"Valentine's Day Storm" brought city to its knees
It was a time when Baltimore battled heavy snow with armies of men with shovels, and streetcar sweepers, horses and carts. There were no motorized plows, no salt trucks. Just mountains of snow and, except for the streetcars, only muscle to push it back.
It began snowing on Feb. 12, 1899, and before it was over on St. Valentine's Day, there was more than 21 inches of snow blanketing the city. It remains the fourth-biggest three-day snowstorm on record for the city, and the seventh-deepest overall.
The harbor was frozen. Roads to the countryside were clogged with snow. Supplies of food and milk were cut off. Baltimoreans went to work, and The Sun told the story. Here's some of our coverage from the Feb. 15 editions:
Headline: A City Shoveling Snow; Herculean Efforts Made To Clear The Sidewalks and Open Streets.
"All Baltimore awoke yesterday morning with a sigh of relief that the blizzard had ended, but many were appalled by the mountains of snow on sidewalks and streets, by huge drifts in back yards, the heavy covering on the roofs and the blockade of streets.
"The sun was shining, the fierce wind had gone down, the snow no longer slashed one in the face like a knife, and the temperature has appreciably risen. Everybody said it was a fine day overhead, if one could only travel that way. But there was the snow in immense heaps, and bright and early the labor of clearing away paths was begun all over the city. There were few unemployed men in town yesterday, and hundreds procured shovels and made a good thing of the snow, or, rather, out of the householders.
"Down town, where people had tramped to and fro the day before and had beaten down the snow into a semblance of a path, it was no easy job to clean the sidewalks. Every business house and store had men outside in the morening working with crowbars, hatchets, axes and shovels, chopping and hacking away at the frozen mass of snow and ice, while other men brushed the accumulated drifts from the upper windows and roofs. All the snow was thrown from the sidewalks into the middle of the street, with the result that huge piles, taller than the tallest man, were formed ...
"... Many establishments turned hot water into the gutters to melt the snow and made a disagreeable amount of slush on streets and at crossings.
(NOTE: The table at right shows the snowiest Februaries on record for Washington, Baltimore and Dulles International Airport. February 1899 was the third-snowiest in Baltimore, after 2003 and 2010.)
"In the residential districts up town, no such conditions existed. The only snow-cleaning force up there was that employed by householders to shovel off the sidewalks and the drifts and heaps in the streets and all crossings were discouraging to persons who wished to go out. The bristling car sweeper was the chief agency in piling up the snow, and on Madison avenue and Charles street, especially, the heaps were enormous. Travelers got out of the cars into drifts and mixed up with others alighting at the same time, who could find no foothold.
"On Mosher street, on each side of Calhoun street, the snow in many cases was piled up to the parlor windows of the houses, and the street was in such a condition that but a few wagon drivers
Top Ten 1-, 2- and 3-Day Snowfall Totals (inches) at Baltimore, MD
(Snowfall record dates back to 1892)[For 2 (3) day records, it must have snowed all 2 (3) days]
were brave enough to use it. All along West Lombard street the snow is extremely heavy, and in East and Northeast Baltimore the drifts appeared to be worse than in any other section. Considerable money was made by men who went about from house to house cleaning the pavements and yards, and charges of from 15 cents to $2 were made, according to the amount of snow to be shoveled."
"... The steam railroads were partly cleared and a few trains were sent out, although regular schedules may not be resumed for a day or two. The mails are yet at a standstill. No New York papers were received in Baltimore yesterday.
"The only case of fatality from the blizzard reported is that of Harry E. Vincent, 2235 East Chase street, who fell exhausted in the snow near his home early yesterday morning and died of exposure.
"The ice blockade in the harbor has been practically broken, at least for the larger vessels.
"Prices of provisions and country produce have advanced materially because of the inability to secure supplies from the surrounding country.
"Details of the storm in the State of Maryland report almost complete stoppage of travel by rail, steamboats and by the public roads. In many parts of the State the snow on a level is over three feet deep, while the drifts in the western counties, especially in Frederick county, are often as much as 20 feet deep and up to the second story of the homes. Ice is 14 inches thick in the Susquehanna river at Havre de Grace.
"At Ocean City the surf was frozen on the beach and the coast guard of the life saving station were subjected to great personal privation. The islands of the lower Chesapeake are icebound.
"Two brick buildings, a frame shed, five pleasure vehicles and two meat wagons, together with a large quantity of feed, all in the rear of the home of John P. Dienstbier, a beef butcher, No. 1 Marriott street, southwestern Annex, were about destroyed early yesterday morning by a fire, the origin of which Mr. Dienstbier has been unable to discover.
"Capt. J.F. Rupp, of No. 14 engine company, took only the hose wagon to the fire. The wagon was drawn by five horses, and had gotten out Frederick Avenue as far as Garrison lane, when further progress was impeded owing to the fact that both car tracks were blockaded with cars. On both sides of the avenue the snow was piled to a height of ten and twelve feet, making it impossible for the horses to pull through it.
"Seeing the dilemma, Captain Rupp hitched a horse to a sleigh owned by Mr. Dienstbier and drove to No. 1 chemical engine house, where he obtained six hundred feet of hose. This hose was attached to a plug near the scene of the fire and with it the members of the No. 14 engine company and the members of No. 1 chemical company fought the flames and saved the property of Mr. Herman Krause, another butcher, whose place adjoins that of Mr. Dienstbier's on the west.
"... Mr. Dienstbier estimates his loss at $1,000, which is not covered by insurance.."
"Throughout the city a milk famine was experienced by the residents, and signs bearing the words 'milk wanted' were to be seen hanging in front of many homes. The signs were suspended from second-story windows, as the snow along a number of streets reached about the first floor of the buildings. Two sleighs drawn by four horses each and containing cans of milk reaped a rich harvest in the north-western section for their owners. They were unable to go very far, as the supply of milk gave out.
"Condensed milk was held at a premium by a number of store-keepers who desired to make their limited supply go as far as possible. Several drug stores exhausted their supply early in the day. In many parts of the district dairy wagons have not been seen since Sunday morning.
"Hotels and restaurants ran on short allowances, and many saloons were entirely without milk."