A BOAT SURROUNDED BY ICE FLOES
Over the years, many people have asked me when Greenwich Harbor had frozen over so that people could actually walk over to Island Beach. I remembered reading something about it, and decided to research the topic for this blog.
The earliest mention was February 19, 1875. According to the timeline in "Before and After 1776" (HSTG, 1976), Long Island Sound was so frozen over that residents were able to ride their horses and buggies from Steamboat Road to Great Captain's Island! Since newspapers in Greenwich weren't published until 1877, I couldn't find any info on this.
In January 1887, people were reported to have "coasted and sleighed" on Greenwich Avenue. It was 2-degrees F below zero, and ice spread to fill in the bare roads to make a smooth surface for sleighing. Owners of horses and sleighs experienced great business as everyone took to the byways. There were even sleighing parties at night since the clear skies and full moon provided abundant light! People were coasting on sleds and long bobsleds down Greenwich Avenue to Belle Haven Avenue! There were horse races on the Mill Pond in Cos Cob, which was covered over with ice.
Not everyone enjoyed the cold weather, though. Boats were frozen in the Mianus River, and on February 12, 1899, steamers were frozen in ice on Long Island Sound. Ice was measured to be 8-inches thick, and the entire Sound was frozen over. The Maid of Kent, piloted by a Captain Holmes, took 50 hours to sail from New York City to Greenwich Harbor! When he sailed into the Whitestone area, his boat became frozen in the ice. He had to rely on passing boats and steamers to break up the ice so he could continue his voyage. The Maid would try to follow in the wake of the rescue ship, but became re-frozen as she fell behind. She kept backing, sliding and pushing to get free. It took many hours and many vessels to help her reach her destination in Greenwich Harbor.
I've read in several places that early in the 1900s, ice harvesting was a big business. After all, people only had ice chests - not the convenient refrigerators we have today. Men would harvest ice from streams, swamps and ponds, load up wagons and ride around town selling blocks for ice boxes. It's reported that the ice on Conyer's lake was 9-inches thick! Some 2,000 tons were harvested for sale to the public! Ice was also harvested from the Ten -Acre Swamp, which is where the Greenwich High School athletic fields are today.
Greenwich Time columnist Warren Lewin (1/25/1987) wrote about Byram Harbor being frozen over for 8-weeks during the winter of 1904. The steamer Glenville, owned and operated by The Port Chester Transportation Company, was stuck in the ice at the foot of Adee Street. Workers had to use dynamite to open up a channel to the Sound. The Glenville transported felt, shirts as well as wood and coal for furnaces and stoves.
Again, in January 1918, a cold snap froze the Harbor out to Great Captain's Island and Island Beach. People walked out to see a 3-masted barge, which sank on January 10th. Schools were closed since the weather was extremely frigid and there was a coal shortage. The local peach crop was ruined.
On February 9, 1934, the temperature set a new record as the mercury dropped to 20-degrees below zero! Once again, ice was solid from Indian Harbor to Island Beach.
Greenwich was hit with "the worst ice storm in history" on March 4, 1940 , resulting in millions of dollars of damage.
Riverside and Old Greenwich lost electricty for five-days after a powerful ice storm hit the area on December 17, 1973.
Winters in Greenwich have moderated somewhat over the years. Every so often, though, ice becomes a threat to boats and pilings. Pilings are long wooden poles, anchored seven feet under the water, which are used to attach docks. Ice can snap poles, or cause suction as the tides rise and fall. The piling can be pulled up out of the bottom. In 1978, pilings cost $500 a piece, and it cost $600 to replace one. There was 18-inches of ice on the Harbor that year. It cost $100,000 to replace the damaged pilings.
More recently, in the 1990s, workers from the Department of Parks and Recreation have had to clear ice from Greenwich harbors. In the winter of 1993 - 1994, ten-inches of ice formed on the water. Ice again threatened the Harbor in 1996. The marinas at Grass island and Cos Cob presented a problem since ice could damage the hulls of boats. A specially-designed boat, christened the "Loose Goose", with steel hull was put into service to break up the ice at these locations. Another tool was the "de-icer" machine - small motorized "propellors" placed in the water alongside the pilings, which keeps water moving to prevent ice. At one time chain saws were also used to cut away the ice. In the winter of 2007, the "Loose Goose" was again employed to clear out the harbors.
Today, our winters don't seem to be as harsh as they were several decades ago. Cold snaps seem to last only a week or so. We don't seem to get as much snow as we used to get. However, we've only been keeping weather records for a few hundred years. Compared to the billions of years scientists believe our planet has been around, this is a short period of time. There's evidence of ice sheets migrating south over North America several times during the earth's lifetime. Who's to say what's normal? Man has learned to survive in some very "weather hostile" environments (e.g. North Pole). Perhaps we'll have to reassess our definition of "normal" weather.
Greenwich Before 2000; HSTG, 2000, 1978,1976