes in our region those two days, right?  Well, not so fast. . . . . . 

Newspapers throughout New York were abuzz in early January, 1885, with earthquake reports.  People were feeling temblors.  As one New York City newspaper put it:  "Rumors of earthquakes are ripe in Westchester county."  Some reports indicated there was a single earthquake that seemed to be centered in the Tarrytown, Sing Sing, and Peekskill region and struck at about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 4.  Other reports suggest there were two earthquakes in the region that day, both centered near the same region.  The other reportedly occurred first, at about 6:06 a.m. on Sunday, January 4.  

According to one news report:  "about half-past five o'clock last evening [Sunday, January 4] a very slight, but quite unmistakable trembling of the earth was felt throughout Westchester county, along the line of the New York Central and the New York City and Northern railroads, an only then in the towns furthest north.  It was most perceptible, it is said, in Tarrytown, Sing Sing, and Peekskill."

Though the above-quoted account described the earthquake as "very slight," the shaking was sufficiently violent to rattle houses and even to break "many window-panes" in Sing Sing according to a different account that also stated there was a "considerable . . . shake-up" there.

One newspaper found a single resident of Tarrytown who claimed he had experienced another earthquake earlier that day at 6:06 a.m.  The New York Herald provided the following eyewitness account:

"On Sunday Mayor Marshall H. Bright, of Tarrytown, felt a shock, he believes.  He says:  --  'It was Sunday morning at six minutes past six o'clock.  I was awake at the time, and, as I have observed earthquakes before, immediately recognized the nature of the shock, and seized my watch to time its duration.  It last four seconds.  It was a distinct, continuous vibration, like the jar produced in a horse-car when it is stopped by a sudden application of the brakes.  This shock was accompanied by a low, rumbling noise, not louder than would be caused by a heavy cart.  The house was shaken and the windows rattled.  Other inmates of the house, who were asleep at the time and were not awakened, laughed when I told them at the breakfast table about the earthquake.  When, however, I attended the First Reformed Church in the morning, and spoke of the occurrence to the sexton, John Cowe, he exclaimed that he now understood what before had puzzled him.  Not thinking of an earthquake, he had wondered what the shock was which he had observed while he was attending to the furnace in the church.  He said that the building was shaken.  On conversing with other persons whom I met at the church I found that some had observed the shock distinctly.  One lady was awakened by it.  Undoubtedly the occurrence would have attracted much more general attention if it had not taken place at an hour on Sunday morning when most of the persons were asleep.  Mr. Simons, of Sing Sing, told me that the shock was perceptible there.'"

A number of news reports suggested that Westchester residents were particularly skittish due to the larger earthquake that had occurred a few months earlier on August 10, 1884 that had done some serious damage in the region.  In any event, an alternative explanation for some of the shaking soon arose.

At about the time many people felt the "earthquake" late in the day on January 4, 1885, representatives of the West Shore Railway Company were working hard near Storm King Mountain, about sixteen miles away from Peekskill where residents felt the quake.  The railroad had recently experienced a landslide disaster and was working to reduce the risk of future landslides that might endanger its trains or damage its tracks.  Near Storm King Mountain, the company was trying to remove a massive rock ledge that overhung its tracks.  Rather than cart away removal debris, the company had the novel idea of attempting to blast the massive ledge off the side of the mountain and into the deep channel of the Hudson River.  

The company began blasting with dynamite late in the day.  The job was thought to be a small one at first "and that no trouble would be experienced in blowing it out into the deep channel of the river."  Initial efforts failed, however, and they found the job to be a "big undertaking."  According to one report, "They kept up blasting until midnight, and the neighborhood shook as if numerous powder mills had exploded.  Many persons who were not aware of what was going on did not know what to make of it.  Ten miles away the windows in the houses and the houses themselves were shaken.  Over one hundred and fifty tons of rock were blown out of the base of the rugged mountain."

Newspapers later reported that there never had been an earthquake at all.  Instead, according to such accounts, residents perceived the shock of the blasting as though an earthquake occurred.  Yet, no one could explain the claim that a separate temblor had been experienced at 6:06 a.m. the same day.  Nor was there any explanation as to why, if blasting continued from late in the day until midnight only a single "earthquake" was felt as far away as 26 miles or more.  

Was there or was there not yet another earthquake that day? . . . . . . 



*          *          *          *          *

"REPORTED EARTHQUAKES.

-----
SHOCKS SAID TO HAVE BEEN FELT SUNDAY AND YESTERDAY IN WESTCHESTER COUNTY.

Rumors of earthquakes are ripe in Westchester county.  The Westchester News Association is authority for the latest.  The statement is that about half-past five o'clock last evening a very slight, but quite unmistakable trembling of the earth was felt throughout Westchester county, along the line of the New York Central and the New York City and Northern railroads, an only then in the towns furthest north.  It was most perceptible, it is said, in Tarrytown, Sing Sing, and Peekskill.  From Tarrytown south not the slightest shock was apparent.  A clock in the Sing Sing Hotel Hotel, it is stated, stopped.

At Yorktown it was felt, but, as at all other points it was so slight that it attracted but little attention.  At White Plains, Mount Vernon, Port Chester and towns along the line of the Harlem division of the New York Central, as well as along the New York, New Haven and Hartford line, it was not felt at all.  No shock was felt in the city.  The sensation and noise are described as similar to those produced by distant thunder.

ANOTHER SHOCK REPORTED.

On Sunday Mayor Marshall H. Bright, of Tarrytown, felt a shock, he believes.  He says:  --  'It was Sunday morning at six minutes past six o'clock.  I was awake at the time, and, as I have observed earthquakes before, immediately recognized the nature of the shock, and seized my watch to time its duration.  It last four seconds.  It was a distinct, continuous vibration, like the jar produced in a horse-car when it is stopped by a sudden application of the brakes.  This shock was accompanied by a low, rumbling noise, not louder than would be caused by a heavy cart.  The house was shaken and the windows rattled.  Other inmates of the house, who were asleep at the time and were not awakened, laughed when I told them at the breakfast table about the earthquake.  When, however, I attended the First Reformed Church in the morning, and spoke of the occurrence to the sexton, John Cowe, he exclaimed that he now understood what before had puzzled him.  Not thinking of an earthquake, he had wondered what the shock was which he had observed while he was attending to the furnace in the church.  He said that the building was shaken.  On conversing with other persons whom I met at the church I found that some had observed the shock distinctly.  One lady was awakened by it.  Undoubtedly the occurrence would have attracted much more general attention if it had not taken place at an hour on Sunday morning when most of the persons were asleep.  Mr. Simons, of Sing Sing, told me that the shock was perceptible there.'

NOT FELT AT POUGHKEEPSIE.

A special despatch to the HERALD from Poughkeepsie says:  --  'We have had no shocks of earthquake here, and we have no reports of any along the Hudson.'"

Source:  REPORTED EARTHQUAKES -- SHOCKS SAID TO HAVE BEEN FELT SUNDAY AND YESTERDAY IN WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. Herald, Jan. 6, 1885, p. 10, col. 2.

"WAS THIS THE EARTHQUAKE?
-----

CORNWALL, N. Y., Jan. 5, 1885.  --  The West Shore Railway Company have since their disaster at Highland taken unusual precaution against land slides.  At the foot of of Storm King Mountain there has long been a big rock overhanging the tracks, and it has been carefully watched until yesterday, when the company determined to remove it.  They sent all their trains around over the Erie Railway to Newburgh and commenced early to blast it away.  It was a first thought to be a small job and that no trouble would be experienced in blowing it out into the deep channel of the river at that point, but as they progressed they found it a big undertaking.  They kept up blasting until midnight, and the neighborhood shook as if numerous powder mills had exploded.  Many persons who were not aware of what was going on did not know what to make of it.  Ten miles away the windows in the houses and the houses themselves were shaken.  Over one hundred and fifty tons of rock were blown out of the base of the rugged mountain.  To-day trains were running regularly over the road."

Source:  WAS THIS THE EARTHQUAKE?, N.Y. Herald, Jan. 6, 1885, p. 10, col. 2

"--  The towns of Sing Sing and Tarrytown were visited by an earthquake last week.  It was also slightly felt in White Plains.  In Sing Sing a considerable of a shake-up was experienced and many window-panes were broken."

Source:  [Untitled], Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Jan. 16, 1885, Vol. XL, No. 41, p. 3, col. 4.  

"Not an Earthquake.

Early risers in Peekskill felt a shock on Sunday morning last about six o'clock, that was thought to be an earthquake.  It was a low, rumbling sound similar to the earthquake shock felt in this section last summer.  The sensation was felt at Sing Sing and Tarrytown and the New York papers reported it as an earthquake shock.  It has since developed that it was not an earthquake shock but was caused by some heavy blasting done on the West Shore railroad, near Storm King Mountain, where it was desirable to remove some rocks.  The charges put in to remove the rocks were heavy dynamite ones and the explosion was consequently a terrific one."

Source:  Not an Earthquake, The Highland Democrat [Peekskill, NY], Jan. 10, 1885, Vol. XL, No. 25, p. 3, col. 3.  

"EARTHQUAKES IN THE SOUTH AND EAST.
-----
Shocks Felt in the District of Columbia and in New Hampshire.
-----
Washington, January 3.

A considerable number of persons are reporting today that they felt an earthquake shock about half past 9 o'clock last night.  Most of these reports came from that section of Washington south Pennsylvania avenue, and from the suburb of Brightwood.  Farmers coming to market from adjoining counties in Maryland and Virginia report having felt a tremor and rumbling of the earth lasting about fifteen seconds at the time stated.  At Warrenton, Va., the disturbance was very distinct and the direction of the vibrations were observed to be from east to west.

LACONIA, N. H., January 3.
A shock of earthquake lasting half a minute was felt in Laconia Friday night.  It passed from north to south and was accompanied by a rumbling sound."

Source:   EARTHQUAKES IN THE SOUTH AND EAST -- Shocks Felt in the District of Columbia and in New Hampshire, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 4, 1885, p. 5, col. 3.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
Home Page of the Historic Pelham Blog
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

Labels: , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home