February 22, 1898 marked the third and final day of one of the worst ice storms ever seen in Connecticut, a storm for the ages that decimated the northwest corner of the state not even ten years after its long and slow recovery from the infamous Blizzard of 1888. While the storm brought rain to the southern portions of the state, the northwest hills experienced a steady three-day marathon of freezing rain that coated trees, buildings, roads, and everything else in its path with ice that measured up to seven inches thick.
Roads were completely impassable. Even the old-fashioned horse-drawn sleighs that rural folks used for winter travel didn’t dare to brave the slippery conditions, leaving many homesteads completely isolated for days. Witnesses described the constant, ominous sound of tree limbs cracking under the weight of all the ice, with some likening the noise to fireworks on the Fourth of July. Many farmsteads, especially those sporting fruit trees, were completely ruined, and the appearance of many a town green was forever altered after numerous large, old-growth trees were felled by the ice.
Thanks to the technological advances which had become part of modern life by the end of the 19th century, Connecticans in 1898 faced an additional set of problems caused by winter weather that their ancestors never had to worry about. By the turn of the 20th century, it was not uncommon to see main roads crisscrossed with electricity, telegraph, and telephone wires mounted on tall utility poles, even in one of the most sparsely-populated quarters of the state. This meant that in February 1898, for one of the first times in history, Connecticans faced the prospect of long-term power and communication outages thanks to the unusually heavy amount of ice that brought down wires and toppled utility poles. Those same technological advances were also responsible, however, for the ease with which local photographers like Marie Kendall of Norfolk could document the devastating aftermath of one of the state’s worst winter storms. Her photographs, now part of the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, provide a rare glimpse into a turn-of-the-century natural disaster that an entire generation of Connecticans never forgot — today in Connecticut history.
Tasha Caswell, “The Great Ice Storm of 1898,” Connecticut Public Radio/WNPR