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The Great Ice Storm of 1886

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT, Portsmouth, NH (continued)

Reprinted from the Portsmouth Chronicle
Friday January, 29 1886

Never within our recollection were the trees throughout the city so completely and heavily coated with ice, from the ground to the tips of the smallest twigs, as they were Thursday morning; not only were the upper sides of the limbs sheeted with ice, but all along the under sides, about an inch apart, were millions of tiny icicles an inch or two in length and as big around as pipestems. The aggregate weight of all this, on a large tree, was immense, and all through the day and all over the city the crashing of falling branches could be heard, dead and living limbs alike yielding to the unusual strain put upon them. If there was any difference, the more vigorous and thrifty trees suffered the most, as they presented a greater number of twigs for the ice to cling to. The street commissioner's men, with all the available teams, at an early hour commenced work at clearing the streets of the fallen limbs, and were kept at it til night; but with all their efforts there was hardly a street that was absolutely clear of obstructions for an hour during the day.

Telephone, telegraph and fire (unreadable here) wires were not slighted, and could be seen many hundreds of feet away in bars of ice. Closer examination showed that like the limbs of trees they were sheathed with ice on top and at the sides, and underneath were ornamented with millions of little icicles about an inch apart. The wires were in many places hanging in festoons nearly to the ground, or lying flat on the ground, and the damage from this cause must have been serious.

Were we to attempt giving the names of the streets where the trees suffered badly, we should have to give a list of all the streets in the city where there are any trees to speak of. Great injury was done in the south cemetery, particularly to the trees in the vicinity of the pond. The trees at the southerly end of Richards avenue, the big and thrifty elms on Middle, South and Pleasant streets, the elms and maples on Elm and Islington streets, and elms and horse chestnuts on State, Daniel and Linden streets, were badly used, some fine ones being ruined by the tearing off of large limbs and many fruit trees in gardens about the city were wholly destroyed or badly damaged.

Not much harm was done by the falling limbs, so far as was reported up to Thursday evening. A few telephone wires were snapped, a few windows broken, and a gas-post in front of the high schoolhouse demoralized, but no person was reported as having sustained any injury.

The walking was about as bad as it could possibly be; the sidewalks were slippery as greased glass, and the middle of the streets not much better. The "no school" signal was sounded by the fire alarm at eight o'clock and 11:30, the school board very sensibly deciding that the children would be better off at their homes than tumbling about in the streets. As the day advanced the snow in the streets became waterlogged slosh, but neither the walking nor sleighing was improved thereby.

The few persons who drove into the city from surrounding towns during the day reported the roads in some places nearly impassable, owing to trees being so borne down that their branches were close to the ground in the highway while many broken limbs obstructed travel.

Altogether, the damage done by the storm of sleet on Wednesday night and Thursday must have amounted to many thousands of dollars in this city and its immediate vicinity; and worse than this, it will be many years before the shade and garden trees can recover the symmetrical beauty they possessed last summer.

When night arrived there was not a street in the city in which there is a tree that did not have piles of branches along the sides, where they had been tumbled by the city workmen so as to leave the driveway and walks as clear as possible. The street lights were by order of Mayor Eldredge kept burning all Thursday night, and several strong gangs of extra hands were kept at work through the night clearing away the wreak.


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